Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Northampton Saints

st-james-less

Sunday 21 September 2014 – 2.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #3

 

This Sunday the Falcons have one last chance to avoid reaching eleven months without a league win, but there would be no better way to end an eighteen-game losing run than by beating the current champions at home.

 

Northampton come to Kingston Park on Sunday having had a mixed start to the season, destroying Gloucester 53-6 with eight tries on the opening night before being swatted 20-16 by Wasps at Adams Park on Sunday.

 

Tries by Ashley Johnson, who was so destructive against the Falcons last Christmas, and Tom Varndell along with Andy Goode and Ruaridh Jackson’s boots condemned the champions to their first defeat of the season, three Stephen Myler penalties and a conversion of Ben Foden’s try leaving the Saints with just a bonus point.

 

Sunday will see Welsh star George North make his first appearance at KP, but he is just one of a multitude of stars at Jim Mallinder’s disposal. Alongside North in the backs squad are the flying Ben Foden and George and Ken Pisi, barnstorming England centre Luther Burrell, and former Falcon Lee Dickson, as well as academy products James Wilson and Jamie Elliott.

 

In the forwards, Alex Corbisiero will be looking to make up for lost time after injury prevented him building on a fantastic Lions tour last year, while Courtney Lawes, Dylan Harley and Tom Wood should also be in England’s World Cup squad in a year’s time.

 

This game last season, like our previous three meetings with the Saints at KP, ended in a win for the Midlanders, though a late try by Noah Cato, converted by new Saints recruit Joel Hodgson, gave us a bonus point. Rory Clegg also kicked three penalties for the Falcons, while the try-scorers for Phil Dowson’s team were Elliott (two) and Tom Stephenson, Myler adding two conversions and a penalty.

 

Saints in Newcastle:

03/12/1961      North Road                 Club Match                 W9-6

01/02/1986      North Road                 Cup 3rd round              D6-6

31/03/1990      Percy Park                   Division 2                    L15-22

01/09/1991      Kingston Park             Club Match                 W32-12

11/12/1993      Kingston Park             Division 1                    L8-28

21/10/1995      Kingston Park             Division 2                    L9-52

08/10/1997      Kingston Park             Premiership 1              W37-12

15/11/1998      Kingston Park             Premiership 1              W45-35

21/05/2000      Kingston Park             Premiership 1              L23-32

20/08/2000      Kingston Park             Premiership                 W27-21

02/12/2001      Kingston Park             Premiership                 L13-28

20/04/2003      Kingston Park             Premiership                 W22-20

28/12/2003      Kingston Park             Premiership                 W23-19

28/11/2004      Kingston Park             Premiership                 W27-16

26/03/2006      Kingston Park             Premiership                 L13-32

06/04/2007      Kingston Park             Premiership                 W16-7

14/09/2008      Kingston Park             Premiership                 W32-22

27/11/2009      Kingston Park             Premiership                 L8-28

15/04/2011      Kingston Park             Premiership                 L15-22

31/12/2011      Kingston Park             Premiership                 L14-32

23/02/2014      Kingston Park             Premiership                 L16-22

 

 

Alex Tuilagi will make his first start in a black shirt on Sunday, while Kieran Brookes returns at loosehead to allow Scott Wilson to make a first Premiership start. Josh Furno moves to the back row in place of Mark Wilson and Dom Barrow joins Calum Green in a beefy, former-Leeds engine room. Sinoti Sinoti is only fit enough for the bench after suffering an injury against London Irish.

 

Falcons team: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Alex Tuilagi, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Kieran Brookes, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Scott Wilson, 4 Calum Green, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Josh Furno, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg.

 

Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 19 Mark Wilson, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Gonzalo Tiesi, 23 Sinoti Sinoti.

 

 

The unbelievably strong Saints team: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Will Hooley, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 1 Alex Waller, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 4 Courtney Lawes, 5 Christian Day, 6 Calum Clark, 7 Tom Wood, 8 Samu Manoa.

 

Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 James Craig, 20 Jon Fisher, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Dom Waldouck, 23 James Wilson.

 

 

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 18-20 London Irish

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Sunday 14 September 2014 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #2

 

That monkey on our backs of now-eighteen league defeats in a row is going to be a tough one to get rid of. In theory, today should have been one of our less difficult games in the Premiership this season but after a big battle against London Irish, we only got a losing bonus point.

 

Many fans will point to Juan Pablo Socino missing a number of kicks, some ostensibly simple, and suggest that had those kicks gone over then we would probably have won comfortably. On the surface that’s true, but it’s simplistic. Every kicker has an off-day with the boot and JP had another decent game otherwise.

 

I could just as easily point out that had we played the way we did last season, Irish would have won easily today. Instead, we made them work to the death for their win. We played the way that will most likely bring about an improvement in league position, with a positive attitude and it was entertaining to watch. Those have to be positives to take from this game that we can build on.

 

Good performances? There were quite a few, particularly from Phil Godman who looks revitalised after a disappointing 2013/14 to say the least. He looks sharper, quicker and is creating far more – perhaps because the coaches are allowing him to. Josh Furno looks to be a real driving force in the forwards and combines beef and athleticism in the Stuart Grimes mould. Adam Powell was everywhere in the backs, finding space and creating it for others with some strong carries. Eric Fry didn’t let us down in the scrum and made plenty of tackles. Scott Lawson was a livewire as usual.

 

It was disjointed at times but I think we are starting to see what the coaches are trying to do. How many aimless kicks did we send into Irish’s half today? I can remember two, one each from Godman and Hammersley in the second half. Other times, we kicked sensibly for the corners and put the pressure on. Brilliant. But the rest of the time, we were able to keep possession and dictate the play when in possession, after struggling so badly last season. I don’t think there were massive errors in the build-up to any of Irish’s scores – some missed tackles perhaps but that happens, nothing structural to panic about.

 

We are coming at this attacking style of play after years of negativity, and things will not click straight away. Players who have been with us for several years will take time to adapt, new players take time to integrate. If we keep trying and keep plugging away, I think we will get there and probably sooner rather than later. We have some real quality players, the attitude and ambition seems to be there – execution is in some ways the easiest thing to add in once everything else is in place. It will take time but no need to panic that it hasn’t happened after two games.

 

It’s annoying to lose a game that I and many thought we could and should have won, given a lot of possession and territory. Northampton at home and Wasps away will be extremely difficult, and a couple of losing bonus points from those would on the face of it not be a disaster, with the winnable Exeter at home and London Welsh away to come. But we really need to get a win, a win from anywhere, just to get some confidence. At home to the champions wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

 

 

This weekend’s Eddie Stobarts (since I remember them this time):

Rochelle Patricia

Kate Madeleine

Imogen Joanne

Carline

Claire Emma

Laura Nicole

Leoni Jordan

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

Match reaction: Leicester Tigers 36-17 Newcastle Falcons

Sportsmanship.preview

Saturday 6 September 2014 – 3.00pm

Welford Road, Leicester

Aviva Premiership #1

 

Where better to begin married life than Leicester? That had been my first thought when the fixtures were published and had us at Welford Road today, but deciding it wouldn’t be fair to leave the in-laws and the lads to clear up a geet massive tent, the new Mrs Leipy and I gave today’s game a miss. There was also the potential for big exhaustion after a week full of hard work and a very emotional day yesterday, potential that was realised.

 

After a fair amount of work got done this morning and early afternoon, I managed to get two hours off to go home and listen to the commentary. Obviously the Falcons lost by what on the surface looks a decent margin, but in the first half we restricted Leicester to a few penalties and played some good attacking rugby, according to Smithy and Dean Gray. Simon Hammersley sounded quite involved and Sinoti Sinoti was lively.

 

I missed the start of the second half after falling asleep, probably the most exciting period of the match with a few tries scored. As often happens when you play top teams, when Leicester got their first couple of tries they got more, pulled away and got the bonus point Richard Cockerill will have been looking for. But we kept fighting and got a second try, so there’s positives there.

 

Losing 36-17 away at Leicester, two tries, holding out for more than a half, is not a disaster for a team that will make progress by finishing tenth this season. As I often say after games like this, far better teams than the Falcons will go to Leicester this season and lose by this much, or more.

 

One of the negatives today must be the early injury to Rob Vickers, which exposes our lack of depth at loosehead where many fans seem unconvinced by Eric Fry (I myself haven’t really formed much of an opinion so far). If the injury to Vickers is a lengthy one, you would think that the management will look to dip into the market if a decent player is available.

 

It will be interesting to read the thoughts of fans who went to Welford Road today on our apparent progression to a more attacking style, individuals’ performances (particularly Rogers and the fly-halves, and of course Alex Tuilagi) and the referee, who angered the BBC commentators and many on Twitter with what they saw as strange decisions. I’m going to guess though that Luke Pearce wasn’t actually named man of the match, and nor did he do a lap of honour.

 

So the season is underway and we are scoring tries. Last season we didn’t score a try in the Premiership until the fourth game, and had only two after five matches, so we can see that as an improvement. With London Irish also tipped by many pundits to struggle next season, next Sunday’s game on Kingston Park’s plastic pitch could be an interesting one.

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 15-21 Edinburgh Rugby

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Friday 29 August 2014 – 7.45pm

Mansfield Park, Hawick

Friendly

 

I quite enjoyed the drive up to Hawick last night, the M6 was a bit crazy but the A7 really is a lovely and peaceful road. Driving back was a bit hairier than I remember last year – for some reason I felt quite sleepy so tried to get forty winks at a layby not far from Langholm, but couldn’t, so fuelled up with some chocolate and Coke to get through the last seventy miles.

 

I felt fortunate to be able to lock the car. A dark, remote winding road between England and Scotland was probably rich pickings for bandits in past centuries.

 

Aye, we can go back to Hawick next year, nice little ground with a neat little bar, and a nice scholarly-looking picture of Scott MacLeod with his Scotland cap on the wall.

 

On the pitch, the Falcons put together a more sustained performance than against Rotherham, with plenty of aggression and Juan Pablo Socino showing a lot of creativity at fly-half, suggesting that he might be the one to lead the promised new expansive game from the number ten shirt.

 

Simon Hammersley again showed solidity in defence and pace and guile in attack and will surely make his Premiership debut at Welford Road next Saturday. He might be joined by some Tuilagis in the backline, both Alex and Andy looking in decent shape to get at least part of the game next week. The centres are a bit problematic if Socino wears ten, but Jamie Helleur did his chances of a start no harm with a combative second half last night.

 

In the forwards, Calum Green again carried well and made some big tackles. I quite like this guy. Hopefully whatever problem led to Dom Barrow being taken off in the first half will not keep him out of the opening league game, and was just a precaution. In the back row, I’d be tempted to go for the balance of speed and power by picking Mark Wilson, Andy Saull and Ally Hogg. Despite Will Welch being in the lineup, Hogg led from the front last night, a controller at the base of the scrum and making good metres in the loose.

 

As well as the back row, one area of the forwards where Dean Richards might have a selection problem is at hooker, where George McGuigan shows no signs of stopping his development into a top player, performing excellently last night, but where we also have current Scottish international Scott Lawson and new signing Rob Hawkins available, not to mention Matt Thompson. I’d be tempted to throw McGuigan in from the start next week – his performance in the loose last night reminded me a bit of Schalk Brits and that’s quite a compliment.

 

I suppose the key problem again last night was that we didn’t take our opportunities when we were on top for much of the second half, and allowed Edinburgh to creep further ahead with penalties. Discipline is going to have to improve in the Premiership, and we also need to keep scoring tries if we are not going to be able to rely on Phil Godman’s boot – despite another lively showing, he missed a relatively simple conversion last night.

 

Overall, there were probably more positives than negatives in Hawick. It’s just a shame we couldn’t secure what would have been a big morale-boosting win, but keep plugging away and playing an attacking game, and the wins will come.

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 21-22 Rotherham Titans

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Saturday 23 August 2014, 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Friendly

 

Well I don’t think anybody expected that result on the debut of our new plastic pitch. A simple conclusion from today’s home defeat to Rotherham would be that there was some good stuff, some not so good stuff, and lots to work on. Pretty much a normal outcome from a pre-season friendly.

 

Firstly, the good: the lineout functioned quite well, the scrum too for the most part but not always. Most of the team looked quite fit. Juan Pablo Socino fitted in well into the midfield, Sinoti Sinoti and Scott Lawson looked as sharp and eager as ever, and Calum Green showed some good carrying and tackling. Simon Hammersley is likely to get more first team games if he continues to show the same solidity at the back and pace going forward.

 

Phil Godman – I was a big critic of his last season, but today I thought he looked incisive and quick, rather than ponderous and flat as for much of 2013/14.

 

Not so good: poor discipline for periods, culminating in a yellow card for Green. Two Rotherham tries coming from our defence being stretched – something that didn’t look likely to happen at the other end. Handling errors, a plastic pitch won’t make the ball any easier to handle in the wet. An inability to break down a Championship defence for long periods, and struggling for possession at times.

 

So lots to work on I think, I’d say penalties being the most worrying. In a league game against a better team that didn’t also offend frequently, we might have been kicked out of sight today.

 

But despite some seemingly pointless kicks as we’ve come to expect but hoped to avoid this season, I think the team showed some good attacking intent, certainly more than during the depths of last winter, and with a decent pitch we might see more of that throughout the coming season. Things will come together if the team just keep plugging away at what is certainly the right way to play.

 

Final thought for today – it may not have been a fantastic game or a positive result, but it was good to be back at KP!

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

Premiership 7s finals reaction

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Friday 8 August 2014

Twickenham Stoop, London

Premiership 7s Finals

 

It was a very disappointing night for the Falcons on Friday, losing to Newport in the quarter-finals of the main Premiership 7s, and then to London Irish in the plate semi-finals. Neither was a big beating, being by two and seven points respectively, but we didn’t play very well and deserved to lose them both.
There didn’t seem to be any real spark about the team, and massive drive or energy. Plenty of graft of course, but nothing special.

 

Tom Catterick played quite well again, being involved in most of what the Falcons did. Dan Temm and Ben Morris made some big tackles, and Temm carried well. Chris Harris made some quite good runs.

 

The team were a bit disjointed though. Perhaps we were just playing better opposition than at Darlington, where we were never really challenged that seriously. Perhaps we missed a bit more experience alongside Catterick, and the pace of someone like Simon Hammersley who did so well last week.

 

It’s a shame we have now had two pretty poor Premiership Sevens finals in a row, having for many years challenged for Middlesex and Premiership sevens titles, but it’s not that important in the grand scheme of everything.

 

Far more important things to come from September.

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

Premiership 7s group reaction

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Saturday 2 August 2014

Northern Echo Arena, Darlington

Premiership 7s Group D

 

Despite a tricky opening game against Leicester, in the end the Falcons were not massively troubled on the way to keeping up a perfect record of twelve wins from twelve games in Premiership 7s groups. Our young side now move on to the finals at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday night.

 

The late switch of venue from Kingston Park to the Northern Echo Arena in Darlington did not prevent a big crowd from turning out on a wet night in the North East, indeed three coachloads headed down the A1 to join the rest of the 7,000 in attendance. There was a fun atmosphere and some exciting rugby on show.

 

Tom Catterick was named player of the evening, and he certainly led from the front, however for me the Falcons’ stars were the speedy Simon Hammersley, who will surely get more cup outings at full-back this season, and Dan Temm, whose back row skills were evident in many ruck scavengings.

 

The Falcons just about made it past Leicester in the opening game 26-21, rescued by two second-half scores by captain Catterick. London Welsh beat Sale but were then downed by the Tigers.

 

In our second game, Sale were put to the sword with relative ease, Simon Hammersley and Ben Morris among the scorers to particularly impress in a 27-7 win that was only not a nilling because of a late Sharks consolation.

 

After Leicester beat Sale to ensure a whitewash for the Mancs, the Falcons held out London Welsh’s early attacks and tries from Chris Harris and Catterick ensured the evening’s plate would stay in the North East. In four group stages in this competition the Falcons are yet to lose a single game.

 

It doesn’t really matter of course, and will have no bearing on the Premiership season to come, but winning is always nice and the players involved last night will have had a confidence boost as well as, for most of them as youngsters, benefitting from the experience of playing in front of a big crowd.

 

My impression of the Northern Echo Arena was that a fair bit of it did not appear to have been brilliantly maintained since its opening eleven years ago, although that is perhaps not surprising given the former Darlington FC’s financial struggles. The concourse was not as attractive as many I’ve seen, but it wasn’t really a major problem and if Mowden Park continue to improve then perhaps they can sort everything out. The ‘clubhouse’ bar in the outside of the stadium looked quite nice, though I didn’t get a chance to try it out.

 

The other finalists for Friday are Cardiff Blues, Newport Gwent Dragons, Gloucester, London Irish, Northampton and final hosts Harlequins. The teams will be split into two groups of four, each playing three games and the two group winners advancing to the final. Due to the expanded format, the first game will begin at 6pm, so if you’re going and don’t want to miss any of the action, plan accordingly!

 

Looking forward to it.

 

 

P.S. I’ve decided to be loyal to my adopted Cumbrian country by noting all of the Eddie Stobart lorries I see on rugby trips this season. We didn’t see a single one coming back today, though some of that may have been because for at least twenty minutes, the M6 was deluged with rain and I could see about fifty metres ahead, and not enough of the wing mirror to make overtaking even approaching safe. Lots of fun. Saw a few Stobarts yesterday though.

 

This weekend’s Eddie Stobarts:

Ruby Emma

Jodie Marie

Courtney Liana (the favourite so far)

Lucy Eleanor

Catherine Florence

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)