Match preview: Northampton Saints v Newcastle Falcons

miracle-garden

Saturday 1 November 2014 – 4.00pm

Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton

LV= Cup #1

 

This could be an interesting game – the rejuvenated Falcons against the champions in a cup game. Our record away to Franklin’s Gardens isn’t that good (like most away grounds) but our players will be full of confidence and hunger to impress ahead of the Premiership restarting in a few weeks’ time, and Northampton will probably not be at full strength, so I think we have every reason to be positive.

 

The Saints obviously have quite a strong squad and whatever team they put out will be difficult to beat, no doubt about that. The other day I tried to make two XVs out of their squad, and the second one would probably give our first team a pretty decent game if not beat us half the time if you marry the players’ quality with Northampton’s coaching and culture. But right now I’d probably be a bit more optimistic about tomorrow’s game than our league visit to the Gardens in the league in January.

 

Unsurprisingly, if the Falcons were to triumph tomorrow, we’d be the first team to win away to the champions this season. Indeed, only Leicester and Leinster won on Weedon Road last term. Jim Mallinder’s side began 2014/15 with a 53-6 destruction of Gloucester at the Gardens, and since then they have defeated Bath, Sale and Ospreys at home. Their only defeats have been at Wasps in September in the league, and against Racing Metro in Paris last month, a 20-11 defeat in which the Saints conceded a late converted try to lose out on even a bonus point.

 

Just this past Saturday, the talismanic George North was the Midlanders’ star turn in a 34-6 defeat of Ospreys in the Champions Cup. The Welsh winger scored all four of his team’s tries against his compatriots, England squad fly-half Stephen Myler converting three and adding two penalties as Northampton got back on track in Europe.

 

Our last visit to Franklin’s Gardens was just under a year ago, in a televised Premiership game. Despite what many Falcons fans at the time considered our best performance of the season so far (an idea I found strange, since we had hardly any ball or territory all day), Northampton won 18-0 with tries from centres Luther Burrell and James Wilson. Fair enough, it wasn’t the trouncing many people might have expected, but great it was not.

 

Northampton have been finalists in this competition three times in the past five seasons, winning the 2010 final 30-24 against Gloucester at Sixways with tries from Soane Tonga’uiha, James Downey and Lee Dickson. Seven months ago the Midlanders made the long trip to Sandy Park to take on Exeter in the season’s first final, but were unable to deny the Chiefs a first senior trophy, losing 15-8.

 

Although it is more than a decade since we last met the Saints at home or away in a cup competition, we did of course play in the 2011 LV= Cup final at Franklin’s Gardens. Gloucester went one better than a year earlier by defeating the Falcons 34-7, as we were defeated soundly on the pitch but not off it – several hundred travelling Falcons fans had a barmy old time in the stands and by full-time someone who had just entered the ground might have been surprised were they told that Gloucester had won comfortably. Good times.

 

As I said, wins for us in Northampton have been in short supply over the years but surely nobody who was there will ever forget our last victory at the Gardens – in February 2009, buoyed by three wins in a row, the Falcons made the trip to the newly-promoted Saints and raced into a 0-19 lead with tries from Danny Williams, Jonny Golding and a storming run by fly-half Tom May (I can still see it now). Paul Diggin’s try led Northampton’s fightback, but we held on for a 13-19 victory that caused anger among some home fans but was celebrated madly by the travelling Geordies.

 

 

Falcons in NN5:

15/02/1958     Club Match                        L6-33

28/12/1974     Cup R1                              W7-4

08/04/1989     Division 2                          L12-13

23/01/1993     Cup R4                              L3-33

30/04/1994     Division 1                         L23-43

12/11/1994     Club Match                        L0-12

06/04/1996     Division 2                          L5-26

31/01/1998     Premiership 1                 W21-17

28/02/1998     Cup QF                            L7-17

27/03/1999     Premiership 1                  L16-57

26/12/1999     Premiership 1                  L5-37

18/11/2000     Premiership                      L18-26

09/03/2002     Cup SF                              L7-38

12/05/2002     Premiership                      L19-24

07/09/2002     Premiership                      L13-31

18/10/2003     Premiership                      L20-33

15/04/2005     Premiership                      L22-23

17/09/2005     Premiership                      W16-9

03/09/2006     Premiership                      L23-25

28/02/2009     Premiership                      W19-13

13/02/2010     Premiership                      L13-25

30/10/2010     Premiership                      L13-34

20/03/2011     Cup Final (v Gloucester)             L7-34

29/10/2011     Premiership                      L15-44

23/11/2013     Premiership                      L0-18

 

Lets remember that the Saints went from promotion to Heineken Cup finalists in three years and champions in six (via two Challenge Cups, including last season’s, and the aforementioned LV= Cup win) – what an inspiration they are and I’m sure Dean Richards knows it.

 

 

While both Richards and Northampton counterpart Jim Mallinder have named several fringe and young players in their lineups for tomorrow, both teams look strong so it should be a competitive game. On paper, the Saints should probably come out on top, but for Falcons fans it is a chance to hopefully see what Alesana Tuilagi and Uili Kolo’ofai can do when fit. Joel Hodgson starting at scrum-half for the home side (who are captained by Phil Dowson) will add a bit more spice to the occasion, in front of what might well be a sell-out crowd.

 

Falcons: 15 Lee Smith, 14 Tom Catterick, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Rob Hawkins, 3 Scott Wilson, 4 Calum Green, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Dan Temm, 7 Andy Saull (c), Uili Kolo’ofai.

 

Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 19 Sean Robinson, 20 Dom Barrow, 21 Andy Davies, 22 Juan Pablo Socino, 23 Simon Hammersley.

 

Northampton: 15 Tom Collins, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 Tom Stephenson, 12 Dom Waldouck, 11 Howard Packman, 10 Will Hooley, 9 Joel Hodgson, 1 Ethan Waller, 2 Mike Haywood, 3 Gareth Denman, 4 James Craig, 5 Christian Day, 6 Phil Dowson (c), 7 Teimana Harrison, 8 Jon Fisher.

 

Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Alex Woolford, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Kahn Fotuali’I, 22 Harry Mallinder, 23 Josh Skelcey.

 

 

Quite looking forward to this one.

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir: @SouthStandChoir)

Kendal 39-19 Vale of Lune

IMG_3276

Saturday 25 October 2014 – 3.00pm

Mint Bridge, Kendal

North One West #8

 

Kendal put last week’s defeat at Carlisle behind them to extend their lead at the top of North One West to three points, Vale of Lune becoming the latest side to find Mint Bridge more like Bitter Bridge this season.

 

Bolstered by the return of captain James Gough who scored the bonus-point try, the Hornets made hard work of it for the first hour before pulling away with three late tries in the biting Cumbrian wind.

 

Although across county borders, this game is a local derby of sorts with the two clubs only twenty-four miles apart, and they have been playing each other for well over a century.

 

The rain that had threatened to engulf South Lakeland all morning held off as the action got underway, Kendal unusually attacking the clubhouse end in the first half, but expecting to have the strong wind behind them in the second forty.

IMG_3280

Vale of Lune looked to take full advantage of the wind with a strong first half performance. The first try came within the first ten minutes, the visitors sending a penalty from halfway into touch on the right, and as the ball was spread inside Billy Swarbrick fought over beside the posts, Ben Dorrington converting.

 

Kendal finally built their first spell in the away half after a quarter of an hour and almost made it to the 22 before a deliberate knock-on halted the Hornets. They sent the penalty into the corner, and from the drive Vale were again penalised, this time for offside. Kendal tapped and drove over the line, Glenn Weightman converting the try to level the scores.

 

Vale were not deterred however, Rob Lamberton and Adam Macluskie both made great breaks into the Kendal half but were unable to find finishers.

 

The game was played at a high temperature, in contrast to the actual air temperature, and after Dini Noyo was tackled around the neck the resulting fisticuffs led to Kendal’s Billy Coxon and Daniel Barnes of Vale being sent to the sin bin. Kendal’s penalty was kicked for touch but they were pulled up for crossing on the Vale 22.

 

Vale performed better when both sides were down to fourteen and a break by Lamberton deep into the Kendal half saw the centre find Chris Weeks on his shoulder, the full-back immediately passing on to Tom Ball who ran in to score on the right. The try was followed by a bit of handbags, but that did not distract Dorrington from adding the extras.

IMG_3287

The Lancastrians were backed by some vocal supporters at Mint Bridge today, none more so than a gentleman (and I use the term loosely) who took great exception to the referee penalising the away side in front of the posts on the half-hour and showing Michael Barker a yellow card. From the resulting lineout, big prop Richard Harryman crashed over for the try, though Weightman’s conversion fell short in the wind.

 

Gough looked to inspire a half-time lead for the hosts with a break from a scrum, and found Noyo on the wing. Under pressure, the little South African chipped into the 22 and the ball bounced into the arms of a defender, but in the tackle he coughed up the ball and Noyo regathered, only a tackle into touch inches from the line denying him a try.

 

However, Kendal did go into the break ahead through a 25-metre penalty by Weightman, making the half-time score 15-14.

 

 

Kendal took control of the game almost immediately after the restart, Weightman setting powerful centre Bob Mataia away. Dan Lowther continued the attack but Noyo was unable to gather a pass on the 22. The Hornets decided to go further into the lead when awarded a penalty just outside the 22 for another high tackle, Weightman knocking the ball over.

 

The home forwards hammered on the Vale door, through a series of penalties and scrums, and at four points ahead looked for more tries. Vale were unable to clear, preferring to play their way out of the 22 but never quite succeeding. Kendal were however also their own worst enemies, losing possession to knock-ons and loose passes, though it seemed only a matter of time before the Cumbrians’ third try came.

IMG_3298

Well past the hour mark, Weightman sent a penalty high towards the Vale goal from ten metres inside the away half, but the ball flew wide. The tension among the home fans was bubbling following the defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory witnessed at Carlisle last week.
Finally the breakthrough came. Kendal took a scrum on the Vale 22 and drove all the way to the line, hooker Garry Holmes the man to touch down. Weightman converted.

IMG_3325

Just two minutes later Kendal kicked to the right corner and stole the ball back following Vale’s lineout, and Gough broke through the away defence to score the bonus-point try that allowed the South Lakeland side to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

 

Seconds after that, Alistair Thompson exploited a gap on the left of Vale’s defence and raced in for another try, bringing the score to 32-14.

IMG_3342

There was still time for Vale of Lune to grab a consolation try with their first real attack of the second half, Lamberton the man to score with a break just to the right of the posts.

IMG_3355

Defeat for Widnes saw Birkenhead Park reclaim second spot behind Kendal in the table, but the bonus point means that Kendal increase their lead at the top just slightly. Next up for the Hornets is a trip to mid-table Manchester side Broughton Park in a week’s time.

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir: @SouthStandChoir)

Match reaction: Newport Gwent Dragons 26-30 Newcastle Falcons

newport1

Friday 24 October 2014 – 7.30pm

Rodney Parade, Newport

European Rugby Challenge Cup Pool 3 #2

 

Are we all still chuffed? I told you that once we got one win, more would come!

 

That sounded like a tasty game on the radio last night. A baying crowd, two teams going hammer and tongs. It was pretty tense listening, probably worse for those just following on Twitter, that’s why going to the game is best as at least you can see what’s happening and shout!

 

I managed to miss the middle five minutes or so, the internet dying just as the Dragons scored their late first-half try, and recovering as Mark Wilson scored. That was a big relief as it had been an interesting listen in the first half, but perhaps not quite as welcome in the last few minutes as we defended a four-point lead and Newport pounded on the door.

 

The game stopped with apparently seconds to go and I didn’t hear what happened, big panic! Twitter said that we had a 5m scrum, and Big Smithy and Dean quite calmly went on to say that our players had their hands in the air and we’d won.

 

Quiet end to a great result against a strong Dragons team. Lets remember that while Stade Francais weren’t at full strength last week, they are still a decent side and Newport won over there. We weren’t nearly at full strength last night (maybe six first choice players in the starting lineup) yet we won at Rodney Parade. So it’s a very impressive result I think.

 

We seem to now have a winning mentality and really good morale in the squad, a squad which has better strength in depth than for many years. Not in every game, but the future really does look brighter now I think.

 

Mark Wilson sounded like he had another strong game, but the name I remember hearing most in the second half both in defence and attack was Dan Temm – seemed to pick up where he left off against Bucharest and will surely get another start in the LV= Cup in the coming weeks. Other than that, Lee Smith and Rob Hawkins seem to be putting their hands up for further action, and Will Witty’s second try in two games will have done his chances of getting more games no harm.

 

Of course nobody should think that we will now go on and win the next ten games too, and soar up the league to make a late challenge for a playoff spot. Northampton could well bring us back down to Earth a week today. But if they do, it won’t be for the want of trying, and the team will bounce back and give it a big go against Cardiff at home.

 

Now might be a good time to have another momentary think about the season so far. If someone had said that we’d win four of our first games of the season, among them London Welsh away, and be closer to fifth place than to bottom – oh, and we’d have scored twenty-four tries (after eight games last season we had just six), I think we’d have been very happy.

 

Viva la Richards Revolución!

 

 

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

Match preview: Newport Gwent Dragons v Newcastle Falcons

VarnaDragons

Friday 24 October 2014 – 7.30pm

Rodney Parade, Newport

European Rugby Challenge Cup Pool 3 #2

 

The Falcons will be looking for a fourth win in a row tomorrow night, a long way from home down in southern Wales as we visit Newport Gwent Dragons in the European Challenge Cup. This might have been the day when Pool 3 split into two halves, with the Falcons and Stade Francais taking the driving seats in the group, but it hasn’t worked out that way so far.

 

Last week’s 22-38 upset of Stade in Paris got the Dragons’ European campaign off to the best possible start, the Welshmen returning home with a full five points thanks to Nic Cudd’s late try.

 

That was however only the second win of the season for Lyn Jones’ team, following on from a 33-15 defeat of Treviso in the Pro12 last month. Ospreys and Glasgow have already left Newport with victories this season, while the Dragons have also lost at Connacht, Scarlets and Edinburgh in the league.

 

That said, in August the Dragons played three friendlies against English opposition and won all – the most impressive being a 27-25 comeback win over Premiership champions Northampton at Ebbw Vale. Bonus points and points difference mean that the Dragons, though languishing in ninth place in the Pro12, are slightly ahead of Cardiff Blues in the race for a Champions Cup spot.

 

Generally considered the poor relation among the four Welsh regions, the Dragons do have a number of big names in their squad, perhaps their most prominent current player being Taulupe Faletau, the Tongan-born Wales back-rower who played in the third Lions test in Australia last summer.

 

Director of Rugby Jones bolstered his squad in the summer by signing Lee Byrne from Clermont Auvergne, still a top full-back in the twilight of his career having lost his Wales place to Leigh Halfpenny, and Aled Brew from Biarritz.

 

Brew is now in his fourth spell in Gwent having had a spell on loan at Rodney Parade from Ospreys in 2006/07, and then moving permanently in 2009 following a spell at Cardiff Blues, which also included a second loan period in Newport. The winger was a member of Wales’ 2009 World Cup Sevens-winning side in Dubai and went to the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. He has scored over forty tries for the Dragons in his previous spells.

 

60+cap lock Ian Gough is also back at Rodney Parade after spells with Ospreys and London Irish, and at almost 38 years of age offers huge experience in the Dragons engine room, replacing the departed Rob Sidoli.

 

The other easily-recognisable name in the Dragons squad is Boris Stankovich, a New Zealand-born former England youth prop who played over a hundred games for Leicester over the past seven years, winning three league titles, before moving to Wales this summer.

 

So it seems the Dragons mean business in 2014/15!!

 

 

Since the reorganisation of the professional game in Wales in 2003, the Falcons have met Newport Gwent Dragons more often than any other region (five times, compared to one competitive game against Ospreys, three against Cardiff Blues and two against Scarlets). The last meeting was just over eight months ago in the last round of 2013/14’s LV= Cup group stage, when the Falcons won 29-0 at Kingston Park.

 

Mark Wilson scored two tries, while Fraser McKenzie and Phil Godman also crossed, Godman adding two conversions and a penalty.

 

Although our most recent visit to Rodney Parade was to meet Newport RFC in the British & Irish Cup in December 2012, we do have far more famous and glorious previous at tomorrow’s destination. It was unforgettable day for anyone who was there for a Saturday lunchtime kick-off in October 2004 – the opening round of the Heineken Cup, hoying doon with rain, and a 6-10 victory for the Falcons thanks to Mike McCarthy’s try, a conversion and penalty by Matthew Burke, and a hand-kicking masterclass by Dave Walder. All while overcoming a red card for Luke Gross.

 

Loved it.

 

The Falcons’ team that day was: Matthew Burke, Tom May, Jamie Noon, Mathew Tait, Michael Stephenson, Dave Walder, James Grindal (Hall Charlton), Ian Peel (c) (Marius Hurter), James Isaacson (Matt Thompson), Micky Ward, Luke Gross, Stuart Grimes, Mike McCarthy, Colin Charvis, Phil Dowson.

 

 

Falcons in NP19:

11/01/2001 Heineken Cup (v Newport RFC)      L17-53

23/10/2004 Heineken Cup (v Dragons)              W10-6

03/10/2008 EDF Energy Cup (v Dragons)          L14-25

08/12/2012 British & Irish Cup (v Newport RFC) W26-10

 

 

Simon ‘The Hammer’ Hammersley is back in the Falcons starting lineup for tomorrow night, with Lee Smith moving onto the wing along with Alex Tait. Rob Vickers starts for the first time since the opening day of the season, and Scott MacLeod and Sean Robinson form the second row.

 

Falcons team: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Tom Penny, 12 Chris Harris, 11 Lee Smith, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Ruki Tipuna, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Rob Hawkins, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Will Welch (c), 7 Andy Saull, 8 Mark Wilson.

 

Replacements: 16 Alex Rogers, 17 Eric Fry, 18 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 19 Will Witty, 20 Dan Temm, 21 Andy Davies, 22 Craig Willis, 23 Tom Catterick.

 

 

Dragons team: Lee Byrne (c), Matthew Pewtner, Tom Prydie, Ashley Smith, Hallam Amos, Angus O’Brien, Richie Rees; Boris Stankovich, Elliot Dee, Dan Way, James Thomas, Rynard Landman, Lewis Evans, Nic Cudd, Taulupe Faletau.

 

Replacements: T. Rhys Thomas, Phil Price, Lloyd Fairbrother, Andrew Coombs, Andy Powell, Jonathan Evans, Dorian Jones, Aled Brew.

 

 

I realised today that today is exactly ten years since our glorious Heineken Cup win in Newport. No better time to repeat it!

 

 

 

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

Carlisle 26-24 Kendal

photo (10)

Saturday 18 October 2014 – 3.00pm

Warwick Road, Carlisle

North One West

 

Defeat for Birkenhead Park meant that the mighty Kendal remain at the top of North One West despite suffering a first defeat of the season yesterday in a fierce Cumbrian derby at Carlisle.

 

Although the anticipated battle of livewire wingers Yousef Sahib and Dini Noyo didn’t materialise (both did score though), this blood-and-thunder affair at Warwick Road went right down to the wire and a Dan Holmes try two minutes from time sent the north Cumbrians wild, and left the travelling Kendal fans to contemplate defeat on their way back down the M6.

IMG_3262

With Carlisle beginning the day ninth in the table and coming off a tight comeback win at New Brighton last week while Kendal were destroying Wigton at Mint Bridge, the first score unsurprisingly went to the visitors, Chris Park kicking a penalty for offside on the 22.

 

Carlisle went on the attack and went through the phases, but dogged defence from Kendal kept the hosts around the 22 line, young openside Henry Wainwright among those making fruitless drives.

 

Carlisle finally made the breakthrough just shy of the twenty-minute mark, with a 22 lineout on the left brought inside and James Roche found Matt Minett on his shoulder, the full-back cutting between Kendal’s central defenders to score under the posts. Damian Armstrong converted and Carlisle had a deserved lead.

 

The visitors from South Lakeland seemed galvanised by the try, with Dan Lowther making a probing run down the left but failing to find Noyo on the wing. The referee brought the play back for an offside penalty, but Kendal’s attack broke down when Lowther was unable to take Nathan Woolf’s pass in the centre.

IMG_3263

Chris Park looked to have telegraphed a golden chance for the Hornets when he missed Alistair Thompson on the overlap, but Kendal recycled and a crossfield kick to the left was collected by Noyo for the South African winger’s sixth try in two games. Park’s conversion restored Kendal’s three-point lead.

 

However, Carlisle hit back before half-time. Minett took a high kick in the Kendal half and the hosts spread the ball right for Martin Brodie to break through Noyo’s tackle and score just to the right of the posts.

 

The conversion made the half-time score 14-10 as Armstrong pulled a long-range penalty wide late in the half.

IMG_3264

The second period was initially scrappy, but Kendal took control of possession and a move involving Matty Kaye, Liam Hayton and rampaging cult hero prop Billy Coxon led the visitors from halfway to the 22. Carlisle’s Shane Moynihan strayed offside but a huge gust of wind pushed Park’s penalty wide.

 

Wainwright was then sent to the sin bin for a clear offside ten metres out from the posts and Kendal tapped and drove, but were held up.

 

Finally the breakthrough came on 54 minutes, with Gary Holmes almost making it to the line but Tom Voke finding a tiny gap and diving over to put Kendal back into the lead. Lowther, involved in most of Kendal’s good play all afternoon, increased the visitors’ lead with another try.

IMG_3266

The league leaders from South Lakeland appeared in control now, and even stole a lineout on halfway to allow Noyo to go on a thirty-metre run but a tap on the 22 knocked the winger off-balance, saving the game for Carlisle.

 

With ten minutes to go, Carlisle began to build their attack and a series of penalties took them into the Kendal half. With seven minutes left, teenage winger Sahib took a difficult pass just outside the 22 and rounded the away defence on the left to score an excellent try, and Minett’s conversion reduced the gap to just three points.

IMG_3269

Josh Holmes led Carlisle’s attempts to punch a hole in the visitors’ defence, and Minett also probing. The clock ticked down to 78 minutes, when Barry Earl crashed into the defence, and offloaded for replacement Dan Holmes to dive over on the right and send the home fans mad. Minett pulled the crucial conversion wide, but Kendal knocked on from the kick-off and after retaining possession, Carlisle put the ball out to make safe their victory.

 

Carlisle’s management were ecstatic after the victory, with head coach Gary Hewer praising his team’s determination and endeavour against a side he expects to still go on to top North One West come April.

IMG_3271

*A shorter version of this report appeared in today’s Sunday Sun. Thanks to Gary Hewer for quotes and BBC’s James Clarke for assistance.

 

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 43-19 Bucharest Wolves

IMG_3260

Friday 17 October 2014 – 8.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

European Rugby Challenge Cup Pool 3 #1

 

Another funny atmosphere last night – nothing like the tension of Exeter, or the exuberance of London Welsh, but more a night out with a bit of rugby attached.

 

To be honest, as long as the Falcons showed Bucharest respect and played a professional game, we were always going to win tonight, just through superior quality. I think that’s how it turned out in the first half, our backs were just too fast, and Chris Harris and Tom Penny did their chances of further first team starts no harm at all with strong shows in attack and three tries between them.

 

So for most of the game, it was chatter rather than chanting, bar a few kids in the South Stand, which is nice to hear. If any of them are reading, sing your hearts out kids and have a great time!! Things threatened to get ever so slightly over tepid at one point in the second half as the visitors from Romanialand came out fighting (the second time, the first time they came out and went back in!) and took the game to the Falcons.

 

All credit to Bucharest for that, by the way. It would be all too easy for a team like them to come to England or France and engage in damage limitation, and if they do that then there’s no point in them playing. But the Wolves came to play and it is also thanks to them that we had an enjoyable game to watch at KP last night.

 

In the end, while apparently Deano was happy with the first half (and why not, at 36-7 up) but not the second, we got another half of defensive practice against a spirited, competent but limited team, like last week in Oxford. So it’s never a wasted half.

 

I was surprised to hear Andy Saull named man of the match tonight as I thought he was quiet, but then of course a lot of the work done by forwards off the ball can go unseen by the humble fan. As I said above, I thought both the starting centres were sound, and Eric Fry and Rob Hawkins definitely put themselves about while standing up to an aggressive Romanian scrum. Dom Barrow and Will Witty formed a decent partnership while the latter was on.

 

One player I was really impressed with tonight was Noah Cato – I know I’m one of his bigger fans among Geordies, but while I admit he did miss a howler of a tackle in the second half, literally seconds later he recovered to grab a guy he had no right to get to, and was constantly dangerous with the ball in hand.

 

Rory Clegg? Hit and miss I thought, a bit like his kicking. He is a competent player but perhaps not the right guy to play fly-half in an attacking gameplan, he seems far more of a defensive player than Socino and Godman. Good to get some time on the pitch though. I also think he was more fluid than Tom Catterick when the latter moved to first receiver, and I can’t imagine we’ll see Catterick out of the back three much in the future.

 

On the whole, the Falcons did what was required tonight, they got a bonus-point win by a margin of 24 points and you can’t really ask for more than that. Newport away this coming Friday will no doubt be a bit more difficult, but win that and we might be able to start thinking about a potential quarter-final, once we’ve got revenge on Stade by hammering them twice!!

 

 

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Bucharest Wolves

wild-wolf-animal-howl

Friday 17 October 2014 – 8.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

European Rugby Challenge Cup Pool 3 #1

 

I only watched four of our opening six Premiership games, one of them on TV, but it’s still been a stressful few weeks. Fortunately, that’s where cup games come in, and we now have a month to chill a bit and enjoy some lower-pressure matches, beginning with Bucharest Wolves coming to KP tomorrow night.

 

It would be a surprise if the Falcons didn’t begin our latest European Rugby Challenge Cup campaign with a win tomorrow night, as long as they are professional and patient. It won’t be easy though – Bucharest’s record in continental combat is not that terrible for team not from the top flight of European rugby. From 56 games in total, going back to 2004, they have won fourteen, lost 41 and drawn one, and have never lost all six games in the group stage (though they’ve also never qualified from a group).

 

Last year at this stage, the Falcons flew to Romania for the opening round and came home with a slender 12-13 win, thanks to an Adam Powell try. The return at KP in January was all but a dead rubber, as Brive defeated Calvisano on the same night to go through to the quarter-finals, but the Falcons completed their part of the job by beating Bucharest 28-0. Tom Catterick and Ryan Shortland scored tries, while Rory Clegg and Phil Godman’s boots completed the win alongside a penalty try.

 

The Falcons are defending a decent record on the opening day of European competition, having only lost our first game twice – away to Benetton Treviso in the then-European Shield in 2000, and at home to Newport in the Heineken Cup a year later.

 

On 17 October, things don’t look quite so good – in the professional era, we’ve never won on this day. The last outing was against Saracens at KP in 2004, when last-minute drop-goals from Mark Bartholomeusz and Jonny Wilkinson extended the level scoreline to 20-20. That game was perhaps most notable for the first return to KP of Falcons cup-winning captain Hugh Vyvyan, who led the Londoners. We have also lost to Sarries and Gloucester in the Premiership on this day, last winning in a friendly at Leeds 22 years ago.

 

Falcons on 17 October:

1903   Blaydon Wanderers (H)       L0-9

1931   Seghill (A)                                L3-11

1936   Old Novos (H)                        L12-25

1953   Darlington GSOB (H)           L6-20

1959   Sunderland (A)                      W5-3

1964   Huddersfield (A)                   W22-3

1970   Huddersfield (A)                   W17-13

1981   Vale of Lune (H)                    W25-15

1987   Orrell (H)                                W15-13

1992   Leeds (A)                                 W37-26

1998   Gloucester (A) Premiership L32-41

1999   Saracens (A) Premiership     L6-55

2004   Saracens (H) Premiership   D20-20

 

The other teams in our group are of course Stade Francais and Newport Gwent Dragons, and they get their race to the Stoop underway on Saturday night in the Stade Jean Bouin in Paris.

 
Dean Richards has made a number of changes to the team for tomorrow night, including bringing in a rookie centre partnership of Tom Penny and Chris Harris. Lee Smith, Warren Fury, Eric Fry and Rob Hawkins get starts, while the academy is represented in the pack by Will Witty and Dan Temm. Andy Saull captains from the back row and there is a welcome return on the bench for Rob Vickers.

 

15 Lee Smith, 14 Tom Catterick, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Tom Penny, 11 Noah Cato, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Warren Fury; 1 Eric Fry, 2 Rob Hawkins, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Will Witty, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Dan Temm, 7 Andy Saull (c), 8 Mark Wilson.

 

Replacements 16 David Nelson, 17 Rob Vickers, 18 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 19 Sean Robinson, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Andy Davies, 22 Craig Willis, 23 Simon Hammersley.

 

 

Bucharest Wolves team: 15 Luke Samoa, 14 Florin Ionita, 13 Catalin Dascalu, 12 Csaba Gal (c), 11 Ionut Botezatu, 10 Eugene Jantjies, 9 Florin Surugiu, 1 Constantin Pristavita, 2 Alexandru-Claudiu Oancea, 3 Vlad Badalicescu, 4 Petre Neacsu, 5 Onal Ageacai, 6 Vali-Catalin Mototolea, 7 Razvan Ailenei, 8 Constantin Ene.

 

Replacements: 16 Catalin Beca, 17 Silviu Vasiliu, 18 Mihai Dico, 19 Alexandru Mitu, 20 Paul Ailenei, 21 Grigoras Diaconescu, 22 Florin Vlaicu, 23 Robert Neagu.

 

 

I like the look of our team, a good blend of youth and experience and some exciting pacy players. Particularly looking forward to seeing Tom Penny and Dan Temm in the first team.

 

 

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