Under the Clock Chronicles: #nottherealworldcup

Nigel_Owens_Welsh_Rugby_Union_Referee

I can’t remember the last time I was so uninspired in the run-up to a football World Cup. Maybe it’s because I’m in the middle of planning a wedding and making sure I don’t return from our honeymoon unemployed.

 

However, that was before last night. First, wor lass got me to stick together the World Cup wallchart from the Metro and put it up on the spare room door. Then once I sat down for the last few minutes of preview and finally the opening game, Brazil v Croatia, I was well up for it. It was an interesting game, especially in the period when Croatia led, before Brazil’s sheer quality won through.

 

During the game I was following opinions on Twitter. As I follow a lot of rugby fans, I found plenty of good banter. Stuff like “Come on ref, that went out on the full”, “Why is he letting so many forward passes go?”, “England playing New Zealand on Sat morning and Italy on Sat night, Lancaster will need that strength in depth”, “Croatia deserve at least a losing bonus point” and my personal favourite: “Must have been a heck of a fight in the first half, both teams already down to 11 men!”

 

Oh, I forgot the contribution from a Bath fan: “Watching Brazil v Croatia is like watching Glawster RFC – both teams struggling to play anything resembling rugby.” I guess you could put a lot of teams’ names in there – the Falcons, certainly.

 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all fun and games. There were a few cynical posts, like “Football: 90 minutes of pretending to be injured. Rugby: 80 minutes of pretending not to be injured”, and all the talk of waiting for a dive. Well, the latter weren’t disappointed when Fred took a tumble for Brazil’s penalty, and my timeline reflected the cynics’ joy. They, like me, presumably also weren’t impressed by several Croatian defenders embarrassing themselves by surrounding the referee after he gave the penalty, as if they had ever once in their careers seen a referee change his mind under pressure.

 

My counter was: “I’m waiting for an eye gouge so Nigel Owens can run on and say ‘Come on lads, this isn’t rugby’”.

 

It reminded me of reading a blog on the Saracens v Northampton Premiership final last week, an absolutely superb game and top level sport at its very best. At least twice in the blog, the writer mentioned football – booing from fans was one cause. It might have been three times if he had noticed, as another tweeter had, that one of the Northampton players apparently made a TMO gesture at the referee after one of Saracens’ touchdowns. Sporting? Gentlemanly?

 

Then of course there was that punch on Tom Youngs by Silesi Ma’afuin the semi-final. The two players had banter about it on Twitter afterwards, and for many that seemed to make it alright. I agree that Youngs showed himself to be a top bloke with his reaction, but it was still a clear punch to the face. Can we accept that, as long as the assailant and victim later laugh about it on Twitter?

 

You don’t see that too often in the football Premier League. Nor do you see referees being pushed deliberately. When Paolo Di Canio pushed a referee back in the late nineties he was banned for twelve matches, twice as long as Kieran Brookes was this year.

 

Football has its problems – foul-mouthed fans and a minority of players diving. abusing referees and misbehaving in public – but rugby is not perfect. Dwarf-tossing, anybody? I have been watching football longer than rugby, and I have never met a football fan who carries a rugby ball-shaped Harry Ramsdens packet on his shoulder, but I’ve known plenty of people who are the other way around.

 

Is it really necessary? Can we not just live and let live, and if you don’t have anything nice to say, not say anything at all?

 

 

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 13-23 Exeter Chiefs

the-end

Saturday 10 May 2014 – 3.15pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #22

 

Oh dear me. For ten or twenty minutes yesterday, the Falcons took the game to Exeter by playing the same fast, attacking rugby that has brought an idea of progress recently. We were 6-0 up.

 

Then it all went a bit downhill. At half-time, I can only assume that the team were told to go out and play in a negative way, giving the ball back to the opposition and letting them come at us. That hasn’t worked all season, there was no reason to believe that it would work yesterday. It blew the final opportunity we had for an exciting win that may have shifted another few season tickets.

 

I just don’t understand it and you’ll be glad to know I’m not going to rant about it yet again. Lets just hope that the likes of Tipuna, Socino and Alex Tuilagi can help bring out a more attacking game, along with the retention of Joel Hodgson who had another promising game yesterday, including a try-saving chase and tackle that not every Premiership player would have attempted, never mind been able to make up the yards.

 

The Chiefs’ other ‘open goal’ was an interesting one. Phil Godman chipped into Sam Hill’s hands on the away tryline and Hill legged it to over halfway, before suddenly slowing down and allowing us to scramble back. I’d have been livid if a Falcons player had dallied like that but at that time you could only be grateful.

 

In the second half we never looked likely to get back into the game, I thought, until at the end we began playing with the ball in hand and magically scored a try. It was a typical rampaging run by Mark Wilson, and I’m glad that a player who has been superb all season got the last try and the man of the match award. I’d be surprised if Mark isn’t in the Saxons squad next season.

 

Continuing on positives, after the match yesterday there was some criticism of young referee Craig Maxwell-Keys, making his Premiership debut, but I don’t think he was any worse than seasoned top flight officials, and he consulted the TMO for a potential Exeter try that I would have given, but it seems like the ‘scorer’ lost control of the ball while touching down.

 

What we can praise the referee for, and both sets of forwards, is the lack of scrum resets yesterday. I can only remember two, at the same scrum. None of the usual nonsense that so blights the sport.

 

 

So what of the season as a whole? Well, disappointing. We stayed up, so on the surface it’s job done, but I think there were hopes for some demonstration that we are likely to move further on in 2014/15. On the evidence of this season alone, we probably won’t challenge for a Champions Cup place, and worryingly, it is unlikely that another side will be as poor as Worcester have been this year. On the other hand though, surely we can only improve too.

 

We did finish on our lowest-ever points total in the Premiership (22), one below 2010/11’s accumulation. That one win and ten defeats in eleven home games is just not good enough, goes without saying. A win could have been such a morale-booster yesterday but instead we have three months with sixteen successive defeats hanging over us.

 

I believe it could have been so much better had the Falcons used some intelligence earlier in the season, and more consistently in the past couple of months. But that’s now in the past, we can only hope that the management have a good think over the summer and develop a gameplan that will actually work. With Alex Tuilagi on one wing and Sinoti ‘The Tsunami’ Sinoti on the other, it would be a huge shame if we wasted those talents.

 

Oh, and sort out whatever discipline issue Lee Smith mentioned in his interview on the BBC website this week.

 

For now, we live to fight on in the Premiership next year, so lets be grateful for that. I wouldn’t want to be in Worcester’s position right now, or going through the Championship playoffs again.

 

Things can only get better! See you in September.

 

 

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Exeter Chiefs

indian-chief-western

Saturday 10 May 2014 – 3.15pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #22

After a week that has seen the Falcons secure Premiership safety and sign two Tuilagi brothers, we have the opportunity to avoid our lowest-ever points total in a Premiership season tomorrow, and will do so with a first league win over Exeter in the final game of the campaign, or equal it with a bonus point.

We currently have 22 points, one fewer than in 2010/11 when only points difference prevented relegation and sent Leeds down instead.

The Falcons are going for only a second final-day win since 2006 tomorrow, and only a sixth successful Premiership sign-off in sixteen attempts. Even in the Championship last season, in the last game of the regular season Bristol left Kingston Park with a win, our only defeat of the league season. We rarely have anything but pride to play for on the last day, indeed only in 2010/11 and 2011/12 have we still been in danger of relegation with one game left, and we often seem to see our season just peter out.

Last-day since 1998:

1997/98 Harlequins (A)               W44-20

1998/99 Saracens (A)                 L26-40

1999/00 Northampton (H)            L23-32

2000/01 Saracens (A)                 L29-34

2001/02 Northampton (A)            L19-24

2002/03 Bath (A)                        L12-24

2003/04 Rotherham (A)               W26-20

2004/05 London Irish (H)             W23-16

2005/06 Leeds (H)                      W54-19

2006/07 Bath (H)                        L12-20

2007/08 Worcester (A)                L10-51

2008/09 Harlequins (A)               L12-31

2009/10 Wasps (H)                     L21-25

2010/11 Bath (A)                        L12-42

2011/12 Wasps (A)                     W14-10

2012/13 Bristol (H) (Champ)        L14-19

The stand-out one there is obviously the first one – clinching the title with something to spare at the Stoop back in 1998. Good days.

This will be Exeter’s first trip to the North East since that unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) day in January 2012, an afternoon that has been talked about a lot in recent months. A 10-16 defeat by the Chiefs in front of just 3,445 spectators at a desolate, despondent KP proved to be the last straw in the difficult Alan Tait era and saw the manager replaced with Gary Gold for the rest of the season.

Haydn Thomas had put Exeter in front with an early try before Ignacio Mieres made the score 0-10 at half-time with a 39th-minute penalty. I still remember Jimmy Gopperth kicking off after that penalty, sending the ball deep and Exeter kicking for touch under no pressure to take half-time. In one move, it summed up everything that was wrong with the Falcons at the time. Gopperth and Mieres exchanged penalties after the break, and in the last five minutes an Exeter drop-goal was cancelled out by Tim Swinson’s converted try that gave us a bonus point. There was little celebration of that try – just worries about where on Earth we were headed.

I think that, however bad things have got this season, we will hopefully never sink to those depths of despair again.

That was Exeter’s second win at KP since their promotion, and they have also won all three Premiership meetings between the sides at Sandy Park as well as a European game in December 2010. Our only victories over the Chiefs this century have came in 2010/11, at KP in the LV= Cup and up in Galashiels snow in the Challenge Cup. The Falcons starting scrum-half at Netherdale? Joel Hodgson.

This season Exeter will finish either eighth or ninth, sitting on 41 points at the moment just one behind fellow south-westerners Gloucester. No doubt such a league placing will be disappointing to Rob Baxter and co, following sixth last season and an incredible fifth in 2011/12, only the Chiefs’ second top flight season. Even their debut year saw the Devon side end in eighth spot. To have performed so strongly in their Premiership time is to Exeter’s huge credit.

It was all capped off with an LV= Cup win on their home ground in March, with Northampton vanquished 15-8 at Sandy Park through tries from Chris Whitehead and captain Dean Mumm, and five points from Henry Slade.

Exeter arrive in Newcastle on the back of two successive home defeats, 29-30 to Harlequins on Sunday and a massive 12-55, eight-try drubbing by Sale in April – the Sandy Park side’s record Premiership loss. In fact, in their five games since the cup triumph, Exeter have only one win, that being a 33-38 success at Worcester a month ago.

Away from home this season Exeter have beaten London Irish, Gloucester, Sale and Worcester in the Premiership, as well as Cardiff Blues in the final round of Heineken Cup matches and the Warriors by a massive 3-42 at Sixways in the LV= Cup group stage. The 19-22 victory at Bath in the LV= semi-final was a first victory at the Rec for the Chiefs in 36 years.

Gary Strain and Ian Nagle make what could be their only Newcastle starts tomorrow, both presumably playing for contracts, while Oliver Tomaszczyk also comes into the starting lineup. James Fitzpatrick starts on his final matchday as a Falcon and Joel Hodgson continues his so-far promising half-back partnership with Mike Blair.

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Gary Strain, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Ian Nagle, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Mark Wilson

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Kieran Brookes, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Scott MacLeod, 20 Andy Saull, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Phil Godman, 23 Lee Smith

Exeter team:

15 Phil Dollman, 14 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Dave Lewis, 1 Ben Moon, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3 Hoani Tui, 4 Dean Mumm (c), 5 Damian Welch, 6 Ben White, 7 James Scaysbrook, 8 Kai Horstmann.

Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Alex Brown, 19 James Phillips, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Tom James.

After a tense, frustrating and sometimes quite annoying season, the pressure is now off and even though the BBC is predicting rain for Saturday afternoon, it should be mild so hopefully we can get a good game and that badly-needed win to give fans some optimism for 2014/15.

Come on!

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

Match reaction: London Wasps 44-38 Newcastle Falcons

Adams_Park_from_a_northerly_direction 2

Saturday 3 May 2014 – 3.00pm

Adams Park, High Wycombe

Aviva Premiership #21

 

Well, we’re finally scoring tries! Another haul of five at Adams Park yesterday but it wasn’t quite enough to get that elusive Premiership win.

 

A roaring 0-17 start in the first thirteen minutes and all was going well until either the Falcons switched off or Wasps switched on, and the hosts scored 29 points without reply. We then scored another fourteen, Wasps scored fifteen, and the finally the late fifth try got us a second bonus point.

 

 

It sounded a fantastic game on the radio – fortunately, the internet held up despite having been slow for over a week now and BT dragging their heels in sorting it out. On the back of Gloucester and Saracens, surely we now know that attack is the way to go and if we can go out and take the game to Exeter next week, then a victory is possible and season ticket sales will go up.

 

We could ask where this has been all season but there’s no point doing that, hopefully the change in mentality is permanent. If we can get the plastic pitch laid over the summer, then one more excuse for negative rugby will be removed.

 

As Dai Young said post-match though, both defence coaches will be concerned after yesterday’s game. Although we have conceded big totals before this season, that was with far less of the ball, and not always in spells like yesterday. Perhaps the players did just switch off a couple of times.

 

That said, Wasps are a good team and are going for a Champions Cup place through a play-off, so a six-point losing margin is not an absolute disaster. If our defence had held out a bit better yesterday and at Kingsholm, we’d have won those two games. In many other games, including Wasps and Gloucester at home, a better attack and we’d have won. So if we’d put everything together in these four games we could have had four wins.

 

No use talking about what-ifs though. Hopefully things are starting to come together. Joel Hodgson apparently had a cracking game yesterday and the commentators were encouraging Dean Richards to get the lad signed up. Another good display against Exeter will surely seal a new contract for Joel. He isn’t perfect, no player is, but he is by far the most creative of our fly-halves and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’ve got our first Premiership try bonus points in years when he’s been on the field.

 

Other than that, it has been suggested that we struggled a bit after Gonzalo Tiesi went off, which perhaps shows he has been valuable as a defender in recent months despite only playing a few games. Regardless of who comes in this summer, I think in Tiesi and Sinoti we have a couple of gems.

 

So now it’s Exeter at home on the final day of the season, with no worries about relegation, hopefully the team will go out and continue to play with the freedom they have more often recently, and if our losing run extends to sixteen games, at least it’ll be entertaining and there will be more signs that we might be moving in the right direction.

 

 

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

Match preview: London Wasps v Newcastle Falcons

b491n7

Saturday 3 May 2014 – 3.00pm

Adams Park, High Wycombe

Aviva Premiership #21

Two years ago almost to the day, the Falcons were only a couple of tries away from retaining Premiership status at Adams Park. In the end, a 10-14 victory over Wasps was not enough to overhaul the Pests at the bottom of the table, but if it had been, then we wouldn’t have had Jersey, Cross Keys and Penzance last season, so every negative has a positive.

This time, Wasps are safe in mid-table but with two games to go our place in the top division for next season is still uncertain. It would be an extraordinary upset if Worcester were to win at Saracens tomorrow afternoon, but if they do, especially with a bonus point, and we get nothing in High Wycombe, then it will be squeaky time on the final day next week.

Wasps, who this week announced the signing of Samoan international back Alapati Leiua from the Hurricanes for 2014/15, are currently looking to hang on to seventh place in the Premiership and the chance of a playoff against a French team for the final Champions Cup place next season. They sit on 44 points, four ahead of Exeter, but a top-half finish is beyond them with sixth-placed Sale having 56.

In their most recent outing, Dai Young’s team lost at home to Bath in the semi-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup, following two high-scoring home wins over Gloucester in Europe and the Premiership, the latter in front of over 38,000 at Twickenham in ‘The Stinger’ two weeks ago. The game in south London ended 38-30 to Wasps, who claimed a bonus point thanks to tries from Elliot Daly, Tom Varndell, Ashley Johnson and James Haskell (2).

Those games followed three successive home defeats in the league in February and March, with London Irish, Sale and Saracens all leaving High Wycombe with victories. Indeed, in their last six league games at Adams Park, Wasps have only won one, against Exeter in the new year. Other than the Chiefs, only Worcester and Leicester back in the autumn have lost at Adams Park in the Premiership this season, although the Pests were the designated home team against Harlequins in the Twickenham double-header in September, Wasps winning 16-15.

Apart from the final day of 2011/12, we have only won on one more of our eleven visits to Adams Park. That was just a couple of days into 2010, four Jimmy Gopperth penalties giving us a 6-12 win, reversing the scoreline from the previous season when Danny Cipriani kicked a drop-goal I will never forget, straight from a Falcons restart.

But who could forget that amazing day two years ago? 10-0 down at half-time in front of a sold-out Adams Park including 500 boisterous Geordies, the Falcons played with a wonderful freedom in the second half and got the win, with tries from James Fitzpatrick and Peter Stringer. It wasn’t enough to avoid relegation, but it was a great memory and we went down fighting.

Falcons at Wasps:

31/03/1979             Sudbury                     Club Match                W24-6

30/01/1982             Sudbury                     Club Match                W23-12

29/01/1983             Sudbury                     Club Match                D6-6

30/03/1985             Sudbury                     Club Match                L0-32

29/11/1986             Sudbury                     Club Match                L13-22

07/04/1990             Sudbury                     Club Match                L0-38

28/09/1991             Sudbury                     Club Match                L6-23

25/09/1993             Sudbury                     Division 1                   L21-38

16/12/1995             Sudbury                     Club Match                L5-13

22/04/1998             Loftus Road               Premiership 1            L17-18

18/04/1999             Loftus Road               Premiership 1            L33-34

30/10/1999             Loftus Road               Premiership 1            D19-19

30/01/2000             Loftus Road               Cup R5                      L30-36

28/03/2001             Loftus Road               Premiership               L7-44

11/11/2001             Loftus Road               Premiership               W33-30

01/03/2003             Adams Park               Premiership               L12-13

02/11/2003             Adams Park               Premiership               L26-30

10/10/2004             Adams Park               Premiership               L29-43

08/01/2006             Adams Park               Premiership               L6-21

15/10/2006             Adams Park               Premiership               L15-35

25/11/2007             Adams Park               Premiership               L12-35

01/12/2007             Adams Park               Cup                            L6-24

05/04/2009             Adams Park               Premiership               L6-12

03/01/2010             Adams Park               Premiership               W12-6

02/01/2011             Adams Park               Premiership               L16-33

05/05/2012             Adams Park               Premiership               W14-10

The Falcons continue with Joel Hodgson at fly-half tomorrow, though he has a new midfield to work with in Gonzalo Tiesi and the outgoing James Fitzpatrick. Kieran Brookes returns from suspension alongside Rob Vickers and Scott Lawson in an all-new front row and Harry Spencer could make a debut from the bench.

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Mark Wilson.

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Scott Wilson, 18 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 19 Harry Spencer, 20 Andy Saull, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Lee Smith.

Wasps team:

15. Andrea Masi, 14. Will Helu, 13. Elliot Daly, 12. Charlie Hayter, 11. Tom Varndell, 10. Andy Goode, 9. Joe Simpson, 1. Matt Mullan, 2. Carlo Festuccia, 3. Phil Swainston, 4. Joe Launchbury, 5. Tom Palmer, 6. Ashley Johnson, 7. James Haskell, 8. Nathan Hughes.

Replacements: 16. Tom Lindsay, 17. Simon McIntyre, 18. Taione Vea, 19. James Cannon, 20. Sam Jones, 21. Charlie Davies, 22. Joe Carlisle, 23. Tommy Bell.

If the Falcons’ forwards perform well then we could have a chance at nicking this one. However, if it comes down to a kicking contest, then Wasps will fancy their chances with Andy Goode at fly-half. He may be the subject of ridicule from some opposition supporters, but there is no doubt that he can kick points and, had he not left Sixways for Adams Park last summer, one wonders if Worcester might not have had a better season.

However, with Worcester unlikely (I am sure) to win at Saracens tomorrow, we should still be able to play with a bit of freedom and then who knows what might happen?

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 18-23 Saracens

hope

Sunday 20 April 2014 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #20

 

Today may have been a fourteenth consecutive Premiership defeat for the Falcons, and at home to a second-string Saracens team, but compared to the previous two matches against Worcester and London Irish this was quite different.

 

The post-match mood at Kingston Park was one of optimism and pride, after our team took on an international-packed team with aggression and confidence, and almost pulled off an unlikely win.

 

Indeed, if it hadn’t been for an extraordinary piece of bad luck when Sinoti Sinoti’s loose pass found a Saracens winger who had only a prop to beat to get a free run to the tryline, we may have got more than just one point.

 

After the condemnation heaped the team’s way after the last two games, huge credit is surely deserved for today’s performance. Saracens may have only put out a B team, but that team included England’s second-choice full-back, the top points-scorer in Premiership history and two other England internationals. It was hardly Stockton’s fourth team we were up against and better sides than the Falcons would’ve lost to Saracens today.

 

But from the off, indeed in the warm-up, there was a focus and intent about the Newcastle side that we have not seen too often this season. The first try was a thing of beauty, with a lovely offload from Adam Powell and a perfect line from Alex Tait, before Sinoti’s barnstorming run to the line.

 

Sinoti continues to look dangerous far more often than not when he gets the ball, but he was one of many good performers today. Adam Powell played one of his best games in a black shirt, making several good breaks and tackling well. Joel Hodgson roamed promisingly, kicked well and tackled above his weight. He and Mike Blair combined very well.

 

In the forwards, Richard Mayhew and Scott MacLeod were everywhere in attack and defence, George McGuigan will be satisfied with a lively first Premiership start, and Dom Barrow made metres whenever he got on the ball.

 

Discipline, particularly in the scrum, was concerning and as so often has happened this season (indeed for years) we gifted Saracens a couple of penalties, even disregarding Ben Ransom’s second try. I guess that’s something a lot of worse teams like ourselves struggle with, as we are put under a lot of pressure by our higher-quality opponents, and also referees seem to take a harsh line, rightly or wrongly, when they perceive a team to be under pressure.

 

No argument with Sarries’ first try though, our defence was sucked into the middle by a lightning away attack and Alex Goode exploited the space. You just have to applaud that kind of quality really.

 

One more quick word on the referee – two very, very clear yellow cards today, the first being Jack Wilson taking Alex Tait out in the air and rightly being given ten minutes off. The second was by the same player, a high tackle on Sinoti, and one wonders whether a second yellow meaning a red was what kept Andrew Small’s hand out of his pocket. Whatever, Wilson was almost immediately replaced, perhaps being taken off before he was sent off.

 

Ironically, try-scorer Ransom was Wilson’s replacement.

 

But there are so many more positives out of today, if we disregard the result. The Falcons put some pride back into the shirt and played the correct way, by which I mean the way that gave us the best chance of winning, and nearly did beat a very, very good team. We almost completely dominated the second half, but just couldn’t get enough points.

 

If we take this style of play and this level of application into the Wasps and Exeter games, there is no reason why we cannot win at least one of them. Hopefully that will happen and we will see a new philosophy next season, especially if we join Saracens in having a plastic pitch.

 

Hope springs again. If you wait long enough, it always does!

 

 

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Saracens

crusaders

Sunday 20 April 2014 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #20

 

Sunday is the third meeting this season between two teams who have had vastly different seasons. Saracens could well end their first full season at Allianz Park with a league and European double, since they need just two points to be certain of a home semi-final in the Premiership and face Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham in last four of the Heineken Cup a week tomorrow.

 

The Falcons meanwhile are still not mathematically certain of being in the top division next season after Worcester’s mini-resurgence recently and a record run of thirteen successive Premiership defeats, the latest a disappointing 40-12 reverse at London Irish on Sunday.

 

The Fez Heads are currently on a run of seven wins in eight games, the exception being a 26-7 loss at Northampton in the LV= Cup semis in March. Since then, they have beaten Harlequins well at Wembley, come away from Wasps in the league and Ulster in the Heineken Cup with victories, and last Sunday downed the Saints 28-24 in a top-of-the-table Premiership clash in Barnet. The two sides scored three tries apiece, Saracens’ coming through David Strettle, Kelly Brown and Marcelo Bosch, but three penalties and a conversion from the boots of Bosch and Owen Farrell to three conversions and a penalty for Stephen Myler gave the league leaders the win.

 

That result extended Mark McCall’s side’s lead at the top of the table to ten points over Northampton, who now have Leicester breathing down their neck for second place.

 

Overall, Saracens have won seventeen and lost just two of their nineteen matches in the Premiership this season. Those only losses were at Franklin’s Gardens in October and, more unlikely, at home to London Irish in early February, when a quick look at Sarries’ 23 suggests they could not really blame Six Nations call-ups for the shock reverse.

 

Other than that, their away record is exceptional with comfortable-looking wins at places like Kingsholm, the Rec and the Stoop. Saracens did lose to Toulouse in Europe both home and away, but big doubles over Connacht and Zebre allowed them to quality for the quarter-finals.

 

 

The Falcons have visited Allianz Park twice in 2013/14 of course, both times conceding in the forty-point range. In November in the league, a promising start and Phil Godman’s early penalty were blown away by five home tries from Charlie Hodgson, David Strettle (two), Jamie George and Alex Goode before fireworks off the pitch celebrated the upcoming Guy Fawkes’ Night.

 

Then in January, in the LV= Cup, Saracens followed up the previous day’s friendly victory over South Africans the Sharks with a 41-8 victory over a Falcons side featuring debutants Simon Hammersley, Glen Young, Ben Morris and Dan Temm as well as five more on the bench. Again, a quick look at Sarries’ squad for that game proves the incredible strength in depth that the Barnet side has, and that few other sides can match, let alone us.

 

After having a tricky time on Tyneside in the early years of professionalism, Saracens have won their last three at KP. Indeed, you have to go back to February 2009 and the third of seven wins out of eight under Steve Bates for our last victory over the Men in Black and Red. John Rudd was our unlikely try-scorer that night, while Tom May converted and kicked two penalties. Glen Jackson scored three tries for Sarries, who featured Adam Powell and Andy Saull in the starting fifteen.

 

On Sunday it will be two years to the day since Saracens last came north on a night of bitter disappointment for the in-form Falcons. Reverting to type against a below-par visiting team, we were sluggish and kick-a-lot for sixty minutes and then spent the last twenty pummeling Sarries, but it was too late and the 3-9 victory all-but cost us our Premiership place. Hopefully Dean Richards and co will not make the same mistake this Sunday.

 

Saracens in Newcastle:

22/04/1989             North Road                Division 2                   L9-47

22/10/1994             Kingston Park            Division 2                   L11-17

25/03/1998             Kingston Park            Premiership 1           W30-25

31/10/1998             Gateshead                  Premiership 1           W43-12

28/02/1999             Kingston Park            Cup QF                       W15-0

26/03/2000             Kingston Park            Premiership 1           W15-6

26/11/2900             Kingston Park            Premiership               W32-27

05/05/2002             Kingston Park            Premiership               W47-18

19/01/2003             Kingston Park            Challenge Cup QFL2 W31-29

04/05/2003             Kingston Park            Premiership               W26-22

14/09/2003             Kingston Park            Premiership               L20-25

17/10/2004             Kingston Park            Premiership               D17-17

28/01/2006             Kingston Park            Premiership               W21-16

09/03/2007             Kingston Park            Premiership               W20-14

17/02/2008             Kingston Park            Premiership               W16-14

20/02/2009             Kingston Park            Premiership               W13-9

04/10/2009             Kingston Park            Premiership               L15-22

22/10/2010             Kingston Park            Premiership               L13-15

20/04/2012             Kingston Park            Premiership               L3-9

 

 

By the time kick-off arrives on Sunday we will know the result of Bath v Worcester. If Worcester lose, then a win would make us mathematically safe, so if we aren’t going to go for this game, then when will we?

 

With Saracens no doubt having half an eye on Clermont, this might just be a great day. See you at KP!

 

 

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