Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 18-41 Leicester Tigers

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Sunday 2 March 2014 – 2.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #16

 

Aargh! After two great second-half performances playing catch-up, today the Falcons were the better team in the first forty but couldn’t quite hold onto the lead to half-time, and then Leicester pulled away in the second half.

 

Worcester lost again and their bonus point at Harlequins yesterday doesn’t do them much good. There isn’t much pressure for us to get the eighty-minute performance that will surely deliver a first league win in over four months (it’ll be nearly five come Gloucester) but it’d be nice to get another victory this season. Worcester at home would be the ideal one, and I’m sure we will win that.

 

At least Leicester had to work for their win, like Northampton did last week and Harlequins before that. Too often this season teams have just strolled over us with little resistance, but that’s not been the case recently and not before time.

 

I suppose it’s disappointing that we’re playing better and still losing but remember that Harlequins, Northampton and the Tiggers are all top teams that would expect, nine times out of ten, to have no trouble beating the Falcons. So that’s got to be encouraging.

 

Lee Smith seemed to have a good debut, nailing a difficult kick early on to probably give him some confidence. He looks a well-built bloke, it’ll be interesting to see whether he is a similar weight next season, but didn’t do anything wrong today that I saw.

 

I also thought Cato, Wilson and Blair had good games. Why oh why Blair was taken off for Fury I have no idea (maybe the computer said Blair was just about to cross into tiredness), although I won’t condemn Fury for knocking on with a quick penalty. Good idea, but the execution was lacking. Every player makes such mistakes. Execution is usually correct for most players – bad decision-making is harder to improve.

 

Hodgson was quite lively again in his ten minutes. I wonder if, as the BT Sport commentators suggested, he will start to get more game time once we have (hopefully) beaten Worcester and are safe, or become mathematically safe. It might be a bit late then if indeed no contract offer is on the table now, because as far as I know other clubs can now take an interest and Rotherham at least want to sign Joel.

 

I’d let him and Kibirige loose on Gloucester, but that’s just me.

 

Watching on TV, I could get a better perspective on a lot of refereeing decisions. The yellow cards for Youngs and Tuilagi looked correct, but Flood will probably consider himself harshly treated, it looked like he was genuinely trying to catch the ball. Overall, I don’t think Greg Garner had a massive influence on the result; the Falcons gave away silly penalties at crucial times, most notably after going 3-0 up and at the start of the second half, and Leicester just kicked themselves out of our reach.

 

One lineout, however, was about as straight as John Prescott’s walk home after a night on the Guinness. (Little Hull reference there – boy have I been paying for last night all day today!)

 

So there’s still a fair bit to be optimistic about. We are starting to score tries finally. The win will come, probably against Worcester but who knows, we won at Gloucester two years ago and they are suffering too. It’s possible. We have two weeks to work out how to do it.

 

 

 

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Leicester Tigers

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Sunday 2 March 2014 – 2.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #16

 

Hopefully on Sunday afternoon I’ll be feeling really fresh after a calm weekend away, ready to watch the Falcons beat Leicester, perhaps with a sneaky can of beer.

 

More likely I’ll be feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck, wishing for full-time so I can sleep and recover after my brother’s stag weekend. It’s probably going to be brutal, although fortunately we’re getting an hour and a half off on Saturday afternoon since we’ll be at a football match.

 

Fortunately the Falcons-Leicester game is on TV so no way I’m rushing back to Newcastle. It could be a cracker. Certainly, with the Tiggers having their worst season for probably ten years, we’ll probably never have a better chance to beat them. In fourth place, fourteen points behind second-placed Saracens, it looks like Leicester will have to settle for an away semi-final in the playoffs, if they win the tense battle they are in to get there.

 

Bath are looking good in third with 49 points, Leicester have 44, with Harlequins and Sale on 41 and 39 respectively. Richard Cockerill’s side overtook Harlequins on Sunday with a 15-20 win at London Irish after the Queens were downed at Worcester 23 hours earlier. Niki Goneva, Ben Youngs and Logovi’i Mulipola were the try-scorers for the travelling Midlanders.

 

Leicester are five games unbeaten in the Premiership at the moment since a 49-10 trouncing at Saracens just before Christmas and have also this month had tight wins at Worcester and at home to Gloucester. As well as success at the Madejski and ever-so-tensely at Sixways, the Tigers have won at Exeter and Gloucester in the league as well as at Montpellier and Treviso in the Heineken Cup to help secure a quarter-final at Clermont Auvergne.

 

Leicester normally provide a decent proportion of the England team but their last representative in Stuart Lancaster’s Six Nations squad, Dan Cole, has joined Geoff Parling and Tom Croft on the injured list. The Youngs brothers are out of favour too. Surely players like Jordan Crane and Graham Kitchener will not be too far away from the national side however. Club captain Toby Flood’s England career appears to be over after he was overlooked for the current campaign and has agreed to move to France in the summer.

 

The Tigers have a good record at KingstonPark in recent years with three successive victories in the North East before our relegation. The last of those games was an epic Saturday afternoon meeting in September 2011, when Kieran Brookes and Micky Young made quick returns to KP with their new club and Brookes sadly suffered a serious injury from which his Leicester career never really recovered. James Grindal started and now-retired Ben Woods was on the bench with Brookes and Young.

 

The Falcons were 11-11 at half-time but were finally squeezed out 26-27 forty minutes later. The Falcons’ try-scorers were Luke Fielden, Tim Swinson and the lesser-spotted Greg Goosen, with Jimmy Gopperth converting one and adding three penalties. Billy Twelvetrees’ four lazy penalties earned him boos and the short-lived nickname Billy Twelveminutes, along with tries from Ed Slater, Steve Mafi and Falcons transfer target Julian Salvi.

 

Tiggers in Newcastle:

15/04/1974      North Road                  Club Match                  W28-18

19/04/1976      North Road                  Club Match                  W27-9

20/04/1985      North Road                  Club Match                  W20-6

15/04/1989      North Road                  Club Match                  L14-47

22/02/1992      KingstonPark              Cup QF                          L0-10

09/10/1993      KingstonPark              Division 1                     L13-22

22/02/1997      KingstonPark              Cup QF                           L8-18

04/05/1998      Gateshead                    Premiership 1               W27-10

02/05/1999      KingstonPark              Premiership 1               L12-21

05/11/1999      KingstonPark              Premiership 1               D12-12

27/08/2000      KingstonPark              Premiership                  L22-25

02/09/2001      KingstonPark              Premiership                  W19-16

16/03/2003      KingstonPark              Premiership                  W24-22

04/04/2004      KingstonPark              Premiership                  D25-25

02/10/2004      KingstonPark              Premiership                  L15-44

24/02/2006      KingstonPark              Premiership                  W24-16

07/01/2007      KingstonPark              Premiership                  W31-29

04/05/2008      KingstonPark              Premiership                  W28-25

27/03/2009      KingstonPark              Premiership                  W14-10

18/04/2010      KingstonPark              Premiership                  L7-31

22/04/2011      KingstonPark              Premiership                  L13-24

17/09/2011      KingstonPark              Premiership                  L26-27

 

Lee Smith makes his Falcons debut on the left wing and Phil Godman, Andy Saull, Kieran Brookes and Scott Lawson return to the starting line-up. The final change is Adam Powell in for Jamie Helleur.

 

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Lee Smith, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 6 Will Welch (c), 7 Andy Saull, 8 Mark Wilson.

 

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Gary Strain, 18 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 19 Sean Tomes, 20 Chris York, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Danny Barnes.

 

 

Tigers team:

15 Mathew Tait, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Dan Bowden, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Ben Youngs,1 Marcos Ayerza, 2 Tom Youngs, 3 Logovi’i Mulipola, 4 Louis Deacon, 5 Ed Slater (c), 6 Jamie Gibson, 7 Pablo Matera, 8 Jordan Crane.

 

Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Sebastian De Chaves, 20 Thomas Waldrom, 21 David Mele, 22 Toby Flood, 23 Adam Thompstone.

 

 

Word is that this game could be a sell-out – I can’t remember the last time we last had a full house. If ever there was a time for a big performance, this is it. The next home game is Worcester and a win with a big effort should get a couple of hundred extra tickets shifted for the Warriors game at least. The last two games surely haven’t been flukes, lets keep things going and get a win on Sunday!

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir: @SouthStandChoir)

Match reaction: Leicester Tigers 31-6 Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 21 September 2013 – 3.00pm

Welford Road, Leicester

Aviva Premiership #3

In some ways the score didn’t reflect the game yesterday, the Falcons played with a lot of heart and never let their heads drop. They continued to attack late on but again could not find the key to unlock a Premiership defence.

Then again, that is a bit of a concern. On top of that, I never felt like Leicester ever really got out of second gear yesterday, and that had they been forced to step things up, they would have done so. The gap in quality between the two sides was clear.

It was very much a routine victory for the Tigers, who got their five points through some simple yet very effective play, a mixture of the power of the forwards and of course Manu ‘bunny ears’ Tuilagi, who punches holes in our defence all afternoon, and the guile and speed of Dan Bowden and Toby Flood.

The relative ease of the win was reflected in a subdued atmosphere at Welford Road, something we travelling Geordies have got used to there over the years. The home fans were no doubt saving themselves for the derby against Northampton in two weeks, although I am told that one Tigger was so riled by some cheerful and cheering Falcons fans that he reported them to a steward.

After two early tries, the Falcons managed to keep in touch with Leicester for most of the first half and were 12-6 down after Rory Clegg’s half-hour drop-goal on a rare visit to the home 22, though to me this seemed like a sign that our team were not confident of scoring a try. Minutes later, Blaine Scully had extended the lead and the bonus point came after half-time.

The difference in the two teams became apparent when the substitutions started – Leicester brought on Lions Dan Cole and Geoff Parling. With respect, Gary Strain and Sean Tomes aren’t near the same level.

There were a few good performances from the Falcons – Carlo del Fava had one of the best games I’ve seen him play for us, making some great tackles and putting in some excellent work in the loose. In the back row, Mark Wilson continued his good start to the season, and if he can keep this form up then surely a Saxons call cannot be far away. Warren Fury has massively improved his service since the regular season in the Championship, he looked again like the player we saw in the play-offs.

Of the backs, Alex Tait was again the pick for me, and many home fans were also complimentary about his performance. Any idea that he cannot take a high ball or tackle (an accusation nobody can now level at Noah Cato, incidentally) must now be dispelled.

One of two players I won’t name did not have great games, sadly, but nobody gave up and that cannot be said for every team we have sent to Welford Road in the past.

In the end, no travellers seemed to disappointed yesterday. Skybet had Leicester 1-200 to win and there is a big gulf between the two teams that, if it will be bridged, will take several years. We can do it but it will take time. If we were to get nothing out of the game points-wise yesterday, then at least there are positives such as a solid scrum and some dynamism from several players, as well as lessons of what needs to be worked on and also the need to be utterly clinical at this level.

At least it’s only Gloucester at home next week, the last time we lost that one we had Flood and Parling in our team.

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

Match preview: Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 21 September 2013 – 3.00pm

Welford Road, Leicester

Aviva Premiership #3

The annoying thing about being in the Premiership is that you get games like this – games where you have to use all of your imaginative effort to visualise a win, and even then it normally a defeat.

Our last win away to current title-holders Leicester was back in the Championship-winning season 1997/98 on Dean Richards’ last game in a green, red and white shirt.

Pat Lam scored two tries for the Falcons that night along with one from Nick Popplewell, while Rob Andrew kicked two conversions, a penalty and a drop-goal. Apart from a penalty try, all of Leicester’s points came from the boot of Joel Stransky. Richards was joined in the home side by Craig Joiner, Richard Cockerill, Martin Johnson and Neil Back alongside other internationals, and Lewis Moody came off the bench for wor Deano in the second half.

That game was only our second away win over the Tigers, the other coming way back in 1977 when Gosforth’s success had been exemplified by the addition of Leicester to the fixture list. There was also a violent 16-16 Friday night draw in October 2005, which few people in attendance will ever forget for several reasons – Harry Ellis’s cynical charge on Jonny Wilkinson, a penalty by Matthew Burke that never was, and red cards for Andy Perry and Julian White. The Falcons’ try scorer on that enthralling evening? Robbie Morris.

Falcons in LE2:

20/09/1969 Club Match                            L6-48

31/03/1975 Club Match                            L15-18

11/04/1977 Club Match                            W18-6

13/03/1982 John Player Cup QF              L9-18

19/04/1986 National Merit Table Division A     L15-56

28/02/1987 John Player Cup 4th round   L6-19

16/04/1988 Club Match                            L0-65

12/03/1994 Courage League Division 1  L5-66

30/12/1997 Allied Dunbar Premiership 1W25-19

12/12/1998 Allied Dunbar Premiership 1L18-31

12/02/2000 Allied Dunbar Premiership 1L26-34

17/03/2001 Zurich Premiership               L7-51

13/04/2002 Zurich Premiership               L12-20

21/09/2002 Zurich Premiership               L9-52

26/09/2003 Zurich Premiership               L21-28

19/02/2005 Zurich Premiership               L10-83

14/10/2005 Guinness Premiership          D16-16

27/01/2007 Guinness Premiership          L5-39

26/01/2008 Guinness Premiership          L14-41

20/12/2008 Guinness Premiership          L3-20

19/09/2009 Guinness Premiership          L6-15

27/11/2010 Aviva Premiership                L19-44

04/02/2012 LV= Cup                                 L19-24

Leicester gaffer Richard Cockerill is still in the midst of his matchday coaching ban for a malfeasance (if that’s the right word, I’d never heard it before yesterday) at the Premiership Final back in May when he got a bit radgie on the touchline.

No doubt he’ll be getting quite passionate while watching the game anyway, as apparently his fellow DOR and ex-hooker Steve Diamond was while we were beating Sale last weekend.

So far this year the Tiggers have, like ourselves, won one match and lost another in the Premiership. A routine opening weekend victory over Worcester by a score of 32-15 came at a price with Tom Croft sustaining a season-ending injury in the bonus-point win, and this was followed up by a 27-20 loss at Bath on the 100th anniversary of the fixture.

Niki Goneva, Ed Slater and Steve Mafi scored for the Midlanders at the Rec while scrum-half David Mele knocked over a conversion and penalty, but former Welford Roader George Ford’s five penalties and scores from Jonathan Joseph and Matt Banahan gave the hosts the win.

Ford’s transfer from Leicester to Bath this summer was rather unusual in that previous players to make that journey had been towards the end of their careers, namely Dan Hipkiss and Lewis Moody, although fellow half-back Micky Young did go with him. With Toby Flood named as Leicester captain this season and Ford starting the season strongly in the South West, he looks to have made the right decision so far.

No point going through Leicester’s star-studded squad, as the team below is shocking enough, but suffice to say it is brimming with internationals and has a strength in depth that most Premiership clubs, never mind we, can only dream of. Former Falcons players are many, from Lions star Geoff Parling and England’s Flood, to former Newcastle youth player Fraser Balmain and of course the revitalised Mathew Tait.

OK, so there aren’t that many right now, considering James Grindal, Micky Young, Kieran Brookes and Ben Woods have also passed through the door on Aylestone Road in recent years, but it’s a few.

Dean Richards has sprung a couple of selection surprises for tomorrow’s game with James Fitzpatrick and Chris York starting. For Fitzy, it’s a chance for redemption after a yellow card in our last visit to Welford Road, in February last year, and he replaces the injured Danny Barnes. Oliver Tomaszczyk’s illness sees Kieran Brookes back in the front row alongside Rob Vickers, and Mark Wilson and Carlo del Fava are in the starting XV. Dom Barrow moves to the second row in a team that looks built for power through the middle but pace on the outside, and Rory Clegg makes a first start of his second spell in the North East alongside Warren Fury.

There are, surprisingly if there are no injury reasons, no Ally Hogg, Scott MacLeod and Mike Blair in the 22.

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Adam Powell, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Tom Catterick, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Franck Montanella, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Carlo del Fava, 5 Dominic Barrow, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Chris York.

Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 Gary Strain, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Sean Tomes, 20 Andy Saull, 21 Chris Pilgrim, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Alex Crockett.

Captain Flood and Lions Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs start tomorrow for Leicester, alongside some other considerable talents. Jordan Crane in the back row has had some immense games against us over the years while Dan Bowden at centre is a crafty player who can make something out of nothing in a second. I mentioned strength in depth – compare the two benches if you’re not of a nervous disposition.

Leicester: 15 Blaine Scully, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Dan Bowden, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Toby Flood (c), 9 Ben Youngs, 1 Boris Stankovich, 2 Neil Briggs, 3 Logovi’i Mulipola, 4 Ed Slater, 5 Graham Kitchener, 6 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Jamie Gibson, 8 Jordan Crane.

Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Julian Salvi, 21 David Mele, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Niall Morris.

It’s going to be tough, but as Adam Powell said in an interview yesterday, these are the games we’re in the Premiership for. Lets have a good sing as we always do at Welford Road and, with a lot of effort and belief, who knows what might happen?

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 22-19 Sale Sharks

Friday 30 March 2012, 8.00pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
Aviva Premiership #19

 

 

ESPN no doubt put on last night’s Leicester v Worcester match at Welford Road because they knew it would attract more TV viewers than our game against Sale.

 

It probably did. However, while Leicester were whupping a 14-man Warriors side, an absolutely epic last half hour at Kingston Park brought us back from the brink and kept the Falcons alive in the relegation battle.

 

For most of the first 50 minutes last night we were bloody awful. It was like Bates and Tait had been snuck back in when we weren’t looking. All of the passionate attacking play from the previous few games had been replaced with aimless, hopeless kicking, with no interest in chasing.

 

Sale on the other hand counter-attacked with pace and scored three tries in the first half. Even at just seven points down at half-time it was hard to see how we would get anything from the game, and that would almost certainly condemn the Falcons to 12th place in the Premiership.

 

Gary Gold’s team talk would have been easy: “I’m going at the end of the season so it doesn’t matter to me. It’s most of you lot that will have to play in the Championship.”

 

Whatever happened at half-time seemed to stir some fight in the team and the match was won by sheer force of will, a bunch of players willing to put themselves on the line, backed by a crowd showing no regard for either their heart rates or the need to speak today.

 

On 52 minutes, Jimmy Gopperth sent a penalty to touch and on ran James Hudson and Adam Balding. Hudson took the catch and as the Falcons drove for the line, the South Stand roared themselves hoarse and at the bottom of a pile of bodies, the referee pointed up and down to send every home fan mad.

 

It was now level at 19-19, and the Falcons plugged away, controlling possession and territory but seeming to be unable to create another chance. Two penalties were given away in the Sale 22.

 

With 10 minutes to go Gopperth had a chance to give us the lead. Hearts were in mouths as the penalty drifted across the goal.

 

I kept thinking “Not another bloody draw!” as I and all other Falcons fans at KP continued to shout and sing as loud as our voices could still let us.

 

Four minutes left, a penalty straight in front of the posts. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Tom May’s vital kick against Gloucester in January 2009, the most celebrated penalty in our history.

 

This kick equalled it, The Wizard sent the ball high and true into the dark Geordie sky and the touch judges flags rose in approval.

 

Just a few minutes now. Could we hold on? Two words foremost in my mind – “NOTHING STUPID!!!”

 

The pick and drive was controlled perfectly, and once we had counted down to zero Peter Stringer whacked the ball into the West Stand and four absolutely priceless points were safe.

 

So now attention turns to High Wycombe tomorrow when Wasps, in theory, have to win to have any chance of avoiding a last-day showdown at Adams Park.

 

As for us, if we can take this spirit into the Gloucester and particularly Saracens games, and marry it with the quality we saw against Irish, then there is still hope.

 

I took wor lass to KP for the first time last night, and though she’s not really a rugby fan she couldn’t help get caught up in the atmosphere and the tension. As I said to her later, winning 50-0 every game is probably nice, but would I rather that than the excitement and nerves we go through? Not for a second.

 

Our win last night meant so much more in the grand scheme of things than Leicester’s over Worcester. How difficult it was to achieve and the effort the players and supporters put into it makes it so, so satisfying.

 

I wonder whether ESPN are thinking they picked the wrong game to televise?

 

 

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

Match reaction: Leicester Tigers 42-15 Newcastle Falcons

Saturday 25 February 2012 – 3.00pm

Welford Road, Leicester

Aviva Premiership #15

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There have been many signs this weekend, from an incident in Leicester Square on Friday night to a mention of bedblockers (the term, a rather offensive one in my opinion, that some Tiggers fans use for the Falcons) later in the evening.

 

I’ll try anything to be optimistic pre-match. It didn’t work though.

 

With Wasps getting nothing from their game at Sale on Friday night, despite scoring 34 points, and the Falcons having perhaps their best chance in years to win at Well-quiet Road, spirits were high among the away fans pre-match.

 

After all, our boys are (or at least should be) full of confidence and continued desire to impress the new gaffers, and Leicester are struggling to maintain their playoff position. Then there were the six Tiggers on England duties.

 

Most were still in a good mood after our 42-15 defeat, and why not? I’ve seen far worse defeats in the East Midlands over the years.

 

Of course there was still the England game to come, for those who had time to stay in the ground and watch the game ‘as live’. I don’t know why Leicester don’t move their kick-offs around internationals. The clash may not be the reason for there being fewer tickets sold for yesterday’s game than the LV= Cup game earlier this month, but if not then Leicester would seem to have a bit of a problem.

 

Anyway, to on-pitch matters. The Falcons started brightly but Leicester scored their customary early penalty, which may well have been spot-on but it was given for not rolling away, something the Tiggers got away with a few times in the following minutes.

 

Yesterday was always going to be a big test for the new Falcons.

 

It doesn’t help when the referee has a bit of a shocker. James Fitzpatrick’s yellow card for a trip was probably right, and stupid since it was in Leicester’s half, but minutes later referee Greg Garner took a good few seconds to realise he should give us a penalty for a punch by a home player. No card though.

 

The first try of the second half was a write-off. A Leicester maul in our 22 didn’t move for about 20 seconds, and as soon as it did – penalty to the Tigers. The resulting lineout and maul yielded an advantage that followed Leicester from one side of the pitch to the other and back again – too long.

 

Still, can’t blame the referee for the defensive mix-up that allowed Billy Twelveminutes to score in the first half, and as I say Leicester are a very good team that would probably still have won yesterday as it was.

 

Again though the Falcons played until the end, scoring a couple of second-half tries. If we hadn’t conceded so many beforehand, then things might have been different.

 

We had some good performances, notably from Will Welch and the returning Andrew van der Heijden. People who know me will not be surprised at the player I thought had an absolute shocker (again), but no point naming that player here.

 

Perhaps the biggest worry will be how poor our scrum was. Leicester regularly pushed our pack back several yards, allowing themselves a good attacking platform. Leicester’s strength has always been built on solid forwards, and that shows no signs of changing.

 

While we could have been hopeful of a win yesterday, a six-try defeat is not necessarily cause for despondency.

 

I don’t understand some people having a massive go at the team for yesterday’s loss. This wasn’t Nailsea 4ths we were playing, but a side full of top-class players. We were always going to lose games in the run-in, the important thing now is to respond and beat Harlequins on Friday.

 

There is still a lot of rugby to play in the coming two months. The fat lady isn’t even out of bed yet.

 

 

(Follow TheSouthStandChoir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

Match preview: Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons

Saturday 25 February 2012 – 3.00pm

Welford Road, Leicester

Aviva Premiership #16

The Falcons tomorrow make their second visit to Welford Road in a month, having lost the LV= Cup meeting with Leicester three weeks ago. This time the points at stake are far more important – the Tiggers need them to further their quest for a playoff place, while we are seeking just to stay in the Premiership.

Only three teams have won in Leicester this season, Exeter and Saracens back in September (the latter becoming the first away team to score 50 points at Welford Road in the league thanks to a late penalty) and Harlequins the following month.

Since then, Richard Cockerill’s men are on a nine-game unbeaten run at home, winning the past seven of those outings in front of the gigantic Caterpillar Stand, which famously holds more spectators than the whole of Kingston Park.

Like Clive Owen in Inside Man, I choose my words carefully – spectators, not fans or supporters. Those who have regularly visited Welford Road as an away fan will know it is not one of the louder stadiums in the Premiership, but even by their standards the Tiggers faithful were quiet three weeks ago. The South Stand or The Shed it ain’t.

Still, we have an extremely poor record at the home of England’s most successful rugby union club, just two wins and nothing but a single draw (a violent Friday night match in 2005) since 1997.

Our record in LE2:

20/09/1969                                     L6-48

31/03/1975                                     L15-18

11/04/1977                                     W18-6

13/03/1982 (Cup QF)                    L9-18

19/04/1986                                      L15-56

28/02/1987 (Cup R4)                    L6-19

16/04/1988                                     L0-65

12/03/1994 (Division 1)                L5-66

30/12/1997 (Premiership 1)        W25-19

12/12/1998 (Premiership 1)        L18-31

12/02/2000 (Premiership 1)        L26-34

17/03/2001 (Premiership)           L7-51

13/04/2002 (Premiership)           L12-20

21/09/2002 (Premiership)           L9-52

26/09/2003 (Premiership)           L21-28

19/02/2005 (Premiership)           L10-83

14/10/2005 (Premiership)           D16-16

27/01/2007 (Premiership)           L5-39

26/01/2008 (Premiership)           L14-41

20/12/2008 (Premiership)           L3-20

19/09/2009 (Premiership)           L6-15

27/11/2010 (Premiership)           L19-44

04/02/2012 (Cup)                          L19-24

Leicester’s most recent match was on Sunday against Saracens in Watford. Their 19-20 victory, achieved thanks to a late Geordan Murphy drop-goal, make the Tigers the first side to win away to the champions since October 2010, so their uncharacteristic fourth placing in the Premiership table does not mean we have an easy task tomorrow.

It will be significantly easier thanks to a large number of internationals being away with their countries in the Six Nations. Toby Flood, Geoff Parling, Tom Croft, Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi and Dan Cole will be at Twickenham facing Wales, though Thomas Waldrom was released back to his club. Top-class tighthead Martin Castrogiovanni is an Italian regular but injury has ruled him out of the rest of the Six Nations, which is a huge loss for his country.

It is interesting that our final three home Premiership games are on Friday nights. I know Quins and Sale were already set to be on Fridays, but Saracens was moved before it was selected to be on TV.

I wonder if this may give us a bit of a psychological advantage over Wasps and Worcester when they play later in the weekend. They will have the pressure of either knowing we have won, so they have to, or that we’ve lost so they need to take advantage.

Unfortunately both of our relegation rivals are in action tonight, Wasps at Sale and Worcester at home to Saracens, the latter live on ESPN. Both very tough games, so perhaps it would not be a surprise to see the relegation picture exactly the same as it is now on Sunday morning.

I feel though that the new-found confidence and ability to fight until the final whistle will stand the Falcons in good stead nowhere better than at Welford Road, where away teams so often come off worse in 50-50s and are kicked into submission by early penalties.

Not that that’s a criticism of Leicester – it is up to their opponents to rise to the challenge and play what is in front of them. It’s been a while since I felt so optimistic that we could do that at Well-quiet Road.

This weekend’s game comes too early for new signings Peter Stringer, James Goode and Adam Balding, but Jeremy Manning is a surprise choice on the wing and Andrew van der Heijden is back in the second row. Having those two fit again is a massive boost:

15 Greg Goosen, 14 Tom Bedford, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Jeremy Manning, 10 Jimmy Gopperth (c), 9 Chris Pilgrim, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Euan Murray, 4 Andrew van der Heijden, 5 Tim Swinson, 6 Ally Hogg, 7 Will Welch, 8 Mark Wilson.

Replacements: 16 Michael Mayhew, 17 Jonny Golding, 18 Ashley Wells, 19 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Rikki Sheriffe, 23 Joel Hodgson.

Tiggers captain Geordan Murphy makes his 300th appearance in the green, red and white tomorrow, but he skippers a side that contains only two former Falcons – James Grindal at scrum-half and Craig Newby on the bench:

15 Geordan Murphy (c),
 14 Horacio Agulla, 
13 Matt Smith,
 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 
11 Scott Hamilton, 
10 George Ford, 
9 James Grindal, 
1 Marcos Ayerza,
 2 George Chuter,
 3 Logoviii Mulipola,
 4 Ed Slater,
 5 George Skivington, 
6 Steve Mafi, 
7 Julian Salvi, 
8 Thomas Waldrom.

Replacements:
 16 Rob Hawkins,
 17 Boris Stankovich,
 18 Julian White, 
19 Graham Kitchener, 
20 Craig Newby,
 21 Scott Steele,
 22 Jeremy Staunton,
 23 Niall Morris.

If you haven’t been to Leicester for the past couple of seasons you may not be aware that The Victory on Aylestone Road, one of the best pubs in the Premiership, has closed. Last year Falcons fans congregated pre-match in the Swan & Rushes further on Oxford Street, which follows on from Infirmary Road, which follows on from Aylestone Road, heading towards the town centre.

Or there is a Wetherspoons in town, can’t remember its name though. There is also a very good Pukka Pies chippy to the north west of the station, down towards the shops. Hopefully the EDL (I think) march was the only reason it was closed a couple of weeks ago.

So, my services to Leicestershire commerce done, all I have left to say it “Come on the Mighty Falcons!!”

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

Match reaction: Leicester Tigers 24-13 Newcastle Falcons

Saturday 4 February 2012 – 3.00pm

Welford Road, Leicester

LV= Cup Pool 3 #4

image

Living in London for so long must be making me soft. Time was I’d be out in all weathers in t-shirt and shorts (trousers if I was going to a nightclub mind).

Yet today, despite it being a tropical -1°C as the snow came down on Welford Road, I shivered along with all of the Leicester fans in my hat and gloves and thermal sweater.

Bitter is what it was. Just to make it worse, the Pukka Pies chippy near the station was closed! Going to have to find me a new eatery in Leicester.

So maybe I could be a bit annoyed after the Falcons lost 24-13 to the Tiggers. Not really.

For a start there’s always someone worse off that yourself – the lass sitting opposite me thought this train stopped at Luton but it’s actually non-stop to London St Pancreas.

We were unlikely to get through to the LV= Cup semi-finals anyway, and I have seen far worse defeats at this ground over the years. On my first visit we lost 83-10!!

The biggest concern for me was that bar the good five-minute spell in the second half that yielded Jimmy Gopperth’s try, we rarely looked like scoring.

Our best chance in the first half was probably from a hack into the home 22, but the only players in position to chase were Jon Golding and Richard Mayhew.

Some of the kicking from hand was a bit wasteful too. There was some chasing but not enough.

But our defence was very strong against a fast, fluid and poweful Tigers attack, led by the outstanding Steve Mafi. The home team’s possession warranted more tries and it is to the Falcons’ credit that they only conceded two.

The scrum was disruptive to Leicester, though never really dominant, and the recent improvement in the lineout continued.

I just think we need a bit more imagination in attack, but that will hopefully come from the new regime. This was only Gary Gold’s second game in charge remember.

Gold himself told us not to expect miracles so today probably serves as a reality check after the ecstacy of the past week.

Survival is achievable, but it will be very difficult, that has not changed.

But if losing today could guarantee winning the Premiership match at Leicester in three weeks’ time (obviously it won’t) then I’m sure we’d all accept that.

Finally, Welford Road is never the loudest stadium in my experience but today it was shockingly quiet. I’ve never known so little cheering when a home team comes out.

At half-time I noticed my phone wasn’t on silent – good thing nobody rang or I might have had it confiscated!

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

Match preview: Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons

Saturday 4 February 2012 – 3.00pm

Welford Road, Leicester

LV= Cup Group 3 #4

 

Our LV= Cup campaign is likely to end tomorrow at Welford Road, since it will take a bonus point win and other results to go our way for us to reach the semi-finals.

Sale will need to beat Scarlets with a decent swing in the points difference, and Gloucester will have to fail to win, for us to progress.

The Tiggers are themselves top of Group 2, three points ahead of London Irish following their victory at Harlequins a week ago, following a hammering of Gloucester at home and a hammering in Llanelli in October. Thus, they will also be looking to win and progress to a first semi-final since 2008, and closer to the final at Sixways next month.

I don’t understand why the finals are being played at relatively small grounds these days. I know there were only 6,000-odd at our final last year, but if the semis had been held a fortnight earlier on the middle Six Nations weekend, rather than a week before the final, the crowd at Franklin’s Gardens would surely have been bigger. Heck, they might even have had to use Welford Road instead, which has twice the capacity of Sixways and isn’t too far away.

Perhaps I haven’t put that as clearly as I wanted to, but my point is that sometimes the unions do not help themselves.

Getting back to Saturday, we now have Leicester legend and former title-winning manager John Wells on board at KP as a coach, as Gary Gold further expands his backroom team.

Wells would have been my choice to succeed Alan Tait, so I was pretty happy when I read about Wells’ appointment. It is an ironic coincidence that his first match with us will be at his old home of Welford Road.

Gold and Mike Ford got off to a cracking start on Sunday, and while I’m sure we won’t win every single match for the rest of the season, more performances like that will give us a chance of staying in the Premiership, which is obviously the priority.

The Falcons have a long rivalry with Leicester in this cup, as we have with Sale whom we hammered on Sunday. The biggest meeting was obviously the 1981 John Player Cup Final at Twickenham. An article by a Tigers fan here shows us that Clive Woodward was on the winning team that day, alongside current Leicester chief executive Peter Wheeler.

Les Cusworth is now Argentina manager I see.

Our cup record against Leicester is not good though, with five defeats in as many meetings:

02/05/1981 Twickenham              John Player Cup Final             L15-22

13/03/1982 Welford Road             John Player Cup QF               L9-18

28/02/1987 Welford Road            John Player Cup R4                L6-19

22/02/1992 Kingston Park            Pilkington Cup QF                   L0-10

22/02/1997 Kingston Park            Pilkington Cup QF                   L8-18

 

That last match was Pat Lam’s home debut in his first spell at the Falcons.

With the Six Nations starting this weekend Leicester will obviously be hit by international call-ups. Former Falcon and general nice bloke Geoff Parling could make his England debut off the bench at Murrayfield, while club-mates Ben Youngs, Tom Croft and Dan Cole starts in the front row where he and his Red Rose colleageues will be up against our own Scotland international Euan Murray.

Since his country’s next two matches on Sundays, this may well be the only match Murray misses for us during the tournament.

We have further interest in Edinburgh with Phil Dowson winning his first cap from the start and Lee Dickson alongside Parling as a replacement.

Prop Martin Castrogiovanni will be in Paris, in Italy’s starting lineup in the tournament opener against France.

In the A internationals, Leicester’s Billy Twelveminutes, who will join Gloucester in the summer, and Ed Slater are in the Saxons side that will take on Grant Shiells’ Scotland A in Galashiels tonight.

The Falcons have named pretty much our strongest team available with Greg Goosen back to fitness and Jon Golding making his first start of the season. Will Welch’s injury means Richard Mayhew wears the number seven shirt and Jimmy Gopperth is back at fly-half. Jamie Helleur also makes a comeback from injury on the bench.

 

Falcons: Greg Goosen, Ryan Shortland, Corne Uys, James Fitzpatrick, Suka Hufanga, Jimmy Gopperth, Chris Pilgrim, Jon Golding, Rob Vickers, James Hall, Adriaan Fondse, Tim Swinson, Ally Hogg, Richard Mayhew, Mark Wilson.

Replacements: Joe Graham, Darren Fearn, Ashley Wells, Richard Boyle, Taiasina Tu’ifua, Will Chudley, Jamie Helleur, Joel Hodgson.

 

Richard Cockerill has named Ben Woods as his captain for tomorrow, while Thomas Waldrom is also in the back row after being released by the Saxons. There are also three former Falcons on the bench in Craig Newby, James Grindal and my ex-black Toby Flood, who has recently returned from injury. Julian Salvi was a transfer target for Alan Tait last summer.

 

Leicester: Niall Morris, Horacio Agulla, Matt Smith, Anthony Allen, Scott Hamilton, Jeremy Staunton, Sam Harrison, Marcos Ayerza, George Chuter, Julian White, George Skivington, Graham Kitchener, Steve Mafi, Ben Woods ©, Thomas Waldrom.

Replacements: Rob Hawkins, Logovi’i Mulipola, Ryan Bower, Craig Newby, Julian Salvi, James Grindal, Tony Flood, Andy Forsyth.

 

A few weeks ago I was feeling pretty underwhelmed about this game, and thought for a while about whether I should go or not. Finally I decided I should since the time when I won’t be able to go to so many matches will eventually come, plus I will miss Bath next week.

With the recent managerial changes and Sunday’s beating of Sale, I’m quite excited now!

 

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