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)

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)

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)

Match reaction: London Welsh 3-23 Newcastle Falcons

photo 1 (3)

Saturday 11 October 2014 – 2.30pm

Kassam Stadium, Oxford

Aviva Premiership #6

 

That was a funny game yesterday. Strange atmosphere, Falcons dominant in the first half and dominated but still triumphant in the second. 3-23 was probably in the middle of expectations but looking at the game overall, it was a satisfying afternoon’s work.

 

I had thought that a big bonus point win would demoralise Welsh and give us a big boost, while a tight win after Welsh threw the kitchen sink at us would do the same. We got a bit of both, without the bonus point.

 

That defence in the second half was fantastic, even in the face of several penalties and a yellow card, and should give the team plenty of heart. As others have said, Mark Wilson’s absence for ten minutes in the bin made such little difference that some of us had forgotten he was even off.

 

To be honest, we were helped a lot by Welsh’s basics deserting them at times – several of their attacking moves broke down through knock-ons. But then our upfront defence will have added pressure too.

 

It’s tricky to pick a man of the match from that solid performance. Welsh really struggled to live with Sinoti Sinoti, as many teams do, and Ruki Tipuna definitely bested Piri Weepu at scrum-half in the first 40. Dom Barrow was perhaps the forward with the most drive towards the opposition.

 

What was very good to see was Rory Clegg’s performance off the bench. Sharp and mostly accurate with the boot, he opened the play up and brought people in. He doesn’t make breaks like JP Socino, but then that’s why he’s not first choice. Clegg’s still a competent player and I’m sure he will make some important contributions this season.

 

So this win puts us in a decent position now, eight ahead of Welsh after what should have been their easiest game of the season.

 

We can hopefully now reduce the pressure a bit, kick on and get some better results in the league, perhaps a losing bonus point at least at Bath (probably the best we should expect), and then at least one win from Gloucester and Sale at home.

 

What obviously we can’t do is relax and get complacent, as if Worcester had got things together a bit earlier last season we might have paid a real price for our calamitous form.

 

I don’t think that will happen now though. We have four cup games, from which three wins is a realistic target, to get combinations together and fringe players sharper, and then hopefully we can give Bath a little shock.

 

After looking adrift with London Welsh two weeks ago, the Falcons may still be in eleventh place in the table but are just two points behind Sale and Wasps (ahead of Wasps’ game with Bath today) and three behind London Irish, so if we can get a few more wins this season, we might be able to get a respectable league position come May.

 

 

A few thoughts now on the Kassam Stadium, where Welsh play to meet Premiership criteria.

 

I can’t believe that playing in front of 2,000 people, 10,000 empty seats, and two huge empty stands serves Premiership Rugby better than playing at a traditional ground like Old Deer Park.

 

Welsh must be losing a fair whack of money on that ground, there was little atmosphere among the home fans, and it can’t be much fun for the players to play in front of a small crowd in a big ground. At times, when we were quiet too, yesterday had the air of a training game.

 

Still, that is the apples and the Falcons got four welcome and vital points. We away fans had a cracking time. Good stuff.

photo 2 (3)

This weekend’s Eddie Stobarts:

Shelley Ann

Megan Jane

Jasmine Rose

Fiona Lynne

Lily Kathleen

 

 

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

Match preview: London Welsh v Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 11 October 2014 – 2.30pm

Kassam Stadium, Oxford

Aviva Premiership #6

This is the one we’ve been waiting for – the first Big One of the season, and for some, a grudge match after the well-known events surrounding London Welsh’s promotion in 2012. The right decision was made, even if it was in controversial circumstances, and finally now we meet the Exiles in the Premiership.

The table already shows the importance of this game – Welsh are bottom just one point from their five games (a try bonus point at Bath), while the Falcons have five in eleventh, and it is a further five points to Leicester. So it looks like one of us will be ending the table twelfth, but a victory tomorrow to top off Sunday’s win over Exeter would put the Falcons in a good position on that score, considering our respective starts to the season.

While the Falcons have been competitive for the most part, Welsh have struggled. After a 0-52 defeat to Exeter in Oxford on the opening weekend, Justin Burnell’s side have conceded over forty points in each game, and over fifty twice more, including another 52-0 loss at Harlequins last weekend.

That result will have been particularly disappointing for the Exiles after they gained plaudits for the previous weekend’s home performance against Gloucester. 10-15 down to the Cherry and Whites after an hour. The visitors still pulled away though and triumphed 10-46.

On the third weekend, Welsh also conceded 46 at Sale, following on from a 53-26 defeat at Bath where the Exiles got their first and so far only point of the season, thanks to tries from Seb Jewell, Seb Stegmann, Lachlan McCaffrey and former Falcons forward Pete Browne.

Browne is one of two ex-Falcons in the Welsh squad, the other being club captain Tom May, a true KP legend who led the Exiles to the Championship title last term.

May is one of a number of household names at the Kassam Stadium, several of whom were among the twenty-five-odd players signed this summer following promotion. They include experienced Premiership campaigner Dean Schofield, ex-Harlequins centre Tim Molenaar, former England international Olly Barkley and biggest of all, All Black great and World Cup winner Piri Weepu.

It appears that Welsh are struggling to gel a team together so far, and the Gloucester defeat also suggests a fitness issue. Tomorrow will not be easy, but it is a big opportunity for the Falcons to get another win.

We have met London Welsh on five previous occasions, the biggest being a cup semi-final against an Exiles team featuring Wales international John Taylor. Gosforth won 18-12 and the game was featured on TV’s Rugby Special. However, this will be the first time we have played Welsh in the professional era.

Gosforth v London Welsh

02/04/1977 Old Deer Park           Cup SF           W18-12

17/09/1977 North Road                Club Match    W12-10

07/02/1987 Old Deer Park          Club Match    L9-10

23/04/1988 North Road              Division 2       L12-14

12/11/1988 North Road                Division 2       W34-26

Unsurprisingly, the Falcons have named an unchanged side for tomorrow’s game:

15 Alex Tait, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Noah Cato, 10 Juan Pablo Socino, 9 Ruki Tipuna; 1 Kieran Brookes, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Scott Wilson, 4 Calum Green, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg.

Replacements 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 19 Josh Furno, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Mike Blair, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Tom Catterick

 

 

London Welsh team: 15 Seb Jewell, 14 Seb Stegmann, 13 Nic Reynolds, 12 Tom May* (c), 11 Nick Scott, 10 Olly Barkley*, 9 Piri Weepu*, 1 Pablo Henn*, 2 Nathan Morris, 3 Taione Vea*, 4 Matt Corker, 5 James Down, 6 Peter Browne 7 Richard Thorpe, 8 Chris Hala’ufia*.

 

Replacements: 16 Nathan Vella, 17 Shane Cahill, 18 Jack Gilding, 19 Dean Schofield*, 20 Ben Pienaar, 21 Rob Lewis, 22 Tristan Roberts, 23 Rhys Crane.

 

 

This game is certainly London Welsh’s best chance of a win this season, but if we can win then one might think that they shouldn’t win again before Christmas, having to encounter Wasps and Saracens away and Leicester and Northampton at home before Santa does his thing.

 

Eight points ahead, give or take a point, and the Falcons can kick on without always looking over their shoulder. On current form, we have to be favourites, and can hopefully celebrate again tomorrow night.

 

 

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