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)

Match reaction: London Irish 40-12 Newcastle Falcons

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Sunday 13 April 2014 – 3.00pm
Madejski Stadium, Reading
Aviva Premiership #19

I was philosophical on the train back north last night. No anger, like after the Worcester game. In the end, in the first half London Irish were just far better than the Falcons and we couldn’t live with them. They took their chances, and in the second half we didn’t, despite dominating the game.

The promise of a change in tactics, with a very different backline started and bright sunshine covering most of the pitch in Reading, didn’t really materialise but to be fair I think that cannot be judged too harshly itself because in the first half we just couldn’t get any decent ball. One would hope that if we had, we might have used it properly, as in the second half, but we couldn’t.

There are some positives – the back three of Noah Cato, Ryan Shortland and Sinoti Sinoti looked lively and hungry but didn’t get enough decent ball to work with really. The scrum was solid, Grant Shiells showing no signs of rustiness in his seventy minutes on the pitch. When they came on, Mike Blair and Joel Hodgson showed a marked improvement on those they replaced unfortunately, moving the ball at speed and probing in a way we hadn’t done in the first half. Irish’s defence was strong though.

I don’t really have much to say about the game, we were outplayed and sometimes that just happens. The worrying this is that the longer our losing run goes on – now thirteen successive league defeats – the harder it is to keep morale up in the team and the harder it will be to break the habit. Saracens at home this weekend is hardly ideal, although perhaps we will play to the level of the opposition as happened against Worcester.

What a boost a win against the Heineken Cup semi-finalists would be. However, if we struggle for possession, as in the first half yesterday, and waste whatever we do have, as against Worcester, then Sarries could run rampant really and the downward spiral will continue.

You’d have thought that the Warriors have left it too late to overhaul us at the bottom of the table, and if so then we’ll live to fight again next season, but at the moment there is little sign that any change in tactics or mentality will be tried. In that case, it could be a long 2014/15.

Some good news today with the signing of Rob Hawkins, in a position we are already reasonably strong in but some more strength in depth is always welcome.

We have three games left now, we surely just have to go for it. None of this messing about, ‘trying not to lose’ – that doesn’t seem to be working. As has been said, lets throw everything at Saracens and at least if it doesn’t work we’ll have had a good go and be able to feel proud after the game.

That’s about all I can think of right now. Goodnight.

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

Match preview: London Irish v Newcastle Falcons

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Sunday 13 April 2014 – 3.00pm

Madejski Stadium, Reading

Aviva Premiership #19

 

We’re at the final bend of this Premiership season and, following our defeat to Worcester last time out, stuff’s getting real.

 

The gap at the bottom of the table is still a useful nine points but since Worcester have just won their first league match in over a year, it would be crazy to take anything for granted and I’m sure the Falcons won’t.

 

By the time our lads run out in Beijing on Sunday afternoon, we will know the outcome of Worcester’s home clash with Exeter tomorrow. If the Warriors can get a win, then the pressure will be cranked up, though of course you would hope the motivation would be too.

 

London Irish are the only English side to lose at Kingston Park this season, returning south with defeats in both the Premiership and LV= Cup in the autumn, so that’s a half-decent cause for optimism. The league encounter, our last Premiership victory, was settled by Phil Godman’s conversion of Adam Powell’s try, and Shane Geraghty running out of time to kick over a last-gasp penalty under pressure from the wind and the referee.

 

The Falcons also have a better record at the Madejski Stadium than some Premiership grounds. Our last win there was in November 2009, following victories there in September 2001, November 2003 and February 2006 too. Jimmy Gopperth was the 2009 hero on James Hudson’s first return to Reading, kicking five penalties in our 11-15 success.

 

Va’aiga Tuigamala also inspired a 3-20 victory over then-Readingers Richmond in the 1999 Tetley’s Bitter Cup semi-final.

 

Falcons at London Irish:

04/12/1982 Sunbury                     Club Match                D13-13

19/11/1988 Sunbury                     Division 2                   L7-35

20/04/1991 Sunbury                     Division 2                   L16-24

09/04/1994 Sunbury                     Division 1                   W19-17

29/04/1995 Sunbury                     Division 2                   L22-32

27/04/1996 Sunbury                     Division 2                   L28-29

01/11/1997 Sunbury                     Premiership 1           W35-19

02/01/1999 Sunbury                     Premiership 1           L14-16

03/10/1999 The Stoop                   Premiership 1           L8-56

05/12/2000 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L17-19

23/09/2001 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               W22-18

29/12/2002 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L0-20

23/11/2003 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               W19-15

21/11/2004 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L15-21

12/02/2006 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               W9-6

03/03/2007 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L12-38

23/09/2007 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L0-19

03/01/2009 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L8-48

22/11/2009 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               W15-11

12/02/2011 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L14-23

24/09/2011 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L29-46

23/10/2011 Madejski Stadium     Cup                             L23-39

 

 

Our dismal downing by Dean Ryan and co. two weeks ago stretched the Falcons’ losing run in the Premiership to a record twelve games. Irish meanwhile are on a disappointing run of four consecutive defeats themselves following losses at home to Bath and Leicester and away to Exeter and Harlequins.

 

In the league this season, Irish have amazingly only won two games at the Madejski Stadium – against Harlequins in October and Worcester in January. Even in their ‘home’ opening game, at Twickenham in September, Saracens ran out 20-42 winners.

 

Away from home they only have three triumphs, leaving the Exiles isolated in tenth place nine points behind Exeter and seven ahead of ourselves. Irish are one of only two Premiership sides not to have a try bonus point in the league this season, along with Worcester.

 

Cavalieri Prato, Stade Francais and Lusitanos were all sent home with no points in the Amlin Challenge Cup, though a defeat in Paris put paid to Irish’s hopes of qualification for last weekend’s quarter-finals, and in the LV= Cup at home Irish beat Scarlets 29-10 in February but had already lost heavily to Northampton in November, ruining hopes of progress there too.

 

Dan Leo from Wasps and Sean Cox from Edinburgh have already been signed with the aim of strengthening the pack next season, when Brian Smith will have to do without England winger Marland Yarde and talismanic Aussie James O’Connor, both of whom will be on their way.

 

 

Dean Richards has sprung a few selection surprises for this game, notably a centre pairing of Lee Smith and Jamie Helleur outside Rory Clegg in the ten shirt, while Warren Fury continues at scrum-half. Will Welch, Matt Thompson and Ryan Shortland are back from injury and Sunday will be, I think, Grant Shiells’ first Premiership start of the season. Dom Barrow is a welcome name on the bench.
Falcons: 15 Noah Cato, 14 Ryan Shortland, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 Lee Smith, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 6 Will Welch (c), 7 Andy Saull, 8 Mark Wilson.

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Gary Strain, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Dom Barrow, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Mike Blair, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 James Fitzpatrick.

 

Former Falcons Andrew Fenby and Mike Mayhew start for the Exiles, who boast a tonne of international experience with O’Connor, Tomás O’Leary and replacement Ian Gough.

Irish: 15 James O’Connor, 14. Topsy Ojo, 13 Fergus Mulchrone, 12 Eamonn Sheridan, 11 Andrew Fenby, 10 Shane Geraghty, 9 Tomás O’Leary, 1 Matt Parr, 2 Mike Mayhew, 3 Leo Halavatau, 4 George Skivington (c), 5 Nic Rouse, 6 Blair Cowan, 7 Gerard Ellis, 8 Ofisa Treviranus.

Replacements: 16 Jimmy Stevens, 17 John Yapp, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Ian Gough, 20. Bryn Evans, 21 Alex Lewington, 22 Myles Dorrian, 23 Darren Allinson.

 

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 12-17 Worcester Warriors

Homer-Simpson-Doh

Sunday 30 March 2014 – 2.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #17

 

I thought it would be a good idea to write this now, before I drive back to Cumbria. Firstly, I’m still temporarily enraged by today’s game, and secondly, maybe I will calm down by typing it all out.

 

You go away to Gloucester, bring on a few replacements at 60 minutes, change the players’ mindset from negativity to positivity, and you score four tries. What is the logical next step?

 

Clearly, in Falconsland, it is to keep faith with a setup and way of playing that has brought eleven successive defeats, despite the fact you are playing against a team that has not won a league game in a few days short of thirteen months.

 

Did NOBODY among the coaching staff think that perhaps we should go out and attack Worcester today? Did nobody think: “This is a team that has not won a league game in over a year, we scored five tries last week, so maybe we should take the game to them with a fast style and try to rack up the points”?

 

No. They seem to have thought: “Right, you can score tries and get close to wins by playing attacking rugby, now go out and do it by kicking the ball away at every opportunity.”

 

Honestly, that first half was absolute rubbish. Neither team seemed interested in even looking for a try, just kicking the ball away and letting the other side come back at them. They seemed to be saving themselves for the second half – perhaps I’ve missed a new rule where points scored in the second half count extra.

 

Then in the second half, the Falcons put together a lot of possession, but were slow and ponderous. We were driven back in possession again and again.

 

Worcester were even worse as they couldn’t even get the ball. Their try was completely against the run of play and probably their only real attack of the second half.

 

When Joel Hodgson came on the predictable happened – we perked up, played with more pace and looked more likely to make breakthroughs. But it was too late. Why not try and play for the whole eighty minutes than just the last twenty minutes? We saw last week that in some cases the game is already lost at sixty minutes – no lessons learned, just the same stubborn rubbish.

 

Maybe the weather didn’t help – the paradigm for teams in danger of relegation seems to be just play negative rugby every time. Especially if the weather isn’t like the Costa del Sol in peak season. Here’s an idea: negative rugby has brought us twelve successive defeats, and has just seen us beaten by a team who hadn’t won a Premiership game in more than a year. Try something different! If it doesn’t work, then at least we’ll know. If it does, then you’ll get praise for trying something different. Nobody ever got credit for being stubborn when their ideas have not worked for far too long.

 

I suppose in some ways it is good that we didn’t have a decent crowd in attendance today, as some would probably have been put off rugby and at least the Falcons for life. A big win with attractive rugby, or just an attractive game, could have put a couple of hundred on the Saracens gate, as it is today’s rubbish probably put a few hundred off.

 

Right, I feel better now after that disjointed rant. See you at London Irish!

 

 

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

The Big One: Newcastle Falcons v Worcester Warriors

warrior-film-poster-large

Sunday 30 March 2014 – 2.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #18

 

Last weekend’s double bonus points at Gloucester should see the Falcons safe in the Premiership for another season. However, just to make our top flight status even more all-but certain, we could do with beating relegation rivals Worcester on Sunday.

 

The gap at the bottom of the table is now twelve points, and fifteen, sixteen or seventeen would really be too much for a side that has not won in the league since 1 March 2013 to make up from just four games.

 

However, were we to lose and the Warriors got their first win away in the league since a defeat of Wasps at Adams Park on New Year’s Day 2012 (more than two years ago), then things might get a little bit hairy at the bottom, as the Midlanders approach their final four games with renewed confidence.

 

However, one would imagine that Dean Ryan’s side’s morale must be almost shot after last Friday’s last-gasp defeat at home to Wasps, the last side they beat in the Premiership twelve months ago. Former Sixways star Andy Goode’s conversion of Jake Cooper-Woolley’s try with the last play of the match may have been greeted with celebration on Tyneside, but it has caused derision among Warriors fans, who must have thought that a run of twenty successive league losses was at an end.

 

As it is, our visitors have just six bonus points to show from their efforts this season. Two came early in the season when London Irish and of course the Falcons (courtesy of a Mike Blair try and eleven points from fly-halves Rory Clegg and Phil Godman) won at Sixways, before a six-point loss at Kingsholm and defeat in a topsy-turvy home game by Leicester in February. Then, like ourselves, Worcester suffered heartbreak at Harlequins, losing 21-20 after leading 3-13, and finally there was the traumatic Wasps defeat.

 

All that said, Worcester have won two games this season, away to Cardiff in the LV= Cup 16-21 and at home to Oyonnax 20-13 in the Amlin Challenge Cup, so we cannot be complacent.

 

One boost for the Falcons is that we are not the only side missing a decent tighthead this Sunday – Kieran Brookes suspension continues but Worcester will have to do without the services of Euan Murray, the only former Geordie in the visiting squad, who of course does not play on Sundays for religious reasons.

 

However, our overall form against the Warriors is not fantastic. Before October’s win at Sixways, the Falcons had only one win in nine games against Worcester, a pretty boring 14-3 win at KP in November 2009. Ironically, that game was played a week after the last time we got a try bonus point in the league before Gloucester six days ago.

 

We have not lost at home to Cecil Duckworth’s club since their first visit to KP though, with four wins and two draws since then. The last meeting in NE13 was in November 2011. 6-13 down at half-time, the Falcons fought back with a Michael Mayhew try to claim a 16-16 draw. Jimmy Gopperth also scored three penalties and a conversion of the world’s greatest hooker’s try.

 

The Falcons’ team that night was: Goosen (Manning), A Tait, Uys, Helleur (Eves), Sheriffe, Gopperth, Pasqualin (Pilgrim), Shiells (Wells), Graham (M Mayhew), Murray, Hudson, van der Heijden (Swinson), M Wilson, W Welch (Pennycook), Hogg. Adam Balding, Oliver Tomaszczyk and Matt Kvesic were all unused substitutes for Worcester, though Andy Goode did come on to score a penalty.

 

Worcester at KP:

10/04/2005 Premiership               L16-21

01/01/2006 Premiership               W21-15

08/09/2006 Premiership               W20-19

06/01/2008 Premiership               W15-12

27/12/2008 Premiership               D16-16

01/11/2009 Premiership               W14-3

04/11/2011 Premiership               D16-16

 

People with good memories, or maybe just nerds like me, will remember that the 20-19 September 2006 victory was secured by a last-minute try by debutant Tim Visser.

 

After playing a huge part in our Kingsholm comeback last weekend, Joel Hodgson continues to await a first Premiership start and in a further half-back shock, Warren Fury wears nine and Mike Blair begins on the bench. Sinoti Sinoti and Mark Wilson are fit again to slot in for injury victims Zach Kibirige and Will Welch. Gonzalo Tiesi celebrates his new contract by wearing the metaphorical armband.

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi (c), 12 Danny Barnes, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Andy Saull, 8 Chris York.

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Gary Strain, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Sean Tomes, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Mike Blair, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 James Fitzpatrick.

 

One interesting name in the Worcester squad is Semisi Taulava on the replacements’ bench. Speculation continues to link the Tongan with a move to KP next season, despite heavy warnings from Warriors fans.

Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Josh Drauniniu, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Ravai Fatiaki, 11 David Lemi, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Jonny Arr, 1 Ofa Fainga’anuku, 2 Agustin Creevy, 3 Rob O’Donnell, 4 James Percival, 5 Mariano Galarza, 6 Mike Williams, 7 Sam Betty, 8 Jonathan Thomas (C).

Replacements: 16 Ed Shervington, 17 Paul Andrew, 18 Jerome Schuster, 19 Semisi Taulava, 20 Richard de Carpentier, 21 Paul Hodgson, 22 Ignacio Mieres, 23 Andy Symons.

 

So this is it, the biggest game of the season, with hopefully a good crowd at KP to roar the Falcons to a big victory. Not that I accept uncertainty over league status as an excuse for a lack of signings, a poor pre-season or a poor next season, or indeed negative rugby, but if anyone at the club is using it, then that would then end. Winning on Sunday will put an end to that and we should be able to kick on with some attacking play and more wins before the end of this term.

 

It could be a massive occasion, with a tense atmosphere but potentially one of jubilation by the end. It’s the kind of big match you watch a team for. It’s why we need to keep relegation in place. It is one game not to settle for live TV coverage for.

 

 

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

Match reaction: Gloucester Rugby 40-33 Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 22 March 2014 – 3.00pm

Kingsholm, Gloucester

Aviva Premiership #17

 

All the pre-match excitement might have been about Zach Kibirige, but in the end if was another flying Falcon who was the talk of the Shed after yesterday’s match.

 

An hour in, the score read Gloucester 37-7 Newcastle – cue the introduction of Joel Hodgson. The Falcons then scored four tries and at least one home supporter feared that had the match gone on for ten more minutes, we may well have won.

 

Of course Joel didn’t get us four tries on his own, it was a team effort. George McGuigan and Scott Wilson galvanised the pack and must surely be in contention for Premiership starts sooner rather than later.

 

But Hodgson provided a spark, a turn of pace, a bit of unpredictability that the midfield hadn’t had previously. He broke tackles, made metres and set people away like hadn’t happened in the first hour and Gloucester just couldn’t handle him. If there is any chance that all that Joel will be at KP, then surely he MUST be in the starting line-up against Worcester.

 

Deano has put his faith in Godman but it has not worked. While a mark of greatness is perseverance, the truly great know when to change too.

 

Zach deserves a mention for a lively performance and carving a couple of try-scoring chances before he was injured in an innocuous first-half tackle. His tackling wasn’t perfect (nobody’s is) but when Zach got the ball, he looked dangerous and as I say was close to scoring a first Premiership try. Injury permitting, I think we’ll be seeing him in the starting XV again before too long.

 

The game itself wasn’t great in the middle 40 minutes, from a Newcastle point of view when Gloucester were pulling away. Then the introduction of Hodgson, Wilson and McGuigan coincided with Gloucester seemingly taking their foot off the gas. Actually, they practically went into neutral.

 

You perhaps can’t blame them for that. Realistically, the Cherry ‘n’ Whites aren’t going to get into the Heineken Cup, or the Champions-and-lots-of-other-teams-too Cup, through the league and will not go down, so once their bonus point was secure, thoughts may have turned to next month’s Amlin quarter-final at Wasps.

 

But our team still needed a lot of courage to keep going at thirty points down, and get four tries in those last twenty minutes. Maybe our replacements wanted to prove they could do better than those they came on for. Maybe Deano challenged them to do better. Whatever, they stepped up, and it made my five-and-three-quarter-hour train and bus journey back to the Village of the Damned last night a little less daunting.

 

So now we have a twelve-point lead over Worcester heading into next week. The most optimistic Warrior and defeatist Falcon will struggle to argue successfully that after 400 days without a league win, Worcester will suddenly turn it on and gain thirteen more points than we do in the final five games of the season.

 

But I want us to absolutely smash Worcester, send them crashing into the Championship with the Blaydon Races and at least forty points ringing in their ears.

 

I want us to make a statement, that we deserve to stay ourselves. We should go out there and play like we desperately need to win. Why? Because, with it being season tickets and signings season, we do.

 

 

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

Match preview: Gloucester Rugby v Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 22 March 2014 – 3.00pm

Kingsholm, Gloucester

Aviva Premiership #17

After the distractions of the Six Nations and a controversial fans’ forum this week, it’s back to the important stuff tomorrow and a trip to Gloucester in the Premiership. I don’t think anybody can think about this game and not recall that unforgettable afternoon at Kingsholm 23 months ago when the Falcons won in front of the Shed for the first time in 14 years.

I can still see Mark Wilson’s try now, taking the ball at the back of a lineout and running in to score when the other 29 players on the pitch were stood still, but the referee was playing on. Then the Shed rapidly emptying to the roars of Geordie voices.

The beer flowed in Teague’s and the Kingsholm afterwards – the offy had almost run out of Brown Ale but I managed to nab the last bottle. On the train, I got chatting to a man about rugby and we then speculated about the origin of jeans. A girl who clearly wanted us to shut up, changed her tune when I explained to her how to get to Westcombe Park quickly back in London, so she wouldn’t be too late for a party.

This is the great thing about watching the Falcons – the bad days are worth it to experience times like that glorious win at Kingsholm, and on away trips there are always interesting stories to tell. I find them interesting anyway.

I write that as I look at the desktop background on my computer, which is a photo of myself and the missus outside the Cross Keys clubhouse last year.

I wonder what joys tomorrow will throw up?

We are really approaching do-or-die time in the Premiership this season, kind-of for us, but especially for Worcester. The gap at the bottom of the table is eleven points with six games to go. The Warriors visit KP a week on Sunday for this year’s Big One, and if they beat Wasps at Sixways tonight and we get nothing at Kingsholm tomorrow, things could get just a touch jittery.

Worcester don’t actually have a terrible record against the High Wycombe side, winning six of their seventeen Premiership encounters to Wasps’ nine. However, it is over a year since Dean Ryan’s team won in the league, and I just can’t see them suddenly turning it on and getting twelve more points than we do in the final six games of the season.

It would be nice if we could put things beyond doubt ourselves though, starting tomorrow. Nigel Davies’ team, which boasts former Falcons Rupert Harden and James Hudson, will be disappointed with their season so far. They sit in ninth place in the league on 27 points, one ahead of London Irish but seven behind Exeter, meaning they face a struggle to avoid finishing in the bottom third of the table.

Usually such a formidable side in front of their own raucous supporters, the Cherry and Whites only have three home wins in the Premiership this season, and the first of them was in highly-controversial fashion over Northampton in September when a last-minute penalty gave them a 26-24 win. Worcester were then downed in front of the Shed just before Christmas, and Harlequins lost 25-20 at Kingsholm a month ago. Interestingly, all three of those losing teams got bonus points, which should give the Falcons hope for tomorrow.

Other than those, Gloucester’s only other league wins in 2013/14 have been at Kingston Park in September of course, and London Irish in December. Even in the Heineken Cup, Munster and Edinburgh left Kingsholm with most points.

Newcastle have of course already visited GL1 this season. Mike Tindall and Rob Cook were the try-scorers in a 20-3 win for Gloucester in the LV= Cup back in November, following a disappointing performance for the Falcons. Even more unhappily, Shed legend James Simpson-Daniel suffered a serious leg injury during that match, one that some thought could be career-threatening, but a new contract fortunately suggests the Teessider is on the mend.

Although April 2012 was our first win at Gloucester since 1998, there have been some close calls, none closer than a cup visit in October 2007 when a last-gasp try gave the home side an 18-18 draw. In April 2003, bottom-of-the-league Newcastle went 0-20 up against the table-topping and cup-winning hosts before a heart-breaking try by Thinus Delport and Ludovic Mercier’s conversion defeated us.

In February 2008, 21-20 down going into the final seconds, Tom May attempted a long-range drop-goal but the kick was unsuccessful and Gloucester broke to deny us even a bonus point. So while Kingsholm has not been the happiest hunting ground for us in the past, there is certainly cause for hope. Compared to some away grounds, we certainly haven’t taken too many hammerings there over the years.

 

Falcons at Gloucester:

25/02/1978  Cup 2nd round  L10-19

15/01/1994  Division 1  L9-15

11/04/1998  Premiership 1  W29-27

17/10/1998  Premiership 1  L32-41

11/09/1999  Premiership 1  L16-31

23/12/2000  Premiership  L13-28

29/12/2001  Premiership  L25-29

18/05/2002  Championship QF  L9-60

12/04/2003  Premiership  L23-25

07/02/2004  Premiership  L12-36

25/09/2004  Premiership  L17-31

08/05/2005  Wildcard SF  L16-23

05/11/2005  Premiership  L20-27

24/03/2007  Premiership  L18-24

27/10/2007  Cup   D18-18

23/02/2008  Premiership  L20-28

01/10/2008  Premiership  L23-39

05/12/2009  Premiership  L13-25

02/04/2011  Premiership  L9-34

14/04/2012  Premiership  W29-20

16/11/2013  Cup   L3-20

 

Zach Kibirige is unleashed for his Premiership debut tomorrow, replacing Lee Smith on the left wing. Chris York also gets a rare league start in Mark Wilson’s absence.

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Danny Barnes, 11 Zach Kibirige, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 6 Will Welch (c), 7 Andy Saull, 8 Chris York.

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Gary Strain, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Sean Tomes, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Lee Smith

 

James Hudson plays against the Falcons for the first time since leaving in the summer, in a Gloucester side captained by Mike Tindall and featuring a quite talented replacements’ bench:

Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Mike Tindall (c), 11 Martyn Thomas, 10 Ryan Mills, 9 Dan Robson, 1 Nick Wood, 2 Darren Dawidiuk, 3 Shaun Knight, 4 Elliott Stooke, 5 James Hudson, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Matt Kvesic, 8 Gareth Evans.

Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Will James, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Jimmy Cowan, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Jonny May.

 

It seems ages since our last game – three weeks is a long time in the middle of the season. Hopefully the break has been well-used and after Wasps do a number on Worcester tonight, we can begin to pull away with another Kingsholm miracle tomorrow.

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

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: Newcastle Falcons 16-22 Northampton Saints

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Sunday 23 February 2014 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #15

 

It was a day for exciting endings in sport in Newcastle. Not only did Newcastle United get a last-minute winner, but the Falcons piled the pressure on top-of-the-table Northampton and got a late try to secure a precious bonus point, which takes us twelve points clear of Worcester.

 

We lost, but for the second week in a row we played very well and illustrious opponents will be glad to get away with the win.

 

I think the only other time we’ve been so happy with a bonus-point defeat was against Bath at the end of 2010/11 – that is certainly the only other time I can remember a losing team kicking the ball out to end the game. For once, there was a bit of a positive vibe around Kingston Park after the final whistle.

 

Is that negative? Perhaps. But on the other hand, we had battered the Saints for most of the second half and only managed to score one try – with a six-point deficit, all it needed was for us to concede a stupid penalty and Northampton could have took that away from us had they gone for goal. Better to save the bonus point I think.

 

Two good performances in a row that could have been wins, indeed probably would have been against lesser opponents. I wonder if things are finally coming together. In the first half today, I think we were simply outplayed by a high-speed and high-quality Saints side who were streetwise at the breakdown and clinical in their finishing.

 

Conceding three tries isn’t great, but remember that better teams than us have taken poundings off the Jimmies this season. The defence was pretty solid the rest of the time.

 

If our attack had been as clinical as Northampton’s, we’d have won the game. A loose pass here, a dropped ball there… these things happen. We’re not a great side, heck in Premiership terms we’re not really a good side, but things are looking up. If we keep working hard, keep working on plays, I think we’ll improve.

 

Just frustrating that it’s taken this long to see progress!

 

Individually, I thought Scott MacLeod was outstanding today, getting through a mountain of work around the pitch as well as being reliable in the line-out. Rory Clegg and Mike Blair show signs of developing into a decent partnership, and Joel Hodgson looked lively on his cameo, nailing a tricky conversion in the wind to claim our bonus point.

 

Somebody asked me today what I think of the coaching setup. My opinion is that a team coming up into the Premiership always finds things very difficult, for a number of reasons. We aren’t going to go down, so there’s no need to panic. Perhaps this time next season, or the end of next season, is the time to see whether the regime look like they will fulfill their potential.

 

The last two games give us hope. We’ll probably never get a better chance to beat Leicester, and if we play like today and last week, then there’s no reason we can’t break our losing run against the Tigers next week.

 

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