Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Gloucester Rugby

2.5 lts High Gloss Paint

Friday 21 November 2014 – 8.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #8

 

The Falcons are entering a massive ten days… two extremely winnable home games. The first is against Gloucester tomorrow night, when Kingston Park is set to welcome its highest crowd since promotion last year.

 

Gloucester are eighth in the Premiership at the moment with three wins and sixteen points from their seven games. Their season began with a 53-6 pounding away to Northampton, while the Cherry ‘n’ Whites also struggled for a long time away to London Welsh in September before leaving Oxford with a comfortable-looking 10-46 win. Leicester were then sent packing from Kingsholm contemplating a 33-16 defeat in October.

 

However, Exeter won in Gloucester early in the season and last Friday night, Harlequins were victorious at Kingsholm for the first time this century, Conor O’Shea’s team winning 15-22 thanks to Nick Easter, Luke Wallace and Charlie Walker’s tries. David Humphreys’ hosts led 12-10 at half-time (and led 12-0 at one stage) but didn’t score a try all night.

 

In the cups, Gloucester are going well, with two wins in the Challenge Cup against Brive and Oyonnax and a victory at London Welsh in the LV= Cup, which followed a tight 28-27 loss at Exeter.

 

One player who should (I write before the teams are named) be of interest to Falcons fans tomorrow night is James Hudson, the only former KP man in the Gloucester squad. After a slow start to his Kingsholm career, Huddo has been a regular in the Cherry ‘n’ White engine room this season alongside veteran Tom Palmer, who joined from Wasps in the summer.

 

Palmer’s England career may be more than likely over at the age of 35, and two years since the last of his 42 caps, but Gloucester fans’ attention at Twickenham on Saturday will be focused on Billy Twelvetrees, Jonny May and Ben Morgan, both try-scorers for England this autumn. Matt Kvesic will be looking to show that Steffon Armitage is not the only alternative to Chris Robshaw for the national number seven shirt, while James Hook is looking to get back into the Wales side. Charlie Sharples may need a beast of a run to make the World Cup as Chris Ashton and David Strettle show good form for Saracens but fail to make the England 23.

 

One reason why the Falcons should be confident ahead of tomorrow night, bar our rejuvenation this season and Gloucester’s erratic form, is that the south-westerners’ win at KP last season was their first up here since Christmas 2007.

 

A 13-8 half-time lead that day was squandered as we only managed a Phil Godman penalty after the break to go with two from Rory Clegg and the latter’s conversion of Tom Catterick’s early try, while Freddie Burns’ boot complemented scores by Rob Cook and the aforementioned May to give the visitors victory.

 

Further to our canny record against Gloucester at home in recent games, our wins over them around the turn of the decade were often crucial. Tom May’s late penalty in January 2009 (I still remember the incredible tension) set us set the Falcons up for a run of seven wins from eight league games. A year later, a 25-13 victory on a Wednesday night in March was only our second Premiership home win of the season but it was a key result in winning that year’s relegation battle.

 

December 2011’s meeting was Alan Tait’s last Premiership victory as Falcons gaffer, achieved with the help of a try by a player who had burst onto the scene with Gloucester, not least in the LV= Cup final between the two sides the previous season: Jordi Pasqualin. Our other try-scorer that night? The also-enigmatic James Fitzpatrick.

 

Incidentally, Scott Lawson scored one of Gloucester’s three tries in the last of his four seasons at Kingsholm.

 

 

Gloucester in Newcastle:

12/03/1977             North Road                Cup QF           W3-0

10/02/1990             Gateshead                  Cup R4           L15-26

28/11/1992             Kingston Park            Cup R3           W13-10

18/09/1993             Kingston Park            Division 1       D12-12

14/12/1997             Kingston Park            Premiership 1W37-27

25/04/1999             Kingston Park            Premiership 1W39-15

30/04/2000             Kingston Park            Premiership 1W36-28

06/09/2000             Kingston Park            Premiership   L18-19

18/11/2001             Kingston Park            Premiership   W18-16

15/09/2002             Kingston Park            Premiership   L19-22

05/10/2003             Kingston Park            Premiership   W42-22

27/02/2005             Kingston Park            Premiership   D27-27

19/02/2006             Kingston Park            Premiership   L9-13

13/04/2007             Kingston Park            Premiership   W19-12

23/12/2007             Kingston Park            Premiership   L13-20

02/11/2008             Kingston Park            Cup                 L10-11

11/01/2009             Kingston Park            Premiership   W10-7

31/03/2010             Kingston Park            Premiership   W25-13

21/11/2010             Kingston Park            Premiership   W12-6

02/12/2011             Kingston Park            Premiership   W26-25

29/09/2013             Kingston Park            Premiership   L16-22

 

 

The Falcons have made a large six changes to the team that went to Bath last week, with Adam Powell and Scott Wilson dropping to the bench with knocks and Rory Clegg starting, sending Juan Pablo Socino into the centre. Oliver Tomaszczyk, Scott Lawson, Mike Blair and Alex Tait come into the starting lineup while Ally Hogg captains at number eight.

 

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Calum Green, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Andy Saull, 8 Ally Hogg (c).

 

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Sean Robinson, 20 Chris York, 21 Ruki Tipuna, 22 Adam Powell, 23 Simon Hammersley.

 

 

Gloucester’s experienced second row partnership of Tom Palmer and James Hudson stands out in the visiting side, along with full-back Steve McColl, formerly of Leeds/Yorkshire and rumoured to have interested Dean Richards during our season in the Championship, who makes his Premiership start. Tighthead prop John Afoa is reported to be the league’s highest-paid player.

 

Gloucester: 15 Steve McColl, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Billy Meakes, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Henry Purdy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Dan Robson, 1 Yann Thomas, 2 Darren Dawidiuk, 3 John Afoa, 4 Tom Palmer, 5 James Hudson, 6 Tom Savage, 7 Matt Kvesic (c), 8 Ross Moriarty.

 

Replacements: 16 Luke Cole, 17 James Gibbons, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Aled Thomas, 23 Tom Isaacs.

 

 

Don’t forget to Bring The Noise tomorrow night – come on Falcons!!

 

 

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

Match reaction: Bath Rugby 23-14 Newcastle Falcons

photo 1 (5)

Saturday 15 November 2014 – 5.00pm

The Recreation Ground, Bath

Aviva Premiership #7

 

I started writing this last night in the hotel lounge, the sound of ‘Mysterious Girl’ in my ears from the wedding reception next door ringing in my ears. I glanced in – yes, the dance floor was empty.

 

It seemed a bit calmer than the wedding Mrs Leipy and I were at last Saturday. A rough-looking bloke walked into the lounge at one stage and seemed to think better of it. Clearly I and the old couple reading in the other corner look more threatening than I’d thought.

 

Speaking of threatening, I now turn to the game yesterday. Threatening isn’t really a word that could be applied to our backs for most of the game – Bath’s defence did a great job of putting pressure on Sinoti Sinoti and Alesana Tuilagi and preventing either getting much space. JP Socino was also on the back foot in open play a lot of the time and so wasn’t able to use his creativity to relieve any pressure.

 

It was a game of two halves. The first was pretty even, in fact I think we might just have shaded it but Bath went in three points ahead. Then they really stepped it up in the second half and pinned the Falcons back in our 22. Bath’s second try may have been aided by one of the most blatant examples of blocking a defender that I’ve ever seen, but it had been coming for several minutes.

 

It was only a massive defensive effort that stopped Bath getting a bigger win and the bonus point they will have been looking for. I think the Falcons deserved a losing bonus point but it was not to be, Gavin Henson’s late penalty making the hosts’ win safe.

 

I was impressed with Henson yesterday, nothing that flashy but a very professional performance and he controlled the game well. It seems he has overcome a lot of his problems and is getting back to what he does best. Good stuff.

 

From the Falcons’ point of view, our set pieces held up well yesterday but I think we couldn’t really match Bath’s pace and intensity, particularly in the second half when it seemed all we could do just to defend against a big home pack and a hungry set of backs.

 

Individually, I don’t think we really had anybody stand out for good or bad reasons. The back three were just shut down and the half-backs denied time and space. I can’t really give an opinion on Sean Robinson’s Premiership debut as I didn’t really notice him unfortunately.

 

We can’t be too despondent though, lets not forget that Leicester lost 45-0 at the Rec earlier this season. The Falcons now have two huge home games coming up that we really need to get at least one win from. Gloucester have their own problems at the moment so Friday is a great opportunity to get back to winning ways.

 

 

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

Match preview: Bath Rugby v Newcastle Falcons

bubble bath

Saturday 15 November 2014 – 5.00pm

The Recreation Ground, Bath

Aviva Premiership #7

 

It’s time for some fun in Bath this weekend. Not ‘fun in the Bath’, as one of my in-laws thought a Facebook post said last year.

 

Bath away is always a highlight of the season. The Rec, for all the criticism its facilities get, has to be one of the most beautiful rugby grounds in the world, situated between the River Avon and below the hills just outside the city. A nice clubhouse, and plenty of decent pubs around. I still remember waiting half an hour to get served in the Saracens Head one year when there were two staff serving a few hundred punters. Fortunately England v South Africa was on a screen behind the bar.

 

We might not be in for such fun on the pitch though – Bath had an eye-catching start to the season in the Premiership, condemning Leicester to a record 45-0 league defeat at the Rec and also beating Saracens at home in a humdinger of a game. London Welsh have been put to the sword not once but twice in the old Roman city, most recently 47-7 in the LV= Cup. However, defeat at Northampton and Wasps, albeit both with bonus points, mean the Bathplugs had to be content with fourth place going into the cup break. That’s not bad though, and Mike Ford’s team look at present the most likely side to break the quadropoly of Leicester, Saracens, Harlequins and Northampton in the play-off places.

 

Europe has not been kind to Bath. The opening round of the new Champions Cup pitted the south-westerners against Glasgow up in Scotland, and the Warriors pulled off a spectacular 37-10 victory at Scotstoun, even condemning Bath to a scoreless second half. That was followed up by a narrow 19-21 loss to Toulouse at the Rec, and Montpellier lie in wait in next month’s double-header.

 

Indeed, it is surprising to see that after last week’s 18-6 LV= Cup in Exeter, Bath have actually lost four of their last five games and five of their last seven. One suspects they will have plenty of motivation tomorrow.

 

That said however, Ford will be missing several key players due to international call-ups. While Kieran Brookes benches for England at Twickenham, he will be able to chat to George Ford and Rob Webber as they watch fellow Recmen Kyle Eastmond, Anthony Watson, Dave Attwood and David Wilson taking on South Africa. Semesa Rokoduguni has been ruled out by injury after a tricky international debut against the All Blacks last week, and we can only be thankful that he won’t be in the Bath team at the Rec either. Jonathan Joseph and Henry Thomas are also in Stuart Lancaster’s squad but not tomorrow’s England 23, and Paul James has been completely dropped by Wales to allow Gethin Jenkins to lead the dragons against Fiji in Cardiff.

 

Bath are one of the Falcons’ real bogey teams. OK, so we have bad runs against a few teams at the moment, but since Martin Johnson lifted the World Cup in 2003, we have only beaten tomorrow’s hosts once. I remember it well – a bonus-point victory in October 2009, in which I jumped up and down in the Rec’s (pretty rickety) press box as Micky Young steamed the full length of the pitch to score a brilliant try. That was not lil’ Micky’s only big contribution that day, as he also made a monster tackle on giant Bath winger Jack Cuthbert that had the few visiting fans purring. Our other try-scorers were James Hudson and Charlie Amesbury (two), and of the entire squad only Rob Vickers is still playing for the Falcons.

 

Since that day, it’s been defeats all the way, now numbering seven in a row at the Rec and KP. Time to change that I reckon.

 

Young is of course now of the Rec parish, one of a number of former Falcons men there along with the aforementioned Wilson, and hooker Ross Batty, as well as Director of Rugby Ford himself who made such a contribution to our-almost Great Escape in 2012. Peter Stringer is one that might be forgotten, though his cameo for the Falcons in 2012 was memorable, while Grant Shiells’ move south just this summer was vaguely controversial but he has not yet been able to get on the field in the blue, black and white.

 

Compared to clubs like Leicester and Harlequins, whom we have been playing regularly since the middle of last century, and Gloucester and Northampton whom we met in the early years of the old national cup, Bath are a relatively new opponent, in that Gosforth (or Newcastle Gosforth at that particular time) did not play the Bathplugs until 1993, our first year in the top division. As with many games that season, it was a comprehensive defeat, though will merit at least a footnote in Bath’s history for being Gareth Chilcott’s final game for the club.

 

Falcons in BA2:

13/11/1993 Division 1                   L3-46

23/08/1997 Premiership 1           W20-13

16/01/1999 Premiership 1           L11-16

13/11/1999 Premiership 1           L12-45

16/09/2000 Premiership               L12-19

28/04/2001 Championship QF     L9-18

25/11/2001 Premiership               L9-24

10/05/2003 Premiership               L12-24

20/12/2003 Premiership               L10-20

11/09/2004 Premiership               W33-18

11/03/2006 Premiership               L18-20

25/11/2006 Premiership               L14-20

08/03/2008 Premiership               L11-22

21/03/2009 Premiership               L25-36

24/10/2009 Premiership               W27-16

29/01/2011 Cup                             L6-11

07/05/2011 Premiership               L12-42

11/02/2012 Premiership               L24-30

08/02/2014 Premiership                L6-24

 

 

Sean Robinson makes his Premiership debut for the Falcons tomorrow at flanker, and is joined by fellow youngster Simon Hammersley in an attacking starting lineup. George McGuigan and Sinoti Sinoti are back from injury, and Alesana Tuilagi will hope his second Premiership start for us is more fruitful than his previous.

 

Falcons team: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Juan Pablo Socino, 9 Ruki Tipuna, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Scott Wilson, 4 Callum Green, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Sean Robinson, 7 Andy Saull (c), 8 Mark Wilson.

 

Replacements: 16 Alex Rogers, 17 Scott Lawson, 18 Oliver Tomasczyzk, 19 Scott MacLeod, 20 Ally Hogg, 21 Mike Blair, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Alex Tait.

 

 

The hosts team up Micky Young with Gavin Henson at half-back, the Welshman seemingly having put his controversies behind him at the Rec. Jonathan Joseph and Henry Thomas are allowed back from England duty, while Leroy Houston will be looking to repeat his huge try-scoring performance in the equivalent game last season.

 

Bath team: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 Gavin Henson, 9 Micky Young, 1 Nathan Catt, 2 Ross Batty, 3 Henry Thomas, 4 Stuart Hooper (c), 5 Dominic Day, 6 Charlie Ewels, 7 David Sisi, 8 Leroy Houston.

 

Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Kane Palma-Newport, 19 Matt Garvey, 20 Tom Ellis, 21 Max Northcote-Green, 22 Chris Cook, 23 Richard Lane.

 

 

Got a good feeling about this one (No! Really?!) with our exciting team, and some good experience on the bench to hopefully see the game out. We could be in for an interesting day tomorrow.

 

 

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 21-22 Cardiff Blues

D'oh

Friday 7 November 2014 – 8.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

LV= Cup Pools 2 and 3 #1

 

It sounds like it was a difficult night last night. I listened to most of the first half on the radio and the Falcons seemed to be dominating, leading 21-7 and in control, our (mostly) first team putting Cardiff’s reserves to the sword. The only question seemed to be when the bonus point would come. Even the Blues’ try came from a Falcons error.

 

Well the bonus point came, but it wasn’t the one we expected. Following Twitter in the pub, it looked to me like we just disintegrated in the second half and then obviously two missed penalties at the end meant we squandered the opportunity to get another win.

 

Perhaps most disappointing for me, as I didn’t see the game, was one of the first posts on the unoffy message board afterwards. It said that in the first half we passed and kept the ball. In the second half we kicked it away for half an hour, before looking more threatening when we kept the ball at the end.

 

I thought all that nonsense of kicking the ball away and inviting the opposition onto us might have finally been put to bed after ten years, since we have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on a pitch that was specifically said to help attacking play. Then came the Rotherham and Northampton games, and last night. It seems we just never, ever learn.

 

I know it’s only the cup, but it’s a decent chance of winning a trophy for us. We could have had four or even five points now instead of one, with two winnable games left against Sale at home and away to London Irish.

 

Still, if the team learn from last night and get something from Bath next week, before beating Gloucester and Sale, then no harm done in the big scheme of things. We’ll see. The Falcons need to show that this is a blip, and that our recent run of wins was not.

 

 

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Cardiff Blues

title blues in the night

Friday 7 November 2014 – 8.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

LV= Cup Pools 2 and 3 #2

 

Tomorrow night, for the second time in three games, the Falcons face Welsh opposition, this time in the form of Cardiff Blues. This could be an intriguing match, as the Blues’ Arms Park ground also has an artificial pitch, so the Kingston Park surface will hold no fears for them.

 

More concerning for the capital side, managed by Director of Rugby Mark Hammett, will be their form so far this season. In seven Pro12 games, the Blues have won only once, and that was on the opening weekend away to Zebre. Since then, they have been beaten at home by Glasgow and Ulster, and away to Leinster and Ospreys, having only a draw in Connacht to show for their efforts before last Saturday’s 24-28 loss to Munster in Wales.

 

A late try by flanker Paddy Butler condemned Cardiff to defeat, after Gareth Davies’ penalty looked to have secured a vital win.

 

Tomorrow will be our fourth meeting with the Blues since the regionalisation of Welsh professional rugby in 2003. We didn’t meet until 2010, the first clash coming at Cardiff City Stadium where the Blues spent less than three years before returning to the Arms Park in 2012.

 

That game was in this competition at the end of January, on a very cold day in south Wales. Cardiff put out a strong team including Welsh internationals Tom Shanklin, Sam Warburton and Dafydd James, with Gareth Thomas on the bench, among others, and triumphed 45-24, taking advantage of red cards for Ed Williamson and Rob Vickers.

 

Vickers, a try-scorer, had come on as a replacement for the lesser-spotted Alex Walker, who had already scored a hat-trick. Other interesting names on the teamsheet are Michael Tait, Josh Afu on the bench, oh and Matt Thompson wearing the number three shirt.

 

Two months later, a far stronger Blues team featuring Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts, Gethin Jenkins, Martyn Williams and Xavier Rush came north to teach the Falcons a rugby lesson in the quarter-final of the Amlin Challenge Cup. Charlie Amesbury and Micky Young scored for the Falcons but we were well beaten 20-55, in a game that marked Chris Micklewood’s only appearance in a black shirt.

 

Our most recent meeting with the Blues was in October 2011, just hours after France had controversially dumped Wales out of the World Cup. Greg Goosen was the Falcons’ hat-trick hero at KP against a scratch Cardiff side (the most recognisable name for me being Owen Williams, who suffered such a terrible injury this summer), and further scores from Michael Mayhew and Mark Wilson completed a 33-3 win. Other unusual names on our teamsheet that day are Rikki Sheriffe, Darren Fearn, Glen Townson and Redford Pennycook.

 

That game has a bit of significance for me, as it took place exactly a week before I met Mrs Leipy.

 

Although Dean Richards has brought several stars back the first team after a few weeks’ cup rest, with ten changes to last week, Cardiff’s Welsh stars will be focused on meeting the Wallabies on Saturday at the Millennium Stadium. Sam Warburton, Gethin Jenkins, Alex Cuthbert and Cory Allen are all in Warren Gatland’s 23. Two-time Lion Adam Jones, Jenkins’ front row partner in crime for so many years who joined from Ospreys in the summer, is missing from the international side however.

 

 

Alex Tait, Noah Cato, Gonzalo Tiesi, Adam Powell, Juan Pablo Socino, Scott Wilson, Richard Mayhew and Mark Wilson are all back for tomorrow night. Alex Rogers makes a first Falcons start, allowing Rob Vickers to move to hooker, though we have two on the bench in that position in fit-again George McGuigan and young David Nelson. Chris York is fit enough for a place on the bench and Andy Saull continues as captain in Will Welch’s absence.

 

Falcons team: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Alex Tuilagi, 10 Juan Pablo Socino, 9 Ruki Tipuna, 1 Alex Rogers, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Scott Wilson, 4 Calum Green, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Andy Saull (c), 8 Mark Wilson.

 

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 David Nelson, 18 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 19 Scott Macleod, 20 Chris York, 21 Mike Blair, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Chris Harris.

 

 

Cardiff have named a side with a mix of youth and experience, though one interesting name in their side is former Leicester man and Argentine international Lucas Amorosino in the centres. Scrum-half Tavis Knoyle and prop Scott Andrews also have some Wales caps.

 

Blues team: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Lucas Amorosino, 12 Garyn Smith, 11 Harry Davies, 10 Simon Humberstone, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 1 Thomas Davies, 2 Rhys Williams, 3 Scott Andrews, 4 Lou Reed, 5 Chris Dicomidis, 6 Jevon Groves, 7 Ellis Jenkins (c), 8 Rory Watts-Jones.

 

Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Callum Lewis, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Miles Normandale, 20 Ben Roach, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Will Thomas, 23 Jack Phillips.

 

 

Should be an interesting game, this one, and hopefully a good win to send us down to Bath next week in good form.

 

P.S. The other results we should be looking out for this weekend in the LV= Cup are Scarlets v Northampton tonight, and Sunday’s games between Wasps v London Irish and Leicester v Sale, hoping for three away wins.

 

 

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

Under the Clock Chronicles: New thoughts on club v country

BADGES

Ahead of a three-hour journey back north on Sunday, I bought The Rugby Paper for the first time in, well, probably ever.

It’s a canny read, with plenty of analysis and opinion, which I like. However, I must take issue with Jeremy Guscott’s column on the upcoming England v New Zealand game, in light of the club v country argument that I have written about before.

Now I tend to be on the club side of the argument. Would I rather England won the World Cup or the Falcons won the Premiership? No need to even think about it. I’d rather the Falcons beat Cardiff this Friday than England won the World Cup next year.

I’ve mellowed a bit over the years, and I understand that it is ultimately good for the Falcons that we have players playing internationally, otherwise we will lose our best players, like we did with David Wilson and Mathew Tait. We can only hope that the same doesn’t happen with people like Mark Wilson, and Kieran Brookes’ selection shows that Stuart Lancaster and co are not against picking Falcons players.

I can see why some people go the other way though, their emotions are with England and that’s fine. Perhaps it’s easier when you support an amateur team who won’t lose players to England, or a club like Saracens who can live without their internationals for a few weeks because of their squad’s strength.

Where was I? Oh yes, Guscott’s column in The Rugby Paper.

He expresses concern that England won’t have had as much preparation time as the All Blacks. Sure, they won’t have had as much time to practice their systems and re-learn about each other, but the following sentence really baffled me: “Training does not replicate the intensity and emotion of a Test match, and there is no opposition on the training pitch as good as the All Blacks”. Well, obviously. However, I think this shows a big ignorance of the standard of club rugby.

Look at Toulon. They are an incredible side, and they would surely give the All Blacks an almighty game. Therefore, surely any Scarlets players selected to play against New Zealand in a few weeks’ time will have had a game of a similar standard recently.

Intensity and emotion? Never mind the Champions Cup, the Bath-Saracens Premiership game the other week was as intense as any international friendly (and that’s what the upcoming games are, lets not forget) I’ve ever seen, and many Six Nations games, with barely less emotion. Are we really saying that our win against Exeter last month didn’t have more intensity than an England training session, and didn’t benefit the likes of Brookes and the two Wilsons as they look to hit the international game?

I think in England, a country where the clubs and national team are run completely separately, there has to be a recognition from the union that they cannot and do not need to do everything, that the clubs can complement them.

I understand why England want to keep players the week before a test match to prevent injuries, but in some cases I’d imagine that playing for (for example) Leicester against Northampton in a top-of-the-table derby game would be perfect preparation for a match against New Zealand or France.

In another side-example, why do England need a ‘skills coach’? Do they really believe that the time the players spend with England (which we are always told is too short) is better spent practicing basic skills than running defensive drills, attack patterns and set plays with teammates they do not usually work alongside? If a player has been selected for England, presumably he can already pass, tackle etc. As well as he needs to, or at least to a standard that cannot be improved significantly in three weeks away with the national side. Unless I misunderstand the ‘skills’ part of Mike Catt’s job title.

Anyway, just some thoughts on an idle Tuesday lunchtime. Any comments or contradictions welcome.

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

Match reaction: Northampton Saints 37-23 Newcastle Falcons

IMG_3377

Hotel internet not working, so at 10.20pm I find myself in The Mail Coach, a gaff that is definitely a ‘bar’ as opposed to a ‘pub’, despite what it looks like outside. £3.45 for a pint of Foster’s is not entirely unreasonable, what is more concerning is the group of people in front of me… a bloke dancing (badly, and he knows it), a couple of girls and two men who look like they’ve spent pretty much the last twenty years in pubs.

Kind of remind me of the bloke standing behind me at the match today, who was from Northampton but supports Liverpool FC. My neighbour gave one of our players minor abuse of “up the bum” at one point (because a Saint dived on top of him), which was ironic since he spent almost the entire game talking out of his.

 

Got to love away games.

IMG_3378

Saturday 1 November 2014 – 4.00pm

Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton

LV= Cup Pools 2 and 3 #1

 

Ah, so near yet so far! The Falcons remain competitive but couldn’t carry on a buoyant first half performance after the break, allowing Northampton to get a cushion and then close the game out.

 

It’s annoying, but though both teams had reserve sides out for the most part, the Saints’ squad is clearly better than ours and quality shone through in the end. We gave a big effort and played some nice rugby, and perhaps deserved a losing bonus point, but Northampton were clinical in finishing off their chances, certainly taking full advantage of Alesana Tuilagi’s ten minutes in the sin bin.

IMG_3381

I thought that yellow card was harsh personally, I thought it was a good tackle, but the referee saw it differently. We were however lucky not to go down to fourteen again in the second half when Scott Lawson ran ten metres to exact some retribution on an opponent for a late tackle on Rory Clegg.

 

Onto Clegg now – a decent game I thought, the tactic of kicking long didn’t work too well but I think that’s a team thing. He tackled well and made some good runs and creative passes, as well as doing what he had to from the kicking tee. All good.

 

Another player under scrutiny was of course Tuilagi. I think he looked fitter than in September, certainly he seems to have found an extra bit of pace. Alex made a fair few metres I reckon and broke through a lot of tackles, and would have had a try had he not dropped a pass on the line in the second half. Encouraging.

IMG_3394

Probably the biggest worry for me was some slack tackling for at least three of the tries, I think the first and third, and then Simon Hammersley racing out too quickly for the fifth. That may just be inexperience. The fourth try was made easy by Danny Barnes slipping and allowing the scorer a clear run – no biggie, it happens.

 

One interesting (maybe) thought I had during the game was prompted by Uili Kolo’ofai (or Willy Cauliflower if you can’t spell foreign) going off injured in the first half. Is it just me, or have there been a lot of first-half replacements in our games this season, by ourselves and opponents? It was a shame for Big Willy, as he had done well in the first quarter, including making metres in the build-up to Tom Catterick’s cracking early try.

 

A big concern from today has to be our scrum, I can only remember twice (and in one Mike Haywood stood straight up) when the Saints pack didn’t either send ours backwards or massively disrupt our structure. Thinking of our personnel, that is definitely a worry, as we could well play that starting front five in the Premiership, and we will come up against a stronger pack probably in January in the league game at the Gardens, never mind in other games.

 

My verdict after the game was that our lads had put in a big effort, but not quite had the quality to get that fifth successive win. But of course we were playing away to the champions. There will be things to work on and things to continue doing, but overall I think we shouldn’t be surprised if our run becomes five wins from six on Friday against Cardiff Blues.

IMG_3401

On the Saints side, most attention from Falcons fans will have been on Joel Hodgson, facing us for the first time since his controversial departure from KP in the summer. I always fancied Joel as a scrum-half after seeing him play that position in Galashiels a few years ago, and indeed he had a very good game today, passing crisply and making some searching runs that really tested our defence. He also looked quite hefty – if he hasn’t bulked up since leaving the Falcons, perhaps he never had to in the first place.

 

Another player I thought did very well for Saints was prop Ethan Waller, that guy can really carry very well and looked to be playing a good part in the scrum, which Northampton dominated almost all day. Tom Collins also had a blinder at full-back and deserved his two tries.

 

 

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