Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 43-19 Bucharest Wolves

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir: @SouthStandChoir)

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 29-24 Exeter Chiefs

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Sunday 5 October 2014 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #5

 

I really struggled to sleep last night. I was probably still high from the afternoon. How I made it back to Cumbrialand straight after the match I don’t know, I felt high as a kite the whole drive, but it was just lovely to be contemplating a win for once.

 

Yes, it’s the morning after the Falcons’ first Premiership win for a few weeks short of a year, and what a win it was! A topsy-turvy game with a powerful and committed Exeter team that looked to have taken control with a 17-24 lead in the second half, until Tom Catterick’s converted try leveled the scores. The atmosphere, already hot, became thoroughly defiant at that stage. It was the spirit of Sale in 2012, of the playoff against Leeds. This was it – we are not going to lose.

 

The last few minutes after Noah Cato’s winning try were so horribly nerve-wracking – counting down the clock, the horror whenever Exeter got yet another penalty. All we can do is keep shouting and backing the team. And when the ball didn’t go straight out from that final scrum – aargh!!!

 

The relief when the ball flew high to the West Stand, the joy, the 500lb gorilla disappearing… fantastic! This was sport at its best, with tension, commitment, defiance, a cracking atmosphere. Would I swap Northampton’s start to the season for ours? Yes. Would I swap the way people are talking about Bath for the way people are talking about the Falcons? Yes. Would I swap places with a Bath or Northampton fan today? Not a chance.

 

All credit to the team for not letting their heads go down, whether it was at Exeter’s first try, the second that came from such a calamity from Alex Tait and Sinoti Sinoti, or going seven points down. There was real belief among the players, belief in themselves and each other, and belief in what they were trying to do. It has taken five games, but we have the win and now we have to keep doing the right thing and kick on. A look at the fixture list shows a golden opportunity to put together a little run of wins.

 

We’re not now suddenly going to climb the table and make a late dash for the playoffs, but there is some hope now that the monkey of twenty defeats is off the team’s baxk.

 

All eyes now on the big game at London Welsh on Saturday. On current form, we could well destroy them.

 

Yesterday’s Stobarts:

Abigail Elizabeth

Zara Isla

Lorien Dawn

Sam Jo

Julia Claire

Sandra Elaine

Celine

 

 

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Exeter Chiefs

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Sunday 5 October 2014 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #5

 

After hitting the mark of twenty consecutive Premiership defeats at Adams Park on Sunday, the Falcons’ opponents don’t get any easier this week as Exeter look to maintain their perfect league record against us.

 

The Chiefs have won all six Premiership encounters between the two sides since their 2010 promotion, and after being tipped by many pundits to struggle this season, they have just gone about their business quietly as they always do and sit a heady fourth in the table, with three wins and fourteen points from the opening four rounds.

 

2014/15 began for Exeter with a 0-52 destruction of newly-promoted London Welsh in Oxford, debutant Thomas Waldrom scoring two of the south-westerners’ seven tries. There then followed a narrow 20-24 defeat at home to Waldrom’s former employers Leicester, before Rob Baxter’s team got the wheels back on at Kingsholm, where they were this time on the right side of a tight scoreline.

 

A second-half comeback by the hit-and-miss Gloucester couldn’t prevent Exeter marching on with a 22-25 win, followed up by an impressive 36-13 victory over Harlequins at Sandy Park this past Sunday. Waldrom was again among the try-scorers, prompting Baxter to lobby for the Tank Engine’s recall to the England team, for whom the New Zealand native controversially won five caps in 2012 and 2013.

 

Waldrom is not the only Chief who will be hopeful of an international call – Henry Slade has mostly been used in the centres this season as veteran Gareth Steenson wears the ten shirt, but the former has been tipped to challenge Owen Farrell for the national fly-half role in next year’s World Cup. This pair compete with ever-green Welshman Ceri Sweeney for their club starting place, and are complemented at half-back by the snappy Haydn Thomas, who had such a good game against us in Devon last Christmas, ex-Gloucester man Dave Lewis, or former Falcon Will Chudley.

 

In the back five, the star name at Sandy Park is England’s Jack Nowell. Just 21, Nowell started in every Six Nations game last season and scored his debut international try against Italy in Rome on the final weekend.

 

Hooker Jack Yeandle has captained Exeter so far this season as Dean Mumm recovers from shoulder surgery, but perhaps the most interesting name in the Chiefs’ pack is Moray Low, the Scottish international prop who joined from Glasgow in the summer and whose name can (in my opinion) only be said while impersonating Andrew Cotter. Try it.

 

Low and Waldrom’s signings suggest that Exeter are perhaps looking to bring in more big names in the future, though a glance at their side shows that graft is probably still Rob Baxter’s keyword, and why not, after becoming a thoroughly-established Premiership side on that philosophy.

 

 

So the Chiefs will be looking to maintain their perfect league record against the Falcons, our most recent meeting being a disappointing 13-23 defeat at KP on the final day of last season, incidentally the same scoreline as the equivalent game in 2010/11. The Chiefs led 6-15 at half-time, our points coming from two Joel Hodgson penalties, and Mark Wilson’s converted try was not enough even for a losing bonus point.

 

Exeter at KP:

03/01/1998 Cup R4                       W34-10

06/02/2011 Cup                             W17-3

18/02/2011 Premiership               L13-23

07/01/2012 Premiership               L10-16

10/05/2014 Premiership               L13-23

 

 

Noah Cato returns to the Falcons team on Sunday in place of Simon Hammersley, Alex Tait moving to full-back, the rest of the starting lineup remaining the same from Wasps. Alesana Tuilagi’s absence means Tom Catterick could make a first appearance of the season from the bench, where he sits alongside Mike Blair.

 

Falcons team: 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.

 

 

Exeter team: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Tom James, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Will Chudley, 1 Ben Moon, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Don Armand, 5 Damian Welch, 6 Dave Ewers, 7 Ben White, 8 Thomas Waldrom.

 

Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Moray Low, 19 Ryan Caldwell, 20 Kai Horstmann, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Sam Hill, 23 Chrysander Botha.

 

 

Twenty successive defeats means it’s about time we got a notch in the win column. Perfect timing Sunday would be too, ahead of next week’s crunch match at London Welsh. Come on!

 

 

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

Match reaction: Wasps 35-18 Newcastle Falcons

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Sunday 28 September 2014 – 2.00pm

Adams Park, High Wycombe

Aviva Premiership #4

 

Twenty defeats in a row is a nice round number and a psychological barrier, we can only hope that this is where it stops. The next two games are Exeter at home and London Welsh away, the first one is winnable and the second is an absolute must-win. Lose them both, and it may be time for more dramatic changes than just a new gameplan.

 

I didn’t even get to listen to the commentary of the game at Wasps today. Sat in the car waiting for the ferry from Mull back to the mainland, I heard on a crackly Radio 5 Live that we were 17-11 down but “not playing like a team that has lost nineteen games in a row”, or words to that effect. Good stuff, and something to build on in the second half.

 

Finally getting to tonight’s hotel and getting the Wifi working (in the Highlands, you often get strong mobile signal but literally no mobile internet), it was disappointing to see on Twitter that Wasps had pulled away and won 35-18. Not even a losing bonus point, which we probably should have been targeting at least today.

 

There have been conflicting reports on how we played, some fans saying that there were further encouraging signs attack-wise, others saying we have developed into a one-trick team, crashing all the time and then going sideways, giving opponents little to think about. Juan Pablo Socino was described by one fan as clearly a centre playing at fly-half. Maybe that is an experiment worth persevering with, maybe not, I haven’t seen the game so don’t know.

 

Ruki Tipuna apparently had a good game, and I certainly wouldn’t mind him getting a run in the team on his performances so far. The loosehead situation is turning into a real worry, if Alex Rogers and Mark Irving are good enough then make them proper Falcons players, if not then get someone in who is or leave out Gonzalo Tiesi (Jamie Helleur is playing well in the reserves by all accounts) in favour of Eric Fry.

 

Things could be worse, London Welsh have conceded more than forty points in every game so far and over fifty in two of those, while we are conceding around thirty-odd on average I’d guess. If both teams continue as they are, we shouldn’t be relegated, but relying on another team being even worse than us again is not good enough.

 

The table makes bad reading – four games in and we are eleventh, already six points behind Sale in tenth. A win against Exeter is vital, victory over London Welsh absolutely non-negotiable you might think. I’m still backing Dean Richards, and hopefully we won’t get to a stage where you have to think things just aren’t working. The next two weeks will go a long way towards any judgement.

 

 

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