Premiership 7s finals reaction

IMG_2905

Friday 8 August 2014

Twickenham Stoop, London

Premiership 7s Finals

 

It was a very disappointing night for the Falcons on Friday, losing to Newport in the quarter-finals of the main Premiership 7s, and then to London Irish in the plate semi-finals. Neither was a big beating, being by two and seven points respectively, but we didn’t play very well and deserved to lose them both.
There didn’t seem to be any real spark about the team, and massive drive or energy. Plenty of graft of course, but nothing special.

 

Tom Catterick played quite well again, being involved in most of what the Falcons did. Dan Temm and Ben Morris made some big tackles, and Temm carried well. Chris Harris made some quite good runs.

 

The team were a bit disjointed though. Perhaps we were just playing better opposition than at Darlington, where we were never really challenged that seriously. Perhaps we missed a bit more experience alongside Catterick, and the pace of someone like Simon Hammersley who did so well last week.

 

It’s a shame we have now had two pretty poor Premiership Sevens finals in a row, having for many years challenged for Middlesex and Premiership sevens titles, but it’s not that important in the grand scheme of everything.

 

Far more important things to come from September.

 

 

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

Premiership 7s group reaction

photo

Saturday 2 August 2014

Northern Echo Arena, Darlington

Premiership 7s Group D

 

Despite a tricky opening game against Leicester, in the end the Falcons were not massively troubled on the way to keeping up a perfect record of twelve wins from twelve games in Premiership 7s groups. Our young side now move on to the finals at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday night.

 

The late switch of venue from Kingston Park to the Northern Echo Arena in Darlington did not prevent a big crowd from turning out on a wet night in the North East, indeed three coachloads headed down the A1 to join the rest of the 7,000 in attendance. There was a fun atmosphere and some exciting rugby on show.

 

Tom Catterick was named player of the evening, and he certainly led from the front, however for me the Falcons’ stars were the speedy Simon Hammersley, who will surely get more cup outings at full-back this season, and Dan Temm, whose back row skills were evident in many ruck scavengings.

 

The Falcons just about made it past Leicester in the opening game 26-21, rescued by two second-half scores by captain Catterick. London Welsh beat Sale but were then downed by the Tigers.

 

In our second game, Sale were put to the sword with relative ease, Simon Hammersley and Ben Morris among the scorers to particularly impress in a 27-7 win that was only not a nilling because of a late Sharks consolation.

 

After Leicester beat Sale to ensure a whitewash for the Mancs, the Falcons held out London Welsh’s early attacks and tries from Chris Harris and Catterick ensured the evening’s plate would stay in the North East. In four group stages in this competition the Falcons are yet to lose a single game.

 

It doesn’t really matter of course, and will have no bearing on the Premiership season to come, but winning is always nice and the players involved last night will have had a confidence boost as well as, for most of them as youngsters, benefitting from the experience of playing in front of a big crowd.

 

My impression of the Northern Echo Arena was that a fair bit of it did not appear to have been brilliantly maintained since its opening eleven years ago, although that is perhaps not surprising given the former Darlington FC’s financial struggles. The concourse was not as attractive as many I’ve seen, but it wasn’t really a major problem and if Mowden Park continue to improve then perhaps they can sort everything out. The ‘clubhouse’ bar in the outside of the stadium looked quite nice, though I didn’t get a chance to try it out.

 

The other finalists for Friday are Cardiff Blues, Newport Gwent Dragons, Gloucester, London Irish, Northampton and final hosts Harlequins. The teams will be split into two groups of four, each playing three games and the two group winners advancing to the final. Due to the expanded format, the first game will begin at 6pm, so if you’re going and don’t want to miss any of the action, plan accordingly!

 

Looking forward to it.

 

 

P.S. I’ve decided to be loyal to my adopted Cumbrian country by noting all of the Eddie Stobart lorries I see on rugby trips this season. We didn’t see a single one coming back today, though some of that may have been because for at least twenty minutes, the M6 was deluged with rain and I could see about fifty metres ahead, and not enough of the wing mirror to make overtaking even approaching safe. Lots of fun. Saw a few Stobarts yesterday though.

 

This weekend’s Eddie Stobarts:

Ruby Emma

Jodie Marie

Courtney Liana (the favourite so far)

Lucy Eleanor

Catherine Florence

 

 

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 13-23 Exeter Chiefs

the-end

Saturday 10 May 2014 – 3.15pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #22

 

Oh dear me. For ten or twenty minutes yesterday, the Falcons took the game to Exeter by playing the same fast, attacking rugby that has brought an idea of progress recently. We were 6-0 up.

 

Then it all went a bit downhill. At half-time, I can only assume that the team were told to go out and play in a negative way, giving the ball back to the opposition and letting them come at us. That hasn’t worked all season, there was no reason to believe that it would work yesterday. It blew the final opportunity we had for an exciting win that may have shifted another few season tickets.

 

I just don’t understand it and you’ll be glad to know I’m not going to rant about it yet again. Lets just hope that the likes of Tipuna, Socino and Alex Tuilagi can help bring out a more attacking game, along with the retention of Joel Hodgson who had another promising game yesterday, including a try-saving chase and tackle that not every Premiership player would have attempted, never mind been able to make up the yards.

 

The Chiefs’ other ‘open goal’ was an interesting one. Phil Godman chipped into Sam Hill’s hands on the away tryline and Hill legged it to over halfway, before suddenly slowing down and allowing us to scramble back. I’d have been livid if a Falcons player had dallied like that but at that time you could only be grateful.

 

In the second half we never looked likely to get back into the game, I thought, until at the end we began playing with the ball in hand and magically scored a try. It was a typical rampaging run by Mark Wilson, and I’m glad that a player who has been superb all season got the last try and the man of the match award. I’d be surprised if Mark isn’t in the Saxons squad next season.

 

Continuing on positives, after the match yesterday there was some criticism of young referee Craig Maxwell-Keys, making his Premiership debut, but I don’t think he was any worse than seasoned top flight officials, and he consulted the TMO for a potential Exeter try that I would have given, but it seems like the ‘scorer’ lost control of the ball while touching down.

 

What we can praise the referee for, and both sets of forwards, is the lack of scrum resets yesterday. I can only remember two, at the same scrum. None of the usual nonsense that so blights the sport.

 

 

So what of the season as a whole? Well, disappointing. We stayed up, so on the surface it’s job done, but I think there were hopes for some demonstration that we are likely to move further on in 2014/15. On the evidence of this season alone, we probably won’t challenge for a Champions Cup place, and worryingly, it is unlikely that another side will be as poor as Worcester have been this year. On the other hand though, surely we can only improve too.

 

We did finish on our lowest-ever points total in the Premiership (22), one below 2010/11’s accumulation. That one win and ten defeats in eleven home games is just not good enough, goes without saying. A win could have been such a morale-booster yesterday but instead we have three months with sixteen successive defeats hanging over us.

 

I believe it could have been so much better had the Falcons used some intelligence earlier in the season, and more consistently in the past couple of months. But that’s now in the past, we can only hope that the management have a good think over the summer and develop a gameplan that will actually work. With Alex Tuilagi on one wing and Sinoti ‘The Tsunami’ Sinoti on the other, it would be a huge shame if we wasted those talents.

 

Oh, and sort out whatever discipline issue Lee Smith mentioned in his interview on the BBC website this week.

 

For now, we live to fight on in the Premiership next year, so lets be grateful for that. I wouldn’t want to be in Worcester’s position right now, or going through the Championship playoffs again.

 

Things can only get better! See you in September.

 

 

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Exeter Chiefs

indian-chief-western

Saturday 10 May 2014 – 3.15pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #22

After a week that has seen the Falcons secure Premiership safety and sign two Tuilagi brothers, we have the opportunity to avoid our lowest-ever points total in a Premiership season tomorrow, and will do so with a first league win over Exeter in the final game of the campaign, or equal it with a bonus point.

We currently have 22 points, one fewer than in 2010/11 when only points difference prevented relegation and sent Leeds down instead.

The Falcons are going for only a second final-day win since 2006 tomorrow, and only a sixth successful Premiership sign-off in sixteen attempts. Even in the Championship last season, in the last game of the regular season Bristol left Kingston Park with a win, our only defeat of the league season. We rarely have anything but pride to play for on the last day, indeed only in 2010/11 and 2011/12 have we still been in danger of relegation with one game left, and we often seem to see our season just peter out.

Last-day since 1998:

1997/98 Harlequins (A)               W44-20

1998/99 Saracens (A)                 L26-40

1999/00 Northampton (H)            L23-32

2000/01 Saracens (A)                 L29-34

2001/02 Northampton (A)            L19-24

2002/03 Bath (A)                        L12-24

2003/04 Rotherham (A)               W26-20

2004/05 London Irish (H)             W23-16

2005/06 Leeds (H)                      W54-19

2006/07 Bath (H)                        L12-20

2007/08 Worcester (A)                L10-51

2008/09 Harlequins (A)               L12-31

2009/10 Wasps (H)                     L21-25

2010/11 Bath (A)                        L12-42

2011/12 Wasps (A)                     W14-10

2012/13 Bristol (H) (Champ)        L14-19

The stand-out one there is obviously the first one – clinching the title with something to spare at the Stoop back in 1998. Good days.

This will be Exeter’s first trip to the North East since that unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) day in January 2012, an afternoon that has been talked about a lot in recent months. A 10-16 defeat by the Chiefs in front of just 3,445 spectators at a desolate, despondent KP proved to be the last straw in the difficult Alan Tait era and saw the manager replaced with Gary Gold for the rest of the season.

Haydn Thomas had put Exeter in front with an early try before Ignacio Mieres made the score 0-10 at half-time with a 39th-minute penalty. I still remember Jimmy Gopperth kicking off after that penalty, sending the ball deep and Exeter kicking for touch under no pressure to take half-time. In one move, it summed up everything that was wrong with the Falcons at the time. Gopperth and Mieres exchanged penalties after the break, and in the last five minutes an Exeter drop-goal was cancelled out by Tim Swinson’s converted try that gave us a bonus point. There was little celebration of that try – just worries about where on Earth we were headed.

I think that, however bad things have got this season, we will hopefully never sink to those depths of despair again.

That was Exeter’s second win at KP since their promotion, and they have also won all three Premiership meetings between the sides at Sandy Park as well as a European game in December 2010. Our only victories over the Chiefs this century have came in 2010/11, at KP in the LV= Cup and up in Galashiels snow in the Challenge Cup. The Falcons starting scrum-half at Netherdale? Joel Hodgson.

This season Exeter will finish either eighth or ninth, sitting on 41 points at the moment just one behind fellow south-westerners Gloucester. No doubt such a league placing will be disappointing to Rob Baxter and co, following sixth last season and an incredible fifth in 2011/12, only the Chiefs’ second top flight season. Even their debut year saw the Devon side end in eighth spot. To have performed so strongly in their Premiership time is to Exeter’s huge credit.

It was all capped off with an LV= Cup win on their home ground in March, with Northampton vanquished 15-8 at Sandy Park through tries from Chris Whitehead and captain Dean Mumm, and five points from Henry Slade.

Exeter arrive in Newcastle on the back of two successive home defeats, 29-30 to Harlequins on Sunday and a massive 12-55, eight-try drubbing by Sale in April – the Sandy Park side’s record Premiership loss. In fact, in their five games since the cup triumph, Exeter have only one win, that being a 33-38 success at Worcester a month ago.

Away from home this season Exeter have beaten London Irish, Gloucester, Sale and Worcester in the Premiership, as well as Cardiff Blues in the final round of Heineken Cup matches and the Warriors by a massive 3-42 at Sixways in the LV= Cup group stage. The 19-22 victory at Bath in the LV= semi-final was a first victory at the Rec for the Chiefs in 36 years.

Gary Strain and Ian Nagle make what could be their only Newcastle starts tomorrow, both presumably playing for contracts, while Oliver Tomaszczyk also comes into the starting lineup. James Fitzpatrick starts on his final matchday as a Falcon and Joel Hodgson continues his so-far promising half-back partnership with Mike Blair.

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Gary Strain, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Ian Nagle, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Mark Wilson

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Kieran Brookes, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Scott MacLeod, 20 Andy Saull, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Phil Godman, 23 Lee Smith

Exeter team:

15 Phil Dollman, 14 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Dave Lewis, 1 Ben Moon, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3 Hoani Tui, 4 Dean Mumm (c), 5 Damian Welch, 6 Ben White, 7 James Scaysbrook, 8 Kai Horstmann.

Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Alex Brown, 19 James Phillips, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Tom James.

After a tense, frustrating and sometimes quite annoying season, the pressure is now off and even though the BBC is predicting rain for Saturday afternoon, it should be mild so hopefully we can get a good game and that badly-needed win to give fans some optimism for 2014/15.

Come on!

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

Match reaction: London Wasps 44-38 Newcastle Falcons

Adams_Park_from_a_northerly_direction 2

Saturday 3 May 2014 – 3.00pm

Adams Park, High Wycombe

Aviva Premiership #21

 

Well, we’re finally scoring tries! Another haul of five at Adams Park yesterday but it wasn’t quite enough to get that elusive Premiership win.

 

A roaring 0-17 start in the first thirteen minutes and all was going well until either the Falcons switched off or Wasps switched on, and the hosts scored 29 points without reply. We then scored another fourteen, Wasps scored fifteen, and the finally the late fifth try got us a second bonus point.

 

 

It sounded a fantastic game on the radio – fortunately, the internet held up despite having been slow for over a week now and BT dragging their heels in sorting it out. On the back of Gloucester and Saracens, surely we now know that attack is the way to go and if we can go out and take the game to Exeter next week, then a victory is possible and season ticket sales will go up.

 

We could ask where this has been all season but there’s no point doing that, hopefully the change in mentality is permanent. If we can get the plastic pitch laid over the summer, then one more excuse for negative rugby will be removed.

 

As Dai Young said post-match though, both defence coaches will be concerned after yesterday’s game. Although we have conceded big totals before this season, that was with far less of the ball, and not always in spells like yesterday. Perhaps the players did just switch off a couple of times.

 

That said, Wasps are a good team and are going for a Champions Cup place through a play-off, so a six-point losing margin is not an absolute disaster. If our defence had held out a bit better yesterday and at Kingsholm, we’d have won those two games. In many other games, including Wasps and Gloucester at home, a better attack and we’d have won. So if we’d put everything together in these four games we could have had four wins.

 

No use talking about what-ifs though. Hopefully things are starting to come together. Joel Hodgson apparently had a cracking game yesterday and the commentators were encouraging Dean Richards to get the lad signed up. Another good display against Exeter will surely seal a new contract for Joel. He isn’t perfect, no player is, but he is by far the most creative of our fly-halves and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’ve got our first Premiership try bonus points in years when he’s been on the field.

 

Other than that, it has been suggested that we struggled a bit after Gonzalo Tiesi went off, which perhaps shows he has been valuable as a defender in recent months despite only playing a few games. Regardless of who comes in this summer, I think in Tiesi and Sinoti we have a couple of gems.

 

So now it’s Exeter at home on the final day of the season, with no worries about relegation, hopefully the team will go out and continue to play with the freedom they have more often recently, and if our losing run extends to sixteen games, at least it’ll be entertaining and there will be more signs that we might be moving in the right direction.

 

 

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

Match preview: London Wasps v Newcastle Falcons

b491n7

Saturday 3 May 2014 – 3.00pm

Adams Park, High Wycombe

Aviva Premiership #21

Two years ago almost to the day, the Falcons were only a couple of tries away from retaining Premiership status at Adams Park. In the end, a 10-14 victory over Wasps was not enough to overhaul the Pests at the bottom of the table, but if it had been, then we wouldn’t have had Jersey, Cross Keys and Penzance last season, so every negative has a positive.

This time, Wasps are safe in mid-table but with two games to go our place in the top division for next season is still uncertain. It would be an extraordinary upset if Worcester were to win at Saracens tomorrow afternoon, but if they do, especially with a bonus point, and we get nothing in High Wycombe, then it will be squeaky time on the final day next week.

Wasps, who this week announced the signing of Samoan international back Alapati Leiua from the Hurricanes for 2014/15, are currently looking to hang on to seventh place in the Premiership and the chance of a playoff against a French team for the final Champions Cup place next season. They sit on 44 points, four ahead of Exeter, but a top-half finish is beyond them with sixth-placed Sale having 56.

In their most recent outing, Dai Young’s team lost at home to Bath in the semi-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup, following two high-scoring home wins over Gloucester in Europe and the Premiership, the latter in front of over 38,000 at Twickenham in ‘The Stinger’ two weeks ago. The game in south London ended 38-30 to Wasps, who claimed a bonus point thanks to tries from Elliot Daly, Tom Varndell, Ashley Johnson and James Haskell (2).

Those games followed three successive home defeats in the league in February and March, with London Irish, Sale and Saracens all leaving High Wycombe with victories. Indeed, in their last six league games at Adams Park, Wasps have only won one, against Exeter in the new year. Other than the Chiefs, only Worcester and Leicester back in the autumn have lost at Adams Park in the Premiership this season, although the Pests were the designated home team against Harlequins in the Twickenham double-header in September, Wasps winning 16-15.

Apart from the final day of 2011/12, we have only won on one more of our eleven visits to Adams Park. That was just a couple of days into 2010, four Jimmy Gopperth penalties giving us a 6-12 win, reversing the scoreline from the previous season when Danny Cipriani kicked a drop-goal I will never forget, straight from a Falcons restart.

But who could forget that amazing day two years ago? 10-0 down at half-time in front of a sold-out Adams Park including 500 boisterous Geordies, the Falcons played with a wonderful freedom in the second half and got the win, with tries from James Fitzpatrick and Peter Stringer. It wasn’t enough to avoid relegation, but it was a great memory and we went down fighting.

Falcons at Wasps:

31/03/1979             Sudbury                     Club Match                W24-6

30/01/1982             Sudbury                     Club Match                W23-12

29/01/1983             Sudbury                     Club Match                D6-6

30/03/1985             Sudbury                     Club Match                L0-32

29/11/1986             Sudbury                     Club Match                L13-22

07/04/1990             Sudbury                     Club Match                L0-38

28/09/1991             Sudbury                     Club Match                L6-23

25/09/1993             Sudbury                     Division 1                   L21-38

16/12/1995             Sudbury                     Club Match                L5-13

22/04/1998             Loftus Road               Premiership 1            L17-18

18/04/1999             Loftus Road               Premiership 1            L33-34

30/10/1999             Loftus Road               Premiership 1            D19-19

30/01/2000             Loftus Road               Cup R5                      L30-36

28/03/2001             Loftus Road               Premiership               L7-44

11/11/2001             Loftus Road               Premiership               W33-30

01/03/2003             Adams Park               Premiership               L12-13

02/11/2003             Adams Park               Premiership               L26-30

10/10/2004             Adams Park               Premiership               L29-43

08/01/2006             Adams Park               Premiership               L6-21

15/10/2006             Adams Park               Premiership               L15-35

25/11/2007             Adams Park               Premiership               L12-35

01/12/2007             Adams Park               Cup                            L6-24

05/04/2009             Adams Park               Premiership               L6-12

03/01/2010             Adams Park               Premiership               W12-6

02/01/2011             Adams Park               Premiership               L16-33

05/05/2012             Adams Park               Premiership               W14-10

The Falcons continue with Joel Hodgson at fly-half tomorrow, though he has a new midfield to work with in Gonzalo Tiesi and the outgoing James Fitzpatrick. Kieran Brookes returns from suspension alongside Rob Vickers and Scott Lawson in an all-new front row and Harry Spencer could make a debut from the bench.

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Mark Wilson.

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Scott Wilson, 18 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 19 Harry Spencer, 20 Andy Saull, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Lee Smith.

Wasps team:

15. Andrea Masi, 14. Will Helu, 13. Elliot Daly, 12. Charlie Hayter, 11. Tom Varndell, 10. Andy Goode, 9. Joe Simpson, 1. Matt Mullan, 2. Carlo Festuccia, 3. Phil Swainston, 4. Joe Launchbury, 5. Tom Palmer, 6. Ashley Johnson, 7. James Haskell, 8. Nathan Hughes.

Replacements: 16. Tom Lindsay, 17. Simon McIntyre, 18. Taione Vea, 19. James Cannon, 20. Sam Jones, 21. Charlie Davies, 22. Joe Carlisle, 23. Tommy Bell.

If the Falcons’ forwards perform well then we could have a chance at nicking this one. However, if it comes down to a kicking contest, then Wasps will fancy their chances with Andy Goode at fly-half. He may be the subject of ridicule from some opposition supporters, but there is no doubt that he can kick points and, had he not left Sixways for Adams Park last summer, one wonders if Worcester might not have had a better season.

However, with Worcester unlikely (I am sure) to win at Saracens tomorrow, we should still be able to play with a bit of freedom and then who knows what might happen?

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 18-23 Saracens

hope

Sunday 20 April 2014 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #20

 

Today may have been a fourteenth consecutive Premiership defeat for the Falcons, and at home to a second-string Saracens team, but compared to the previous two matches against Worcester and London Irish this was quite different.

 

The post-match mood at Kingston Park was one of optimism and pride, after our team took on an international-packed team with aggression and confidence, and almost pulled off an unlikely win.

 

Indeed, if it hadn’t been for an extraordinary piece of bad luck when Sinoti Sinoti’s loose pass found a Saracens winger who had only a prop to beat to get a free run to the tryline, we may have got more than just one point.

 

After the condemnation heaped the team’s way after the last two games, huge credit is surely deserved for today’s performance. Saracens may have only put out a B team, but that team included England’s second-choice full-back, the top points-scorer in Premiership history and two other England internationals. It was hardly Stockton’s fourth team we were up against and better sides than the Falcons would’ve lost to Saracens today.

 

But from the off, indeed in the warm-up, there was a focus and intent about the Newcastle side that we have not seen too often this season. The first try was a thing of beauty, with a lovely offload from Adam Powell and a perfect line from Alex Tait, before Sinoti’s barnstorming run to the line.

 

Sinoti continues to look dangerous far more often than not when he gets the ball, but he was one of many good performers today. Adam Powell played one of his best games in a black shirt, making several good breaks and tackling well. Joel Hodgson roamed promisingly, kicked well and tackled above his weight. He and Mike Blair combined very well.

 

In the forwards, Richard Mayhew and Scott MacLeod were everywhere in attack and defence, George McGuigan will be satisfied with a lively first Premiership start, and Dom Barrow made metres whenever he got on the ball.

 

Discipline, particularly in the scrum, was concerning and as so often has happened this season (indeed for years) we gifted Saracens a couple of penalties, even disregarding Ben Ransom’s second try. I guess that’s something a lot of worse teams like ourselves struggle with, as we are put under a lot of pressure by our higher-quality opponents, and also referees seem to take a harsh line, rightly or wrongly, when they perceive a team to be under pressure.

 

No argument with Sarries’ first try though, our defence was sucked into the middle by a lightning away attack and Alex Goode exploited the space. You just have to applaud that kind of quality really.

 

One more quick word on the referee – two very, very clear yellow cards today, the first being Jack Wilson taking Alex Tait out in the air and rightly being given ten minutes off. The second was by the same player, a high tackle on Sinoti, and one wonders whether a second yellow meaning a red was what kept Andrew Small’s hand out of his pocket. Whatever, Wilson was almost immediately replaced, perhaps being taken off before he was sent off.

 

Ironically, try-scorer Ransom was Wilson’s replacement.

 

But there are so many more positives out of today, if we disregard the result. The Falcons put some pride back into the shirt and played the correct way, by which I mean the way that gave us the best chance of winning, and nearly did beat a very, very good team. We almost completely dominated the second half, but just couldn’t get enough points.

 

If we take this style of play and this level of application into the Wasps and Exeter games, there is no reason why we cannot win at least one of them. Hopefully that will happen and we will see a new philosophy next season, especially if we join Saracens in having a plastic pitch.

 

Hope springs again. If you wait long enough, it always does!

 

 

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

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)