Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 15-21 Edinburgh Rugby

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Friday 29 August 2014 – 7.45pm

Mansfield Park, Hawick

Friendly

 

I quite enjoyed the drive up to Hawick last night, the M6 was a bit crazy but the A7 really is a lovely and peaceful road. Driving back was a bit hairier than I remember last year – for some reason I felt quite sleepy so tried to get forty winks at a layby not far from Langholm, but couldn’t, so fuelled up with some chocolate and Coke to get through the last seventy miles.

 

I felt fortunate to be able to lock the car. A dark, remote winding road between England and Scotland was probably rich pickings for bandits in past centuries.

 

Aye, we can go back to Hawick next year, nice little ground with a neat little bar, and a nice scholarly-looking picture of Scott MacLeod with his Scotland cap on the wall.

 

On the pitch, the Falcons put together a more sustained performance than against Rotherham, with plenty of aggression and Juan Pablo Socino showing a lot of creativity at fly-half, suggesting that he might be the one to lead the promised new expansive game from the number ten shirt.

 

Simon Hammersley again showed solidity in defence and pace and guile in attack and will surely make his Premiership debut at Welford Road next Saturday. He might be joined by some Tuilagis in the backline, both Alex and Andy looking in decent shape to get at least part of the game next week. The centres are a bit problematic if Socino wears ten, but Jamie Helleur did his chances of a start no harm with a combative second half last night.

 

In the forwards, Calum Green again carried well and made some big tackles. I quite like this guy. Hopefully whatever problem led to Dom Barrow being taken off in the first half will not keep him out of the opening league game, and was just a precaution. In the back row, I’d be tempted to go for the balance of speed and power by picking Mark Wilson, Andy Saull and Ally Hogg. Despite Will Welch being in the lineup, Hogg led from the front last night, a controller at the base of the scrum and making good metres in the loose.

 

As well as the back row, one area of the forwards where Dean Richards might have a selection problem is at hooker, where George McGuigan shows no signs of stopping his development into a top player, performing excellently last night, but where we also have current Scottish international Scott Lawson and new signing Rob Hawkins available, not to mention Matt Thompson. I’d be tempted to throw McGuigan in from the start next week – his performance in the loose last night reminded me a bit of Schalk Brits and that’s quite a compliment.

 

I suppose the key problem again last night was that we didn’t take our opportunities when we were on top for much of the second half, and allowed Edinburgh to creep further ahead with penalties. Discipline is going to have to improve in the Premiership, and we also need to keep scoring tries if we are not going to be able to rely on Phil Godman’s boot – despite another lively showing, he missed a relatively simple conversion last night.

 

Overall, there were probably more positives than negatives in Hawick. It’s just a shame we couldn’t secure what would have been a big morale-boosting win, but keep plugging away and playing an attacking game, and the wins will come.

 

 

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 21-22 Rotherham Titans

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Saturday 23 August 2014, 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Friendly

 

Well I don’t think anybody expected that result on the debut of our new plastic pitch. A simple conclusion from today’s home defeat to Rotherham would be that there was some good stuff, some not so good stuff, and lots to work on. Pretty much a normal outcome from a pre-season friendly.

 

Firstly, the good: the lineout functioned quite well, the scrum too for the most part but not always. Most of the team looked quite fit. Juan Pablo Socino fitted in well into the midfield, Sinoti Sinoti and Scott Lawson looked as sharp and eager as ever, and Calum Green showed some good carrying and tackling. Simon Hammersley is likely to get more first team games if he continues to show the same solidity at the back and pace going forward.

 

Phil Godman – I was a big critic of his last season, but today I thought he looked incisive and quick, rather than ponderous and flat as for much of 2013/14.

 

Not so good: poor discipline for periods, culminating in a yellow card for Green. Two Rotherham tries coming from our defence being stretched – something that didn’t look likely to happen at the other end. Handling errors, a plastic pitch won’t make the ball any easier to handle in the wet. An inability to break down a Championship defence for long periods, and struggling for possession at times.

 

So lots to work on I think, I’d say penalties being the most worrying. In a league game against a better team that didn’t also offend frequently, we might have been kicked out of sight today.

 

But despite some seemingly pointless kicks as we’ve come to expect but hoped to avoid this season, I think the team showed some good attacking intent, certainly more than during the depths of last winter, and with a decent pitch we might see more of that throughout the coming season. Things will come together if the team just keep plugging away at what is certainly the right way to play.

 

Final thought for today – it may not have been a fantastic game or a positive result, but it was good to be back at KP!

 

 

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

Premiership 7s finals reaction

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)