Saturday 16 May 2015 – 3.30pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
Aviva Premiership #22
I wouldn’t say it feels like just yesterday that we were rocking up to Darlington for the Sevens back in early August, but nine and a half months have passed quite quickly. In some ways we are where we were twelve months ago – 11th in the league and, barring victory over Harlequins tomorrow, a long losing league run to take into this longest of close seasons.
The Falcons have lost seven and drawn one in the Premiership since beating London Welsh in January, that being our only league win since November. There would be no better time to get a morale-boosting win than tomorrow. This season has been so much more enjoyable than 2013/14 was, and the Falcons have been far more competitive in most games, but that holy grail of turning performances into wins continues to elude us.
In 2014, we threatened to win at the Stoop twice, but both times Harlequins held on for victories. Most recently, in December, Alesana Tuilagi scored the only try of the game on half-time, but five Tim Swiel penalties gave the Londoners the win and denied the Falcons even a bonus point. To put that 15-7 result into context though, in the Premiership only Saracens and Sale have conceded fewer points at the Stoop this season.
Going further back to the last time Quins came north, a Newcastle side devoid of spirit were crushed 9-35 in front of the BT Sport cameras. Tom Williams, Sam Smith (two) and Danny Care secured a bonus point for clinical Quins, while all we could manage were three Phil Godman penalties in the first half. For the majority of the 6,017 in attendance, it wasn’t pretty.
However, we have had some big meetings with Conor O’Shea’s side over the years. Who could forget the night of violence at KP in March 2012, when the relegation-threatened Falcons so rattled title-chasing Quins that O’Shea was seen remonstrating with the referee on the pitch at half-time? Chris Pilgrim and Rob Vickers saw yellow, and Taiasina Tu’ifua was cited for a particularly brash display. Rumours that O’Shea checked under the bed for Tai and James Fitzpatrick before he went to sleep that night were never confirmed.
The match ended controversially with Nick Evans kicking a touchline penalty from a scrum to sneak a 9-9 draw.
A year earlier came our last victory over Harlequins, a routine-looking 33-18 win to ease relegation worries. Alex Gray, Luke Fielden and Micky Young were the Falcons’ try-scorers, while Jimmy Gopperth added eighteen points with the boot. Rory clegg kicked eight points for Harlequins.
After several seasons in the top four, and a title win in 2012, Harlequins have had a disappointing season. Early promise was dashed as Wasps snuck into the Champions Cup quarter-finals ahead of their London rivals, and now that they are likely to finish either eighth or ninth in the table, it will be Challenge Cup opposition flying in to the Stoop from the continent next season.
Any hopes of sneaking into the top six were dashed a week ago when Bath snuck a 26-27 victory in TW2. Ugo Monye and a penalty try had put Quins ahead at half-time, before the retiring winger completed a brace on his final appearance at the Stoop. However, Francois Louw, Horacio Agulla and Leroy Houston had kept the Bathplugs in touch and a late George Ford penalty sealed the visitors’ playoff place.
It was the Londoners’ fifth home defeat in the Premiership this season, however there have been problems away too. Harlequins have only come away from Sale, London Welsh (13-24, the Exiles’ narrowest Premiership loss of the season) and Gloucester with victories, as well as defeating London Irish at Twickenham in the opening day Double Header, and this is something they will need to rectify if they are going to return to the top four next season.
Castres and Leinster were both downed at the Stoop in Europe, but Wasps’ 3-23 away victory in round five all-but sealed Quins’ fate in pool 2, as their arch-rivals and the Irishmen progressed to the last eight.
Harlequins have been visiting us for over sixty years now, and in the mid-50s a trip to play Gosforth was reported in the media as the first time an English club side had flown to a fixture.
Falcons v Quins:
11/09/1954 County Ground Club Match L9-35
03/09/1955 County Ground Club Match L5-18
01/09/1956 North Road Club Match L0-9
09/09/1963 North Road Club Match W5-3
24/02/1979 North Road Cup R2 W9-3
14/11/1987 North Road Club Match L4-33
02/10/1993 Kingston Park Division 1 L3-22
10/02/1996 Kingston Park Cup R5 L22-44
15/02/1998 Kingston Park Premiership 1 W43-15
11/05/1999 Kingston Park Premiership 1 W33-23
05/12/1999 Kingston Park Premiership 1 L15-16
06/03/2001 Kingston Park Premiership L22-24
16/09/2001 Kingston Park Premiership D6-6
01/02/2003 Kingston Park Premiership W32-17
04/01/2004 Kingston Park Premiership L25-29
19/09/2004 Kingston Park Premiership W22-21
10/11/2006 Kingston Park Premiership L3-14
02/12/2006 Kingston Park Cup W21-18
29/09/2007 Kingston Park Premiership W19-12
15/03/2009 Kingston Park Premiership W24-16
25/09/2009 Kingston Park Premiership D17-17
15/11/2009 Kingston Park Cup L8-19
04/03/2011 Kingston Park Premiership W33-18
02/03/2012 Kingston Park Premiership D9-9
01/12/2013 Kingston Park Premiership L9-35
With Sinoti Sinoti out after sustaining a head injury last week, Alesana Tuilagi starts for the first time in two months. Tom Catterick and captain Mike Blair replace Rory Clegg and Ruki Tipuna in the half-back shirts, and Eric Fry, Scott MacLeod and Richard Mayhew come into the pack along with Uili ‘Big Willy Style’ Kolo’ofai, who will be looking to complete a game in a Falcons shirt for the first time. Kieran Brookes starts on the final game of his second spell at KP, and Zach Kibirige will surely get a big cheer if he comes off the bench following a year out with injury.
Falcons team: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 AlexTait, 13 AdamPowell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Mike Blair (c), 1 Eric Fry, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Calum Green, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Mark Wilson, 8 Uili Kolo’ofai.
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Rob Vickers, 18 Alex Rogers, 19 Will Witty, 20 Andy Saull, 21 Ruki Tipuna, 22 Anitelea Tuilagi, 23 Zach Kibirige.
Harlequins team, slightly stronger than some had expected: 15 Ollie Lindsay-Hague, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Harry Sloan, 11 Charlie Walker, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care (c), 1 Darryl Marfo, 2 Dave Ward, 3 Matt Shields, 4 George Merrick, 5 Charlie Matthews, 6 James Chisholm, 7 Jack Clifford, 8 Netani Talei.
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Rob Buchanan, 18 Seb Adeniran-Olule, 19 Sam Twomey, 20 Joe Trayfoot, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Tom Williams.
Last chance for a win heading into the summer, lets get a big crowd into KP (no, I haven’t got my ticket yet since you’re asking!) and cheer the team on to an important mood-bopping victory!
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)