New Zealand U20 21-16 England U20

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 21.30.40

Saturday 20 June 2015 – 8.30pm (Italian time)

Stadio Giovanni Zini, Cremona, Italy

World Rugby Under 20 Championship Final

 

New Zealand won their first under-20 world championship in four years and ended England’s two-year reign with a 21-16 victory in Italy last night.

 

A physical performance from the young Kiwis was just about enough to wrestle the title from the English Rosebuds, who gave their all but didn’t quite have enough to beat the Baby Blacks.

 

England named an unchanged side from Monday’s semi-final, with a number of players who have Premiership experience, including captain James Chisholm and Newcastle Falcons’ Will Witty in the forward pack.

 

England were pretty dominant in the opening twenty minutes. Although their opening try came from centre Max Clark, the England forwards shoved the Baby Blacks’ pack around in the maul and particularly the scrum. Bristol’s Ellis Genge was showing up well on the loosehead side.

 

New Zealand’s only inroad came from a penalty by Otere Black in response to Clark’s try, but this was answered by Rory Jennings, England’s fly-half from Bath.

 

Vincent Tevae-Aso, just on as a replacement for TJ Faiane, broke through England’s defence for an unconverted try, and the game became a bit more even for a while.

 

England made their first replacement, the third in the first half hour in all, when Piers O’Conor came on for Aaron Morris. This is a trend I’ve noticed creeping into rugby more in the past year or so – more injuries in the first half. Hopefully it’s just coaches taking more precautions.

 

England captain Charlie Ewels dived offside on his own line to give Black the opportunity to put the Baby Blacks ahead for the first time and the New Zealand fly-half kicked between the posts to put his side 11-10 up.

 

It stayed like that until half-time, and despite England having probably been the better team in the first forty, they were in danger of losing the crown they have held for the past two years. Our own Will Witty hadn’t been too conspicuous but had got through some good breakdown work.

 

Akira Ioane drove over from a ruck early in the second half to extend the Baby Blacks’ lead to 18-10, but the powerful number eight was quickly sent to the bin for what the assistant referee considered an armless tackle on Jennings. The fly-half picked himself up and knocked over the penalty, reducing the deficit to five points.

 

With fifty minutes gone, Witty’s work was done, the Falcon being replaced by Harlequins’ Kieran Treadwell.

 

The game was almost turned on its head by a bit of a bizarre try by O’Conor. Howard Packman, whom I last saw being taken off at Franklin’s Gardens after injuring himself in a Chris Ashton-like try-scoring dive, took a high ball, broke upfield and then dribbled forward. O’Conor chased with Blake Gibson, who dived but didn’t get the ball, and the England replacement gathered and spun to touch down.

 

Unfortunately, O’Conor had been slightly in front of Packman when the Northampton winger kicked the ball, and after some assistance from his TMO, Australian referee Will Houston disallowed the score.

 

Jennings’ third penalty of the night cut the deficit further, but just before Ioane returned to the field, Black returned his team’s lead to five points with a penalty for England hanging on in the tackle.

 

With twenty minutes left, England looked like they might be a little devoid of ideas, struggling to cope New Zealand’s physicality in defence and attack.

 

The game threatened to fizzle out a bit, with not a lot happening apart from fireworks outside the stadium and missed penalties by each team.

 

England looked to attack with five minutes left but Paul Hill’s pass was too far in front of Packman and went forwards. New Zealand then penned England back in their own half for the rest of the game, a scrum with ninety seconds to go allowing the Baby Blacks to run the clock down by keeping the ball tight, and finally kicking out to secure the trophy for Kiwis for the first time since 2011.

 

 

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

England 73-12 Barbarians

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 14.55.08

For the first time in six years, two current Falcons were in an England team today. Though the annual Twickenham meeting with the Barbarians isn’t a test match, and the England XV contained perhaps only one first choice player in Joe Launchbury, it was a great opportunity for Kieran Brookes to start his Northampton career as a World Cup player.

 

For our other man in a white shirt, Mark Wilson, today was a chance to announce himself on the national stage after two outstanding seasons since the Falcons returned to the Premiership.

 

Brookes was joined in the front row by Matt Mullan and Luke Cowan-Dickie, both also battling for World Cup spots, while Wilson backed up the scrum with Josh Beaumont and Jack Clifford in a back row that could yet take the field for England in 2019.

 

Both Wilson and Brookes made their presence felt early on with some tackles, as the home players looked to press their World Cup claims.

 

Cowan-Dickie’s great line into a gap, drawing in the last defender allowed Marland Yarde to score the first try after ten minutes. Both Wilson and Brookes were involved in the build-up to the try; Brookes in particular popped a nice pass to Henry Slade so the Exeter man could unleash his team-mate for the assist. Brad Thorn, the Barbarians’ soon-to-retire captain, got the invitational team on the scoreboard with an unconverted try.

 

Thomas Waldrom, on the Barbarians side but not completely out of contention for the World Cup after a fantastic season alongside Slade and Cowan-Dickie at Sandy Park, was sent to the bin in the middle of the half and England took advantage by driving a lineout towards the line. Leicester captain Ed Slater touched down the try, and Danny Cipriani kicked the conversion to put England 17-5 up after 22 minutes.

 

The third try, just before Waldrom returned to the field, was made mainly by some lovely feet by Elliot Daly, dancing past the Barbarians’ full-back before setting up Clifford to run in unopposed. If England want a like-for-like replacement for Jonathan Joseph in the World Cup squad, Daly must be the leading contender.

 

It took just over half an hour for the bonus-point try (were this a league) to come, Yarde finding himself trapped on the left touchline and dribbling inside for Christian Wade to run onto, putting England 31-5 up. Not bad against a strong Barbarians side, many of whom beat an Ireland side containing more first-choice players than England’s last week.

 

Yarde and Wade combined again just minutes later for try number five, Daly’s dummy run confusing the defence so Cipriani could find Yarde, and the Harlequin passed to Wade on the right for the Wasp to run in behind the posts.

 

Wade almost got a ten-minute hat-trick, but was hauled down a metre out but his one-handed offload to Cipriani. Brookes played a big part on the try, having legged it after Daly’s long kick he tackled David Smith and contributed to England turning over in the 22. The half-time score was 45-5, almost as many after half a game as England scored against France in the Six Nations.

 

Both Newcastle boys had shown up well in the first forty, Brookes probably more obviously despite there being few scrums, but Wilson was also quietly putting in a decent shift in attack and defence.

 

After half-time, it took less than two minutes for England to bring up 50 points. Slade hung on Cowan-Dickie’s shoulder as the hooker drove forward, and as the hooker was tackled he offloaded to his fellow Chief, Slade showing-and-going over the line.

 

The Barbarians had a rare attack and as England tackled in the left corner, George Smith dropped his pass to Waldrom but the Exeter number eight picked up off the floor and dived over from a metre out. Referee George Clancy went upstairs (actually I guess it’s outside) to check Smith’s pass, and though it looked to me to be backwards, the officials deemed the evidence inconclusive and so the try was given. The difference was back to 40 points at 52-12.

 

It threatened to be a short-lived comeback as Wade stormed after a long kick and beat the defender to pick up, but trying to touchdown one-handed, the Wasps winger lost control and dropped the ball forwards, missing out on a hat-trick.

 

Things quietened down for a little while, before Cipriani made a great tackle on David Smith to prevent another Barbarians try, but England then came upfield. Wilson and replacements Jon Fisher and Shane Geraghty combined to set up Josh Beaumont to race in for another England try.

 

Thorn’s last act in the game, with 70 minutes gone, was a big late tackle on Slade that saw the former All Black second-rower shown a yellow card, the big man laughing as he walked to the benches. In context of a non-competitive game and Thorn’s impending retirement, that wasn’t too bad, as the tackle wasn’t really dangerous.

 

Wade finally got the hat-trick try his attacking threat deserved with six minutes to go, chipping ahead and battling with Ugo Monye for the loose ball before touching down just over the line. Cipriani’s conversion brought the score to 66-12.

 

After the kick, commentator Stuart Barnes named Cipriani as his man of the match, a fair choice after a perfect kicking display (one penalty and nine conversions as well as a try) and a creative show with the ball by the Sale fly-half. Cipriani’s selection at fly-half with Slade at centre suggests that he was in pole position to be a third ten in the World Cup squad if Stuart Lancaster is sensible and decides to take cover for George Ford and Owen Farrell, and he did his chances no harm this afternoon.

 

Cipriani had the last word, dummying his way in for England’s tenth try down the left. Converting his own try, Cipriani made the final score 73-12.

 

The Barbarians did not play well, perhaps due to many playing in Limerick on Thursday night, perhaps due to not having lots of time to train together, although in the past the latter hasn’t stopped Barbarians teams beating stronger international teams than this England side, indeed it didn’t in Ireland last week. However, England were very good at starving their opponents of possession and took their chances clinically.

 

Tougher tests lie ahead in the World Cup warm-ups and then the tournament itself, but for now, Lancaster et al will be satisfied with most of what they saw today and several players provided food for thought, notably Wade, Cipriani, Slater, Cowan-Dickie and Daly.

 

Mark Wilson played the whole 80 minutes and was industrious throughout, getting himself into breakdown after breakdown and making a couple of good runs. Surely, my fellow Geordie Cumbrian will finally be in the Saxons squad next season.

 

 

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 37-21 Harlequins

photo 2 (11)

Saturday 16 May 2015 – 3.30pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #22

 

Look at the scoreline. Just beautiful, is it not? It’s taken a season of entertainment, frustration, gutting in Gloucester, excruciating in Exeter, more excruciating in Exeter, ecstasy at home to Exeter. Finally, a bit of madness in May when the Falcons scored five tries and got five points against Harlequins.

 

It was fully deserved. The Falcons were much the better team yesterday, and took apart a decent team for the first time in probably a couple of years. Was it our most dominant Premiership performance since the equivalent game in March 2011?

 

I’m certainly struggling to think of another one.

 

Everything just seemed to work yesterday. Even the tries we conceded involved individual errors, rather than problems in the system. Our attack was a joy to watch, from the rolling mauls that forced Richard Mayhew and Scott Lawson overs the line, to Mike Blair and Adam Powell’s breaks. Tom Catterick and JP Socino provided a great creative axis in midfield, Alesana Tuilagi was at his steamrolling best, and the forwards laid the foundation with a dominant performance in the set piece.

 

The only disappointments in attack from my point of view were Zach Kibirige never really getting chance to run at Quins during his welcome appearance from the bench, and Kieran Brookes not making it to the line when he made that fantastic break in the first half. Let’s not have any criticism of his ambitious offload, Brookes deserves credit for being in the position to do it in the first place.

 

It was good that we had a big crowd to see yesterday’s big performance, I would hope that it has swayed a few season ticket waverers. There was a real happy atmosphere around the ground I felt, and it’s not always been that way even this season. It’s always better to have a valiant defeat than losing a damp squib, but when you finally add a win to the big effort and the entertainment, you get a lively atmosphere that people will want to be a part of.

 

The challenge now is to replicate what we saw yesterday on a more consistent basis in 2015/16, and we will have the advantage of a long pre-season and plenty of games (Georgia and four in the Kings of the North) to do so. That performance and win has been coming, and now we’ve seen it, we need to do it more often so climb up the table next season. Of course we won’t score five tries in every win, but we should take great confidence that we can take on good sides and beat them well, so we can certainly beat them narrowly too. Turning just a few of the bonus-point defeats into wins will make a huge difference.

 

I’m excited now for the future in a way I probably haven’t been for a lot of years, because this season we have seen consistent efforts for growth and improvement. It’s slow, and there will be setbacks, but we’re really getting there.

 

Thanks for reading this season, I’ll be knocking around over the close season still sometimes, but until the sevens in August, have a great summer!

 

This weekend’s Eddie Stobarts:

Kayla

Heidi Valerie

 

 

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Harlequins

Krusty-The-Clown--e1405944206397-665x385

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)

Match reaction: Sale Sharks 34-28 Newcastle Falcons

photo (28)

Saturday 9 May 2015 – 2.00pm

AJ Bell Stadium, Salford

Aviva Premiership #21

 

So many times this season we’ve seen the Falcons play excellently, but just fall short of victory. Yesterday’s scoreline might suggest more of the same, however I think the result flattered us yesterday, and on another day Sale would have ran out more than comfortable winners.

 

On a day that saw the home faithful celebrate their departing winger Mark Cueto, the Sharks legend was among the Mancs’ try-scorers as his team’s traditional fast and penetrative attack tore into the Falcons’ slack defence. What a day for our tackling to go so awry!

 

What really confused me was that, after five minutes (apologies to fans who were there, you may well have heard me say this at least twice!), I could see Sale throwing four or five players into every breakdown while the Falcons had maybe one supporting player. Fair enough in defence, yet Sale still found gaps to run in three fast tries. In attack, it’s a crazy tactic, and we turned over a lot of ball in the tackle.

 

Nobody on the pitch seemed to realise this. Somebody off the pitch must have, as after half-time the Falcons competed better at the breakdown, but why not say point it out when bringing water on?!

 

Sale were massively intense and the Falcons just couldn’t handle it a lot of the time.

 

Our lineout was a bit of a mess, though eagle-eyed fans will have seen why it isn’t always the hooker’s fault – one throw, Kane Thompson slipped when moving into position and the ball sailed over his head at what would have been a comfortable catching height. Blargh.

 

It seemed to me that most of our defence played too high up, in the faces of the Sale line and thus one break through a gap – and there were a lot – immediately puts us on the back foot. Maybe it’s an understandable strategy when you have Rory Clegg playing, because in defence he often stands as a second full-back, but yesterday he and Simon Hammersley weren’t able to put up a good enough last line of defence.

 

To be fair to Hammers, yesterday in attack he looked more like the player we saw in the first month of the season, taking the ball from deep and testing Sale’s defence. They were equal to it, but you have to have a go.

 

His opposite number, Tom Arscott, was my man of the match. Now 27 and at his fifth professional club, Arscott could be labeled a journeyman, but he showed some fantastic turns of pace and must have beaten a lot of defenders yesterday. After just the first ten minutes, I worried every time he got the ball.

 

Josh Beaumont also had a driving game from the base of the scrum, as we expected. I don’t know if he wanted to move back to the North West anyway, but he could go down as one who slipped through the Falcons’ net.

 

From our point of view, JP Socino continued his return to lively form, and had a good cameo at fly-half at the end of the game, scoring a try and two conversions and showing more invention than Clegg had. Not having a go at Clegg, he was great at Gloucester, but not so much today.

 

Mark Wilson was our best player in my view, just doing the basics well as he always does, getting the tackles in and driving forward with the ball. Yes, it’s basics, but not every player does it so often.

 

Like some other teams have, I think Sale denied Sinoti Sinoti the space to really run at them, and as such he wasn’t as dangerous as we’d like. His injury at the end, possibly a concussion but certainly nasty-looking, shouldn’t be messed with. After a season in which our snaky winger has played a lot of rugby, send him on holiday tomorrow and hopefully he’ll be fit to play for Samoa against Scotland at SJP in the World Cup.

 

Right, I think that’s all for me now, except to say this is the end of another season of great away trips. Thank you to everyone we have enjoyed our trips with, from Oxford to Barnet to Gloucester and stops between Hawick and Twickenham. Looking forward to one last roar against Harlequins on Saturday.

 

We have to end the season with a win. Don’t we?

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir: @SouthStandChoir)

Match preview: Sale Sharks v Newcastle Falcons

Mark+Cueto+Gcobani+Bobo+Sale+Sharks+v+Newcastle+azMQQTw4y5Al

Saturday 9 May 2015 – 2.00pm

AJ Bell Stadium, Salford

Aviva Premiership #21

 

When the fixtures came out, I was slightly apprehensive about this game.

 

Why? Well, in 2000 Ipswich Town were promoted to the football Premiership. Their first home game in 2000/01 was against Manchester United, and then the following season their last home game was against Manchester United too, and they were relegated.

 

What’s that got to do with us? If you remember, the Falcons’ first away game back in the top division last September was at Sale, and tomorrow our final away game of this season is also in Salford.

 

A far-fetched link of course, and once it became clear how few points London Welsh were going to get, I wasn’t worried any more.

 

Tomorrow’s game appears to be a dead rubber in terms of the league – Gloucester’s Challenge Cup victory means that the seventh-placed Sharks need to overhaul an eight-point gap to Wasps ahead of them to qualify for the Champions Cup, while the Falcons are even further behind London Irish in tenth.

 

However, tomorrow marks the last home game for Sale for winger Mark Cueto, one of the top players of the professional era. A one-club man and the Premiership’s all-time top try-scorer with more than a try every three games in his 301 appearances for Sale, Cueto’s career will be celebrated at the AJ Bell Stadium tomorrow ahead of his retirement this summer.

 

Amazingly, since he also scored 20 tries in 55 England caps, Cueto will perhaps be best remembered by fans of other clubs for a try that wasn’t – he controversially had a try ruled out by the TMO in the 2007 World Cup Final, which England narrowly lost to South Africa, for a foot in touch.

 

So tomorrow’s game will be the Falcons’ second visit to the ground formerly known as Salford City Stadium, home of the Salford Red Devils in Rugby League and Sale of union. The first trip there was, as I’ve said, in September 2013, when I got the feeling that it was all still a bit brand new. Not surprising perhaps, since it only opened ahead of the 2012 Super League season, but it was definitely quite shiny. The building was anyway, much of the site was still mud awaiting development.

 

It may have been the Falcons’ first away game back in the big time, and come on the back of a dour 0-21 defeat to Bath in our opening match, but the Falcons pulled off a good result by winning at Sale for the first time since April 2010. In front of a crowd of 6,876 (not too far off the Sharks’ average since they moved from Stockport’s Edgeley Park), Sale led 11-9 at half-time thanks to captain Dan Braid’s try and two penalties from Nick MacLeod, while three penalties by Phil Godman kept us in touch.

 

With tries at a premium in our opening games, there were also penalties in the second half, one apiece from MacLeod, Godman and his replacement Rory Clegg with thirteen minutes left, and the Falcons withstood big Shark pressure to hold on to a tight 14-15 win.

 

You can’t talk about Sale away without remembering one of the great league games in our history though. ‘Twas in April 2010 when the Falcons travelled to Stockport to take on relegation rivals Sale. The 30-32 scoreline tells barely half the story, the rest is here.

 

We have already met Sale twice this season. In the reverse Premiership fixture at KP in November, the Falcons led 13-8 with an hour gone but Danny Cipriani’s penalty, followed up by a try by Jonny Leota that the much-maligned England fly-half set up by catching his own chip over our defence, gave the Sharks a 13-18 win in front of the BT Sport cameras.

 

The Falcons gained a little revenge in a meaningless LV= Cup game, also in the North East, at the start of February. Alex Rogers, Josh Furno, Uili Kolo’ofai and Lee Smith (two) crossed in a 39-19 bonus point win.

 

Other than that, Sale have had a disappointing season in the league, their likely finish in the bottom half denying them another crack at the Champions Cup. This season’s failure to reach the last eight in the elite tournament could partially be put down to the ludicrous situation of three of last season’s semi-finalists – Saracens, Clermont Auvergne and Munster – being placed in the same group, Sale the apparent whipping boys. Steve Diamond’s side did lose all six games, including a 65-10 destruction in Limerick, but were competitive in all of their home games.

 

The LV= Cup campaign saw home wins over Scarlets and Wasps along with defeats at Leicester and (as previously mentioned) Newcastle, while Premiership form has been inconsistent. The Sharks have lost both of their last two games, at London Irish and most recently at home to Harlequins two weeks ago, 23-25, and are currently on a run of just one win from five games, that being a 23-6 home defeat of Gloucester in March. However, both Saracens (14-10) and Northampton (20-7) have lost in Salford in 2015. Wasps and Exeter have also returned south beaten this season, plus as expected London Welsh.

 

Those Sharks with a foot in both camps are three former Falcons academy players. Of the trio, only Darren Fearn played for the first team at KP, moving to Bedford in 2012 before joining Sale last summer. So far, the prop has only played four minutes for the Mancs, as a replacement at Leicester in the cup in November. Winger Charlie Ingall and back-five forward Josh Beaumont never made the Falcons’ senior side, but the former, son of former England and Question of Sport captain Bill, has earned plenty of plaudits in his 24 appearances (including 19 starts) this season.

 

 

The Falcons have made two changes from the team that lost narrowly to Gloucester. Calum Green and Adam Powell start in place of Josh Furno and Chris Harris, and Alex Tuilagi joins brother Andy on the (hopefully reinforced) bench along with Mike Blair and Richard Mayhew. The revitalised Rory Clegg continues at fly-half.

 

15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Ruki Tipuna, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Calum Green, 5 Kane Thompson, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg.

 

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Eric Fry, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Will Witty, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Mike Blair, 22 Alesana Tuilagi, 23 Anitelea Tuilagi.

 

 

Sale team: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Johnny Leota, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Chris Cusiter, 1 Eifion Lewis Roberts, 2 Tommy Taylor, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 4 Jonathan Mills, 5 Nathan Hines, 6 Dan Braid (c), 7 David Seymour, 8 Josh Beaumont.

 

Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Ciaran Parker, 19 Michael Paterson, 20 TJ Ioane, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Mike Haley.

 

 

Two wins to end the season would really give us a kick after another long losing run. A good omen is that before the game tomorrow, Mrs L and I will be nipping to see some friends in Chorlton. The last time we saw them was the day of the Falcons’ last win, away to London Irish in February.

 

Come on!

 

 

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

Saracens XV

856chs3q

After the Edinburgh v Gloucester game on Friday night, BT Sport aired a half-hour show titled Saracens XV, following Sarries in the days leading up to their meeting with Harlequins at Wembley in March.

 

The show was fascinating, showing interviews with coaches Alex Sanderson and our own Joe Shaw, and several players, including David Strettle, Jamie George, Billy Vunipola and Alastair Hargreaves. Sanderson talked about building relationships with the players as individuals, Jacques Burger showed his family, and Petrus Du Plessis said that the family side of Saracens really helps the players give their all for the club.

 

Saracens have been condemned over the past five years for bringing in lots of South African players, signing lots of star players, allegedly breaking the salary cap etc., but whatever they’ve done, it has worked and they have consistently been one of the very top teams in England and Europe in recent seasons.

 

One European final, several semi-finals, this season’s LV= Cup and the 2011 Premiership title. In the last four years, they have been knocked out of the Heineken/Champions Cup by one of Saturday’s finalists, Toulon (in last year’s final) and Clermont Auvergne (the 2012 quarter-final, and the last four in 2013 and 2015).

 

You don’t become that successful by simply buying in mercenaries; you do it by blending talent with work ethic and team spirit. Talent, you can buy. Work ethic and team spirit, you cannot buy, it has to be created by the right people.

 

In training for the Harlequins game, captain Hargreaves is shown talking to the squad about the importance of sticking together during the match, trusting teammates and backing them up. Later, Chris Ashton talked about not wanting to let people down. That is a culture Saracens have built and it is something every club should aspire to.

 

Not everything that Sarries have done I have agreed with. Talking about playing a competitive home game in South Africa, playing one in Brussels, that’s taking the games away from the bread-and-butter fans. I don’t see the real benefit of them, but I guess Saracens must have done their research and planned how the Brussels game would benefit them.

 

The move to Barnet, from the sterile concrete tower of Vicarage Road, has helped give Saracens a real identity. The atmosphere for the Falcons’ visit there in February was fantastic. The ground has its drawbacks, for example the athletic track and the disjointed stands, but it’s a good day out, from what you expect (to get a beer and a pie quickly) to what you don’t (the Pioneers everywhere, who are very helpful and genuinely seem to be loving their part in the Saracens family).

 

The vibe I got from the interviews during Saracens XV, was of a group of players who genuinely enjoy what they are doing, genuinely love being part of Saracens, and genuinely want to be successful. Fantastic. I’d love to think that Dean Richards is bringing this kind of culture to the Falcons, and I think slowly it is coming together.

 

When the Falcons get to the point where they don’t even worry about the result, because they have 100% belief in what they are doing, 100% belief in every teammate, and 100% belief that they can attack superbly and defend resolutely, leaving nothing on the pitch, then the results will take care of themselves. It takes years to get there. But we can get there, and God willing we will get there.

 

By the way, Saracens beat Harlequins 42-14.

 

 

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