Match preview: London Irish v Newcastle Falcons


Saturday 28 March 2015 – 3.00pm

Madejski Stadium, Reading

Aviva Premiership #18


With the order in which the fixtures fell, at the start of the season I don’t think many people would have been massively surprised that our biggest game of the season is London Irish away. Many understandably predicted a three-way relegation scrap between the Falcons, Irish and London Welsh. Though it hasn’t worked out that way, both ourselves and the Exiles are looking to finish in tenth place in the Premiership to be able to show signs of progress in 2014/15, or at least that they haven’t gone backwards.


Of the two meetings so far this season, we have won once and Irish have won once, both away from home, so there is a mini series-decider tomorrow. The first clash was at Kingston Park back in September, when Juan Pablo Socino’s kicking nightmare on his competitive home debut helped Irish escape with an 18-20 victory. Josh Furno’s early try gave the Falcons a lead before Shane Geraghty kicked two penalties and put Irish ahead at half-time, and though Scott Wilson and Sinoti Sinoti crossed in the second forty, tries by Fergus Mulchrone and Andrew Fenby alongside Geraghty’s boot secured an away victory.


More recently, in February, an LV= Cup dead rubber at the Madejski Stadium ended in a sixth successive try bonus point for the Falcons, who won 13-31. Never seriously in danger, our tries were scored by Will Welch, Alesana Tuilagi, Ally Hogg (two) and Jamie Helleur, Mulchrone getting a consolation for the hosts.


This form has been in sharp contrast to last season’s games against Irish. Again there were three, but the home team won on each occasion. The Falcons were victorious at KP in the Premiership and LV= Cup in the autumn, before travelling to Reading in April for a game that seemed to change the mentality of the management at the club.


Two weeks after a dire home defeat to Worcester led to a “mutinous” (according to one fan) mood in the South Stand, little was changed for the visit to Irish and thus the men in green ran riot in the first half, former Falcon Fenby’s hat-trick making up half of the six tries Irish scored before the break for a 40-12 lead. At half-time Joel Hodgson was thrown on at fly-half and though there were no more points, the Falcons began a new attacking philosophy that gave fans hope in the final three games of 2013/14 and has led to an exciting, if at times frustrating, 2014/15.


So Irish currently sit tenth in the Premiership table with five games to go. They have 29 points to the Falcons’ 25, so defeat tomorrow would most likely condemn us to eleventh place, but a win could help us rise into the top ten. We have every chance, as although we have not won since the victory at Irish, our Paddy friends are on a run of just one win in six games, that a predictable 12-50 trouncing of their Welsh exile chums in Oxford a month ago. Irish’s last home outing was a forgettable 6-12 loss to Leicester in February.


It would be easy to blame this form on the loss of boss Brian Smith earlier in the season, the Aussie being replaced with Glenn Delaney until the summer before Tom Coventry switches hemispheres to take the reins, but a 28-26 home victory over Exeter in early January shows that Irish are still a decent side. They have also beaten Leicester at Welford Road this term.


However, from seven Premiership games at the Mad Jetski Stadium, Irish have only won once, the aforementioned tight conquering of the Chiefs, and lost both home ties in the LV= Cup, so we’ll rarely have a better chance to come away from Reading with the points.


The Falcons have not won at the big blue bowl since 2009, a game that I remember well (amazingly) because I had a wee bit too much to drink and was working both jobs for the following three days – by the Thursday I was just about ready to conk out! It was a day dominated by the boot for the most part, Jimmy Gopperth scoring all of our fifteen points and Chris Hala’ufia scoring the only try, and Steve Bates’ Falcons’ 11-15 win took us into the top half of the table.


We have had other successes in Reading, most notably against the Madejski Stadium’s former tenants Richmond in the Tetley’s Bitter Cup semi-final. A 3-20 victory was achieved without Marius Hurter or, for the most part due to an early injury, Jonny Wilkinson, but Rob Andrew stepped up in one of the final matches of his career to steer the Falcons into our first professional final, while Va’aiga Tuigamala also played a big part with two tries.


Falcons at 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

13/04/2014 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L12-40



Noah Cato makes his first league start since October on the wing in place of Alesana Tuilagi, while Juan Pablo Socino makes way for compatriot Gonzalo Tiesi in the centres. Tiesi’s selection alongside Adam Powell suggests that the Falcons expect some physicality tomorrow, but there is plenty of pace outside with Sinoti Sinoti and Alex Tait completing the back three. Kieran Brookes returns from international duty up front.


Falcons team: 15. Alex Tait, 14. Noah Cato, 13. Gonzalo Tiesi, 12. Adam Powell, 11. Sinoti Sinoti, 10. Tom Catterick, 9. Ruki Tipuna, 1. Rob Vickers, 2. Scott Lawson, 3. Kieran Brookes, 4. Kane Thompson, 5. Dom Barrow, 6. Richard Mayhew, 7. Will Welch (c), 8. Mark Wilson.


Replacements: 16. Rob Hawkins, 17. Alex Rogers, 18. Juan Orlandi, 19. Josh Furno, 20. Andy Saull, 21. Andy Davies, 22. Juan Socino, 23. Chris Harris.



London Irish team: 15. Andrew Fenby; 14. Alex Lewington; 13. Eoin Griffin; 12. Eamonn Sheridan; 11. Tom Fowlie; 10. Shane Geraghty*; 9. Scott Steele; 1. Tom Court*; 2. David Paice*; 3. Halani Aulika*; 4. George Skivington (Captain); 5. Nic Rouse; 6. Conor Gilsenan; 7. Blair Cowan*; 8. Tom Guest.


Replacements: 16. Jimmy Stevens 17. Matt Parr 18. Leo Halavatau 19. Jebb Sinclair*; 20. Luke Narraway*; 21. Darren Allinson; 22. Chris Noakes; 23. Topsy Ojo*.



Tomorrow will be the first time we have visited Irish on their annual Paddy’s Day Party, and with a Supporters’ Club coach travelling the Falcons are sure of plenty of support. Let the Guinness pour and the tries flow!



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

Kendal 33-19 Warrington


Saturday 21 March 2015 – 3.00pm

Mint Bridge, Kendal

North One West #23


Kendal remain in the battle for promotion from North One West after all three of the leading teams won yesterday.


With five tries, the Hornets defeated Warrington at home and moved a point closer to second-placed Kirkby Lonsdale, who missed out on a bonus point in their win away to New Brighton. Kendal now have 90 points to their near neighbours’ 92. Birkenhead Park continued their seemingly unstoppable march towards the title with a big win at Bolton, taking their points tally to 98.


On a warm, sunny day that suggested this freezing Cumbrian winter might finally be coming to an end, Kendal went on the attack almost immediately and completely dominated the first half at Mint Bridge.


Initially, the home team’s forwards looked to fight a way through the Warrington defence and the backs pinned the visitors back with some accurate kicks to the corners.


However it took more than a quarter of an hour for the first try to come. Warrington sent up a high kick outside of their 22, and when a visiting player patted the ball backwards it came to Kendal centre Bob Mataia, who found Glenn Weightman to break into the away 22. Kendal won a penalty that captain James Gough quickly tapped, driving for the line and the forwards pushed prop Richard Harryman over for the opening score.


Chris Park converted, and Harryman almost got his second try within minutes but was held up.


On the half-hour, Kendal’s Garry Holmes made a powerful carry into the 22 and found Mataia on the left approaching the tryline and though the hosts knocked on, they won the scrum against the head and Matty Houghton fought his way over for another converted try.


Warrington had barely been in the Kendal half of the field and not in the 22 at all, and their first half was summed up when they knocked on from the restart and conceded a penalty for offside, Kendal immediately firing the ball into touch deep in the away half. The lineout was driven towards the tryline and Holmes touched down at the back, giving the Cumbrians a 19-0 lead at half-time.


Warrington’s half-time oranges must have given them a boost because just a few minutes into the second half they got into the Kendal 22 for the first time. From a scrum, the Cheshire side moved the ball right and young winger Max Caldwell found himself free on the right to score an unconverted try.


Kendal went back on the attack though and after two penalties were sent to the corner, hooker Holmes calmly touched down his second try at the rear of a maul to give Kendal the bonus point. Park’s conversion made the score 26-5.


Warrington probed to try to get back into the game but Kendal managed to hold them at the 22 for a while, before the visitors pushed forwards and Caldwell gave the scoring pass for a teammate to round on the right and score by the posts. Ben Hockenhull’s conversion reduced the deficit to fourteen points.


With a quarter of the match remaining, Warrington’s captain attempted to rally his colleagues, and confidence was high among the visitors that they could claiming a bonus point or even a win against “tiring” Kendal. Home fans found it amusing, but some recalled the reverse fixture earlier in the season when Warrington put Kendal to the sword in Cheshire in probably the Cumbrians’ worst performance of the season.


The visitors’ confidence was indeed misplaced, as after Kendal won a scrum against the head in Warrington’s half, Mataia charged 25 metres to the five-metre line. The Kendal forwards hammered on the door and finally won a penalty when away prop Mike Williams didn’t roll away from a tackle. The frustrated Williams was sent to the sin bin for his misdemeanor, and after two scrums referee Martin Danvir awarded a penalty try for Warrington standing up.


Park’s conversion looked to have taken Kendal out of sight with a 21-point lead, but Warrington came back and Ryan Preston broke a tackle to score from close range just to the left of the posts.


Warrington continued to look for more points but Kendal defended resolutely. Winning a penalty in their own half, Kendal tapped and charged forward through Gough who offloaded to Weightman on halfway. The fly-half rounded on the left but was tapped in the 22 and couldn’t keep his balance.


There was late controversy when Caldwell was hit by what Warrington considered a late tackle, and one of the visitors’ coaches was critical of such a big hit on a teenager. I didn’t see the incident, and obviously if it was a late tackle then give a penalty, however my opinion is that if a player cannot play against strong men then it’s not safe for him to be on the pitch.


The match ended 33-19 to Kendal, who now move on to the big derby at Kirkby Lonsdale on Saturday. After that only two games remain, Eccles at Mint Bridge and then a potential humdinger at Birkenhead Park in mid-April as the battle for the single automatic promotion spot and the one playoff place in North One West looks set to go down to the wire.



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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 12-16 Leicester Tigers

photo (26)


Sunday 8 March 2015 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #17


What undid the Falcons against Leicester today? Two things for me: a failure to score when we were well on top in the first twenty minutes of the second half – including those two lost lineouts in quick succession – and our team seeming to lose their heads in the final quarter of the game.


I’m not going to blame the officials, had the Falcons scored another try we’d have won anyway and we were certainly lucky to avoid a scrum yellow card, however you cannot report on this game without discussing Leicester’s try. A lot of people are convinced that Mathew Tait knocked on as he and brother Alex challenged for a high kick on our line, and the ball certainly went forward, but I couldn’t tell either live or on the screen.


What I thought at the time though, and still believe, is that once the two full-backs had come down to the ground again, referee Luke Pearce blew his whistle. Why I don’t know, it’s probably not important. But I’m convinced that Mr Pearce blew his whistle before Tommy Bell touched down.


So imagine my surprise that he then not only consults his TMO, but awards a try! A try that was scored when, I thought, the game had already been stopped!


If I am wrong about this, I will apologise. But at the moment, I believe what I saw and heard, and if I am right, then I expect the Falcons will be making a formal complaint over such a catastrophic refereeing failure.


Right, now that that’s out of the way, we can talk some more positive aspects of a great day out at Kingston Park. A crowd of over 9,000 – fantastic! Well done Falcons on that. A cracking atmosphere those 9,000 made too. The South Stand bar was rammed before kick-off, the truck in the south-east corner less so, fortunately. It’s the first time I’ve used that bar but hopefully it will become a permanent fixture at KP.


On the pitch, our lads were aggressive from the start and tore into Leicester, clearly looking to rattle the visitors on a blustery and chilly day in the North East. Chilly at ground level anyway, up in the back of the packed South Stand there was barely room for our breath, never mind the wind! For most of the first half, we had the Tiggers under the cosh and 12-6 was a very good half-time lead.


Sinoti Sinoti’s try was a peach, the work of a guy who is bubbling with confidence in his own ability. I’d like him to get his head down more often and go through players when it’s the better option, but you can’t deny that he is great at getting round players and knows how to finish. That said, Scott Lawson is in cracking form and certainly deserved his score too.


The scrum was a big worry before kick-off and we often did end up going backwards and conceding penalties, but I don’t think this was a contributory factor in losing as there weren’t really any scrums in the 22s that resulted in big moments. Perhaps that’s why we didn’t concede a team yellow card.


It is ironic that at the start of the season we were worried about the loosehead side, where Eric Fry has turned out to be a good find, but confident about the tighthead side, where we have lost two internationals, a future star and a competent Premiership player to injury. You just can’t legislate for that, but Alex Rogers gives it a good go and he had a good game in the loose today I thought.


Other than the winning try, what annoys me is that we lost two lineouts in the Tigers 22 in quick succession when we were very much on top early in the second half. The first was to the front and the second to the back, both were read by Leicester which means you can’t blame the hooker (though because it wasn’t Matt Thompson, nobody will anyway), and it just happens. Perhaps we needed to mix it up a bit more, I don’t know. I’m annoyed that it happened, more than annoyed at the players for it. Great opportunities wasted.


Then after the hour-mark, our heads seemed to go. Silly mistakes began creeping in, we didn’t seem to have the same intensity going forward, and Leicester made more headway into our half.


Maybe the players were tiring. Apart from Josh Furno for Kane Thompson at half-time, I don’t think we made any substitutions until the last few minutes (and Leicester threw the bench on far earlier), maybe that contributed, who knows? Leicester have minds of steel, so as long as they are in touch at sixty or seventy minutes, they still feel they can win and go for it, and they did. We’re improving, but we’re just not at that level yet.


Oh well, things are still going in the right direction. “But how long do we just ‘go in the right direction’, when do we get there?” you may ask. It’s only been five months since we were on a twenty-game losing run, and it’s less than a year since The Farce of Worcester, for heaven’s sake! These things take time. If we don’t win another game before the end of the season, I won’t consider 2014/15 a ‘success’, but it has already been a dramatic improvement on 2013/14, and there’s no reason we can’t improve again next year.


Now we have a three-week break before going to London Irish for their St Patrick’s Day Party, a must-win game really to put substance to the style of our improvement. Hopefully the Falcons will keep faith in what they are doing, keep attacking and scoring tries, and not neglect that in the search for the ability to consistently close out tight games.


That will come. I’m sure of it. Onwards we go!



Today’s Eddie Stobarts on the drive over from Cumbrialand this morning:

Betty Mary

Lakota Skye (not the first time I’ve seen this one I think, it’s a bit memorable!)

Isabella Mae



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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Leicester Tigers


Sunday 8 March 2015 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #17


The Falcons are hoping for a first Kingston Park sell-out since Easter 2007 this Sunday when Leicester come north. With the Tigers having an indifferent season by their lofty standards, and the Falcons continuing to be competitive against top teams, there is a real chance of us gaining a first victory over the Midlanders for six years.


While the Falcons were at Saracens last Saturday, Leicester were beating Sale 28-8 at Welford Road thanks to their first tries in almost four league matches. Laurence Pearce, Seremaia Bai and a penalty try saw the Tigers home and keeps them in the hunt for a playoff place. They might be sixth in the table, but only one point separates second-to-six with Saracens, Exeter and Wasps all on 48 points, and Bath and Leicester on 47.


So not terrible, but Leicester have bigger expectations. They are England’s biggest club and aim for nothing else but top spot in every competition.


DoR Richard Cockerill has had a difficult season, not least because of the huge volume of injuries in his squad. Former Falcon hero Geoff Parling is recently back from injury, while Dan Cole and Tom Croft have been picked up by England soon after recovery. Captain Ed Slater and talisman Manu Tuilagi are also long-term casualties, and England internationals Mathew Tait, Anthony Allen and Tom Youngs have had spells on the sidelines.


One man’s pain is another man’s gain of course, and Leicester have seen some quality youngsters coming to the fore, including hooker Harry Thacker and centre George Catchpole. The latter was teamed up with Jack Roberts, making his first Premiership start, at London Irish a couple of weeks ago. These younger players have been helped by the acquisition of seasoned All Blacks veteran Brad Thorn last summer, a real transfer coup into a second row already containing Graham Kitchener and the aforementioned Parling and Slater.


Despite their problems, the Sale success was Leicester’s fifth win in a row, and they have lost only twice this year, at Harlequins in the Premiership and Ulster in the Champions Cup in January. 2014/15 began for Leicester with a 36-17, bonus-point victory over the Falcons at Welford Road, thanks to a second-half Vereniki Goneva hat-trick and another try from David Mele, after Richard Mayhew’s score just after half-time had brought us back to 12-10. Andy Saull scored a late consolation.


Last season’s equivalent game at Kingston Park came on 2nd March 2014. Watching on BT Sport (as I was, recovering from my brother’s stag weekend) you wouldn’t have known there were two teams playing, heck you wouldn’t have known that Manu Tuilagi had fourteen teammates playing, such was the TV people’s apparent obession with him. The England talisman was sent to the bin late in the game but Leicester already had the game won thanks to tries from the aforementioned Fijian Goneva (two) and Thomas Waldrom, and Pablo Matera went on to secure the bonus point. Noah Cato and Scott Lawson scored for the Falcons, who had Lee Smith making his debut on the wing and the Rugby League convert opened the scoring with an early penalty.


That 18-41 win was the Tiggers’ fourth consecutive success at KP, our last home victory over them coming in March 2009. Coincidentally that was also the last of a four-game winning run in this fixture, and the seventh win in eight games for the Falcons. Tane Tu’ipulotu scored in the first quarter of an hour, and two penalties and a drop-goal by Tom May put us 14-0 at half-time. Leicester fought back but could only manage to get a losing bonus point through Ben Youngs’ try with the last play of the game. A 14-10 victory was quite acceptable.


Tiggers in Newcastle:

15/04/1974      North Road                 Club Match                 W28-18

19/04/1976      North Road                 Club Match                 W27-9

20/04/1985      North Road                 Club Match                 W20-6

15/04/1989      North Road                 Club Match                 L14-47

22/02/1992      Kingston Park             Cup QF                              L0-10

09/10/1993      Kingston Park             Division 1                          L13-22

22/02/1997      Kingston Park             Cup QF                              L8-18

04/05/1998      Gateshead                   Premiership 1             W27-10

02/05/1999      Kingston Park             Premiership 1              L12-21

05/11/1999      Kingston Park             Premiership 1              D12-12

27/08/2000      Kingston Park             Premiership                 L22-25

02/09/2001      Kingston Park             Premiership                 W19-16

16/03/2003      Kingston Park             Premiership                 W24-22

04/04/2004      Kingston Park             Premiership                 D25-25

02/10/2004      Kingston Park             Premiership                 L15-44

24/02/2006      Kingston Park             Premiership                 W24-16

07/01/2007      Kingston Park             Premiership                 W31-29

04/05/2008      Kingston Park             Premiership                 W28-25

27/03/2009      Kingston Park             Premiership                 W14-10

18/04/2010      Kingston Park             Premiership                 L7-31

22/04/2011      Kingston Park             Premiership                 L13-24

17/09/2011      Kingston Park             Premiership                 L26-27

02/03/2014      Kingston Park             Premiership                 L18-41



Though the Falcons backs are pretty much as you would expect, although Ruki Tipuna replaces Mike Blair, in the forwards there are a couple of surprises as Alex Rogers comes in at tighthead and Richard Mayhew is in the back row, Andy Saull dropping to the bench. New signing Tane Takulua could make a debut off the bench and the replacement tighthead is Rob O’Donnell, signed on loan from Worcester with Kieran Brookes, Scott Wilson, Oliver Tomaszczyk and Juan Pablo Orlandi all unavailable, and even Eric Fry injured too.


Falcons team: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino 11 Alesana Tuilagi 10 Tom Catterick 9 Ruki Tipuna, 1 Rob Vickers 2 Scott Lawson 3 Alex Rogers 4 Kane Thompson 5 Dom Barrow 6 Richard Mayhew 7 Will Welch 8 Mark Wilson


Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins 17 Mark Irving 18 Rob O’Donnell 19 Josh Furno 20 Andy Saull 21 Sonatane Takulua 22 Gonzalo Tiesi 23 Noah Cato



Mathew Tait makes his final appearance at Kingston Park for the Tigers before moving to France at the end of the season, while Geoff Parling should get a big cheers too.


Leicester team: M Tait, N Morris, V Goneva, S Bai, A Thompstone, F Burns, S Harrison; M Ayerza, T Youngs, L Mulipola, S de Chaves, G Parling, T Croft, J Gibson, L Pearce.


Replacements: L Ghiraldini, M Rizzo, F Balmain, J Crane, J Salvi, D Mele, T Bell, J Roberts.



Seats are sold out for Sunday and there aren’t many places left in the South Stand, so unless you’re willing to brave the frozen North, get on the blower or the jiggyweb today and get your ticket!



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

Match reaction: Saracens 22-17 Newcastle Falcons

photo 1 (7)

Saturday 28 February 2015 – 3.00pm

Allianz Park, London

Aviva Premiership #16


If you’d offered a losing bonus point before yesterday’s game I’d probably have taken it. Better teams than us go to Barnet and return home with nothing, especially if they don’t create much in attack as we didn’t. But I still felt a bit disappointed at full-time yesterday.


Not many teams outscore Saracens three tries to one at their own ground, never mind at Allianz Park, but we did. For most of the match we were very competitive against an excellent side, but poor discipline let us down. We conceded seventeen penalties, five of which were sent through the posts and Sarries sent a couple of kickable penalties to the corner too, so that needs to be tightened up.


I think the result was probably fair as Saracens were the better team and had more of the play, though they didn’t create many clear try-scoring opportunities. The Falcons on the other hand probably didn’t attack much except for the three tries they did score, so we can’t lament missed chances. Our defence was outstanding, and didn’t break as the players tired as I’d feared it might. A good defence doesn’t necessarily mean a good performance.


Still, we took on a really good side and almost beat them away from home, and though we didn’t get the win it’s another sign of things moving in the right direction. Exeter appears to have been a blip, happily.


I think yesterday again brought home the importance of having a reliable goalkicker on the field. Saracens probably have five of six in their squad, unfortunately I don’t think we have anyone quite at the same level. The home side struggled to score tries but they kicked over their penalties and so won the game. Hopefully Tom Catterick will continue to improve and Mike Delany will also prove to have a good boot.


Where Saracens really did well was to starve our back of possession, an aggressive defence helping to starve Sinoti Sinoti and Juan Pablo Socino of possession. Alesana Tuilagi looked dangerous when he got the ball, but other than for his excellent try that was also too rarely. Up front, our scrum struggled but I thought Juan Pablo Orlandi had a decent game around the field. Dom Barrow really put himself around too and was a huge part of the defensive effort. Barrow was probably my Falcons man of the match.


In the Sarries engine room, young Maro Itoje had a blinder. He already looks like a general in the line out, he tackles very well and is intelligent at the breakdown, and he carries strongly. I think he could become a very special player in the coming years, and he is already being tipped for the top by people in the game.


After not knowing what to expect from my second visit to Allianz Park, I really enjoyed the day down there. It’s a very open ground, with lots of space and plenty of bars (though I wasn’t overly fond of the Saracens lager) and some really friendly home fans. The atmosphere was happy and fun yet passionate. Oh, I nearly forgot the steak pie! Being the connoisseur that I am, I don’t get excited about just any old steak pie but this was something. We’ll definitely be back for another next season.


As expected, London Irish got all five points against London Welsh in Oxford, so we are back down to eleventh in the Premiership, four points behind the Readingers and the St Patrick’s Day party looks like it might be the decider for tenth place. Eleventh isn’t a disaster as we are clearly progressing, but it would be nice to move up the table.


Before then we have Leicester at home. The Tigers scored their first tries for several games in yesterday’s home win over Sale, but I am really optimistic that we could turn them over at KP next Sunday.


We may have lost, but things are still looking good.

photo 2 (7)


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

Match preview: Saracens v Newcastle Falcons


Saturday 28 February 2015 – 3.00pm

Allianz Park, London

Aviva Premiership #16


Ah, Allianz Park. It’s not the concrete horror of Vicarage Road, fortunately, but I thought it was a funny place on my first visit last season. It seemed very open, maybe due to the running track requiring an expanded space between the pitch and stands, and there wasn’t much atmosphere.


Then again, when a top team beats a lesser side with little difficulty and a 40-3 scoreline, maybe there isn’t much atmosphere. Hopefully it will be different this time, and after we gave Saracens an almighty scare at Christmas, maybe it will be.


Saracens will be smarting after losing at Sale last Saturday in a 14-10 upset that left the Londoners joint-third in the table, just ahead of Exeter who are also on 44 points. Though the scoreline looks tight, it was only a last-minute try by Richard Barrington (converted by Alex Goode) while the Sharks were down to fourteen men that saved a losing bonus point.


Mark McCall’s side are three points behind Bath in second, and one ahead of Sale, Leicester and Wasps, and along with Exeter and these sides appear to be in a six-way fight for three places in the playoffs alongside top side Northampton. Sarries lost the final to the Saints last year and will be desperate to atone for that and repeat their Premiership triumph in 2011.


Away form has been Saracens’ achilles heal this season in both the league and Europe, and only Northampton have won a competitive match at Allianz Park this season, 24-31 back in November. A fortnight ago, the Men in Black survived a Bath fightback to beat Sam Burgess RFC 34-24 in Barnet, and they have also beaten both Clermont Auvergne and Munster (along with Sale) at home in the Champions Cup to line up a potentially-thrilling quarter-final against Racing Metro in Paris.


Four wins in the LV= Cup group stages has booked a semi-final at home to Northampton in a couple of weeks too.


Our previous meeting with the Fez Boyz this season was an absolutely fantastic match that surely nobody has forgotten yet. Just two months go, on 27th December, more than 9,000 packed Kingston Park and almost saw the Falcons sneak a draw, but for Juan Pablo Socino failing to convert Chris Harris’s superb late try. After trailing 6-10 at half-time, a breakaway try by Sinoti Sinoti got our team going and replacement Harris’s brace kept us in touch. Saracens won 23-25, but know they had been in a huge game and their manager McCall was full of praise for our lads.


After a decent record away to Saracens in the amateur era, the Falcons haven’t done so well since the elite game went pro, going back to that 12-10 Watford defeat in front of 19,000 in 1998 as both sides fought for the inaugural Premiership title. I remember our victory at Vicarage Road in December 2007, it was a cracker in which all four of our England international backs were on the scoresheet – Mathew Tait, Jamie Noon and Toby Flood scored tries while Jonny Wilkinson kicked two conversions and a penalty. Oh did we sing that day!


The 58-15 pounding in March 2010 was not quite as much fun, though unlike most Falcons fans I didn’t pay to watch it as I was up on the commentary scaffholding with Kev ‘n’ Smithy. I see Noah Cato and Andy Saull both scored in that game, along with our perennial thorn Richard Haughton. One thing I do remember from that day though was getting the train home from London Bridge after the game, and sitting opposite me was a woman and her young daughter, maybe five years old. The whole five minutes I was on this train, the little girl was singing that Jessie J song ‘Price Tag’, and I just had to smile.


Falcons at Saracens:

27/09/1980             Bramley Road           Club Match               W15-3

09/04/1982             Bramley Road           Club Match               W25-6

26/01/1985             Bramley Road           Cup R3                             L13-16

12/12/1987             Bramley Road           Division 2                   D7-7

15/04/1995             Bramley Road           Division 2                   D16-16

19/04/1998             Vicarage Road           Premiership 1           L10-12

20/05/1999             Vicarage Road           Premiership 1           L26-40

17/10/1999             Vicarage Road           Premiership 1           L6-55

15/04/2001            Vicarage Road           Premiership               L29-34

09/12/2001             Vicarage Road           Premiership               W24-19

24/11/2002             Vicarage Road           Premiership               L13-17

13/01/2003             Vicarage Road           Challenge Cup QFL1 L10-31

22/02/2004             Vicarage Road           Premiership               L27-32

19/12/2004             Vicarage Road           Cup R6                       L20-22

28/01/2005             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L13-32

20/11/2005             Vicarage Road           Premiership               L18-27

17/09/2006             Vicarage Road           Premiership               L20-44

30/12/2007             Vicarage Road           Premiership               W22-19

21/09/2008             Vicarage Road           Premiership               L14-44

12/04/2009             Vicarage Road           Challenge Cup QF     L13-32

28/03/2010            Vicarage Road           Premiership               L15-58

27/03/2011             Vicarage Road           Premiership               L9-24

09/10/2011             Vicarage Road           Premiership               L5-25

03/11/2013             Allianz Park               Premiership               L3-40

26/01/2014             Allianz Park               Cup                             L8-41



Juan Pablo Orlandi and Scott Lawson are back in the Falcons’ starting front row in place of Rob Hawkins and Kieran Brookes, while Gonzalo Tiesi starts on the wing, a position I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play before. Will Welch moves down a shirt to allow Andy Saull to start and Mark Wilson wears eight.


15 Alex Tait, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Gonzalo Tiesi, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 4 Kane Thompson, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Will Welch (c), 7 Andy Saull, 8 Mark Wilson.

Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Mark Irving, 19 Calum Green, 20 Chris York, 21 Ruki Tipuna, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Alex Tuilagi.



Saracens might be missing a lot of star players due to injury and the Six Nations, but they have still put out one heck of a team. I remember Jamie George having a blinder in this game last season, and Maro Itoje is being hailed as the next big thing for English rugby.


Saracens team: 1 Rhys Gill, 2 Jamie George, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Alistair Hargreaves (c), 6 Nick De Jager, 7 Jacques Burger, 8 Jackson Wray, 9 Neil De Kock, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 11 David Strettle, 12 Brad Barritt, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 14 Chris Wyles, 15 Ben Ransom.


Replacements: 16 Brett Sharman, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Matt Hankin, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Nils Mordt, 23 Tim Streather.



This will be a tough one but if it is a competitive game then it should also be very entertaining. We have an advantage over most visitors to Allianz Park in that we know about plastic pitches, so no excuse there. Come on Falcons!



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

Wigton 15-21 Carlisle


Saturday 21 February 2015 – 2.15pm

Lowmoor Road, Wigton

North One West #20


Carlisle survived a late fightback by Wigton to win yesterday’s hotly-contested north Cumbrian derby and all-but condemn their close neighbours to relegation.


The visitors held out against an early Wigton onslaught to go into half-time 3-13 ahead, before the hosts cut the deficit to one point in the second half, however a late pushover try ensured Carlisle took the four points back along the A595 with a 5-21 win.


It was a bitterly cold day in rural Cumbria despite (or perhaps because of) the sunny weather, though fortunately Lowmoor Road offers among the best matchday meals in rugby – steak pie, chips, peas and gravy. At least the twice I’ve been there, that’s been on, and at £3.50 it was also as cheap as, well, chips, and quite lovely.


Wigton battered on the door for the first ten minutes, putting Carlisle under intense pressure but they were just unable to score. The away side could count themselves lucky not to concede penalty tries as first scrum-half Matty Roper was penalised for not rolling away on the tryline, and then the referee missed Tom Graham pulling down a maul.


One Wigton supporter let referee Ryan Oliver know his thoughts on this lack of a decision, and then moaned about it for much of the rest of the afternoon. As I made some notes late in the second half, this fan even asked me whether I was assessing the referee!


It’s not the first time I’ve heard the referee get a barracking at Wigton this season, but when you’re eleven points adrift at the bottom of the table and have won only two of twenty games, you probably have to look a bit closer to home to see where problems lie.


Anyway, the deadlock was finally broken after twenty minutes, when home full-back Gregg Smith kicked a huge penalty from just a metre inside Carlisle’s half. However, when you’re at the bottom things don’t go for you, and on Carlisle’s first attack just minutes later, James Rocke kicked an offside penalty to equalise.


The city visitors took control and after a number of penalties took them upfield, Mr Oliver warned home captain Fergus Ledingham that he was losing patience with tighthead Lindsay Walker, who had offended a couple of times. Seconds later, Stuart Creighton entered a maul from the side and was sent to the sin bin.


Carlisle went for the corner and drove Henry Wainwright over for the opening try. On half-time, Dan Holmes fought over to give his side a ten-point lead at the break.


Wigton’s coaches gave their side a passionate team-talk during the interval, calling for a step up in work-rate and fewer missed tackles. Unfortunately for the greens, Carlisle dominated the next quarter of the game but like their hosts in the first half could not get on the scoresheet. Rocke made breaks, Josh Holmes was held up, and Ledingham was lucky that what seemed to be a deliberate knock-on of a Carlisle pass was deemed accidental, but the score remained 3-13.


Wigton finally fought their way upfield and won a penalty on halfway, but the lineout in the corner was lost, a further example of their struggling in the set-piece all day. However, Dan Holmes was sent to the bin for a high tackle and Wigton drove forwards, their spirits now up, and Creighton needed a big tackle to stop his rampage through the Carlisle 22.


From a scrum on the left, Wigton quickly spread the ball across the pitch and centre Chris Pattinson rounded the away defence to score the home side’s first try of the day. Although Smith’s conversion caught the wind and fell short, there was hope of a rare victory for the hosts.


Carlisle went upfield and won a penalty for hands in the ruck, Rocke knocking over the three points. However, Wigton hit straight back too by tapping a penalty just outside the 22, and Smith fought his way through the visitors’ defence to score a try that he then converted.


With seven minutes to go, Carlisle led by one point.


Roared on by a small but vocal home crowd, Wigton probed but were unable to trouble the scorers again, and with the clock hitting eighty, Carlisle’s forwards drove over for the final score of the game, sealing their victory 15-21.


This result moves Wigton one point closer to second-bottom New Brighton, the gap reducing to eleven points after the latter’s defeat at Broughton Park today. However, the greens are 22 points behind Bolton and safety, with just six games of the season left, and face an almost-impossible task to avoid relegation, with New Brighton and Eccles also in the drop-zone.


Carlisle consolidated tenth place, though they might have moved up had Vale of Lune not upset Kendal in Lancaster and broken a nine-game losing streak.


The top four in North One West now reads Birkenhead Park 83 points, Kirkby Lonsdale 79, Kendal 75 and Penrith 63, all after twenty games. With just one automatic spot and one in the playoffs up for grabs, it looks like a three-way battle and Birkenhead Park, unbeaten since November, will be confident of at least getting into the playoffs, so it’s up to Kendal and Kirkby Lonsdale to fight it out for the other top two spot and the title of Cumbria’s top club this season!

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