Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Northampton Saints

Saturday 31st December 2011 – 2.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #12

Our Falcons face another must-win Premiership home match this Saturday as Northampton come north. After Worcester failed to take advantage of our defeat to Sale (making the latter result even more disappointing), Alan Tait and his troops dare not get less than four points on New Year’s Eve to keep hopes of survival alive.

The Saints had a difficult start to the season during the World Cup, in which they missed Courtney Lawes, Chris Ashton, Ben Foden and captain Dylan Hartley among others, but have since recovered and defeated Bath with something to spare at Franklin’s Gardens on Christmas Eve. They now sit sixth in the table but are out of the Heineken Cup however having reached the final in 2010/11.

Jim Mallinder will be pleased that Hartley has signed a new contract this week but our visitors seem resigned to losing the frog-splashing Ashton in the summer. Not that that concerns us, as the man Gcobani Bobo smashed as far as Sunderland in this fixture last season completes a suspension on Saturday.

Former Newcastle captain Phil Dowson is having another good season and his fellow ex-blacks Lee Dickson and Mark Sorenson have been regular starters recently.

Northampton are one of the more rounded teams in the Premiership, boasting one of the league’s top front rows in Soane Tonga’uiha, Brian Mujati and Hartley, powerful second rows and a quick backline that is set loose by the likes of Dickson and Ryan Lamb. The centres are strong with James Downey, Jon Clarke and another former Falcon Tom May, who will be guaranteed a superb reception should he be selected on Saturday, all available.

May of course scored two tries in the reverse fixture in the Midlands back in October, a 44-15 victory for the hosts, who have not been beaten at Kingston Park since September 2008 when Jonny Wilkinson inspired the Falcons to a first win of that season.

In 20 previous meetings in the North East we have a slight advantage with 11 wins, while the Saints have returned to Northampton with the honours eight times and there has been one draw, a cup meeting back in 1986.

 

Our record at home to Northampton:

03/12/1961 W9-6

01/02/1986 (John Player Cup) D6-6

31/03/1990 (Division Two) L15-22

01/09/1991 W32-12

11/12/1993 (Division One) L8-28

21/10/1995 (Division Two) L9-52

08/10/1997 (Premiership One) W37-12

15/11/1998 (Premiership One) W45-35

21/05/2000 (Premiership One) L23-32

20/08/2000 (Premiership) W27-21

02/12/2001 (Premiership) L13-28

20/04/2003 (Premiership) W22-20

28/12/2003 (Premiership) W23-19

28/11/2004 (Premiership) W27-16

26/03/2006 (Premiership) L13-32

06/04/2007 (Premiership) W16-7

14/09/2008 (Premiership) W32-22

27/11/2009 (Premiership) L8-28

15/04/2011 (Premiership) L15-22

 

So a mixed record there, and as for our history of playing on New Year’s Eve, our last outing on 31st December should have been in 2000, but a home clash with Harlequins was postponed, so it was actually back in 1994 when Alnwick lost 33-0 at KP. This being the late days of professionalism, there is probably not a lot to read into that.

Any cynics needing a straw to clutch might note that it is 34 years since we last lost on the final day of the year however, 16-18 at home to Hawick in 1977.

If we can win this game, and Worcester lose at Wasps on New Year’s Day, then we both go into our matches on 7th January knowing the Falcons could get off bottom with a win. That puts pressure on the Warriors and gives us a great incentive to beat Exeter in the new year.

The Worcester game at KP in November saw a large crowd and a terrific atmosphere, but not the right result. We will surely repeat the first two on Saturday, but hopefully the result will be better because with the league season half over, if the Falcons are going to start winning then it needs to be soon.

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Match report: Sale Sharks 27-19 Newcastle Falcons

Monday 26 December 2011 – 2.30pm

Edgeley Park, Stockport

Aviva Premiership #11

It was balmy, is what it was when two coaches (three, if you include that carrying the team) left KP at 9am on Boxing Day. My one trip of the season with the Supporters’ Club, fortunately this time it was a little less snowy than when we went to Galashiels a year previously.

Leaving Edgeley Park at 5.30pm, getting out of the town that inspired Rihanna’s song about finding love in a hopeless place (possibly), I had a feeling of despair. Those sitting around me on the coach realised what poor company I am after a defeat.

I imagine Alan Tait felt the same. Despite Sale’s lofty league position (this win put them third), we could easily have beaten them. But we didn’t and missed a chance to put pressure on Worcester ahead of their hosting of Leicester.

The Falcons had a lot of possession but conceded two tries, the first being very similar to James Simpson-Daniel’s against us earlier in the month. Did nobody realise after that, if they hadn’t already, what happens if you leave an opposition runner a massive gap in the defence?

The second came when we sloppily lost possession at a wheeling scrum in the Sale half and they broke upfield, and once Mark Cueto got the ball and was clear Luke Eves was never going to catch him.

Mind even at 24-16, as the score was at that point, there was a general feeling among the away fans that we could still win. Jimmy Gopperth got us back within five points but Sale went back out of bonus point range seconds later.

It was a day of poor decisions, from kicking into the try area and not chasing, allowing Sale to gather with a foot dead so as to get possession in our half, to bizarre replacements.

If James Hudson and Jordi Pasqualin were injured then fair enough, but why take off our captain with eight minutes to go when he was having a good game, as was Jordi? Surely leadership was what was needed at that point?

That said, it is the players who waste possession and make mistakes. We are conceding so much off first-phase ball and that needs to be stopped.

If I were Alan Tait post-match, I’d have simply said “If you want to play in the Championship next season, and half of you want to risk your jobs because we won’t be able to afford you if we don’t come straight back up, then please, play like that again.”

We needed three wins from this block of league games, though eight points would not be a catastrophic return. Northampton and Exeter are beatable.

We no longer have any choice. Talk of good performances, things coming together or whatever no longer matters because it is only points that will keep us in this league. We need two wins in the next two games.

If we don’t get them, then I would hope that Semore Kurdi will do what he should have done after the Worcester game – get in touch with John Wells and Shaun Edwards.

Sale tries: Brady, Cueto. Conversion: Macleod. Penalties: Macleod 5.

Newcastle try: Manning. Conversion: Gopperth. Penalties: Gopperth 4.

Welcome to The South Stand Choir

Hello,

So, to get this blog up and running, I’ll explain a little about myself. I’m a twenty-something Geordie who can be found at a desk in a basement between 6.30am and 2.30pm five days a week, well four actually as on Monday it’s 5am to 1pm. This makes Friday evening games manageable, though Sundays are tricky, especially after a win! On home matchdays I can be found at the back of the South Stand at Kingston Park alongside my mates (or, as the stewards call us, “You lot under the clock”). On away matchdays I am usually somewhere on the terrace or, if there’s no standing, sat with the away fans, or else glued to Twitter now that BBC Newcastle doesn’t consider our away European games worthy of radio coverage.

I’ll hope to bring you a fan’s eye view of the action as I see it

I’m still getting the hang of WordPress so the site will no doubt improve, but comments and suggestions are of course welcome!

Up the Falcons!!