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:
01/02/1986 (John Player Cup) D6-6
31/03/1990 (Division Two) L15-22
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.