Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 52-5 Cross Keys


Saturday 13 October 2012 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

British & Irish Cup Pool 4 #1


The Falcons began the British & Irish Cup campaign with a win today but Dean Richards will no doubt be disappointed that we conceded a try late on having been dominant for the vast majority of the game, and hopefully unhappy with a period of aimless kicking in the second half.


Mind, at least it livened the crowd up. My co-soprano Slacker had a pair of sensitive ears strapped to his stomach in the first half and the Blaydon Races just isn’t the same without another booming voice joining in, so I was myself also subdued before the break.


The South Stand made themselves heard in the second half though when the Falcons attacked in front of us. Cross Keys’ number 22 got a fair bit of abuse, deservedly for some disgracefully unsporting behaviour opposite our trialist Warren Fury, and I think their number eight heard me shout at him as he abused the Dutch/Scottish referee following our penalty try.


“Number eight, if you don’t want to play, get off!” The amount of penalties Cross Keys were giving away had narked me a bit, as me old man would say, though he was getting what the number 22 deserved.


Other than those two, the Welsh visitors put in a stubborn display, even if they were very much outclassed for the most part. Credit to them for not kicking at goal either and going for tries.


I haven’t seen an attendance figure for yesterday, I’d reckon it was quite low as we might have expected, though it was good to see a load of kids in the West Stand.


Zach Kibirige had a good debut, although one chase down the wing wasn’t executed with the pace I expected, and he deserved his try and the one that was disallowed for him being in touch. Fury also had a decent game as he looks to get a permanent contract, or presumably one until the end of the season when Chris Pilgrim returns.


Mark Wilson was another of my players of the day, he showed his usual energy around the park, no doubt having been buoyed by his two birthday tries last week.


The only negative issue on the field I’d say was the little period in the second half when the Falcons kicked and didn’t chase the ball, unsettling the home crowd. I didn’t really understand it, we were 31-0 up against a team that, with all due respect, weren’t on the same level as us.


But we got 50 points in the end, for the third game in a row, and you shouldn’t really ask for more than that. The winning start to the season continues and any chance of a trophy has to be respected and given whatever effort we can spare. I’m pleased, though not surprised, that Richards and the management realise that winning is a habit and that treating cup competitions less than seriously does nothing to help our league programme.


I don’t think that’s always been the case in the past, and we’ve suffered for it.



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


Match reaction: Leicester Tigers 42-15 Newcastle Falcons

Saturday 25 February 2012 – 3.00pm

Welford Road, Leicester

Aviva Premiership #15



There have been many signs this weekend, from an incident in Leicester Square on Friday night to a mention of bedblockers (the term, a rather offensive one in my opinion, that some Tiggers fans use for the Falcons) later in the evening.


I’ll try anything to be optimistic pre-match. It didn’t work though.


With Wasps getting nothing from their game at Sale on Friday night, despite scoring 34 points, and the Falcons having perhaps their best chance in years to win at Well-quiet Road, spirits were high among the away fans pre-match.


After all, our boys are (or at least should be) full of confidence and continued desire to impress the new gaffers, and Leicester are struggling to maintain their playoff position. Then there were the six Tiggers on England duties.


Most were still in a good mood after our 42-15 defeat, and why not? I’ve seen far worse defeats in the East Midlands over the years.


Of course there was still the England game to come, for those who had time to stay in the ground and watch the game ‘as live’. I don’t know why Leicester don’t move their kick-offs around internationals. The clash may not be the reason for there being fewer tickets sold for yesterday’s game than the LV= Cup game earlier this month, but if not then Leicester would seem to have a bit of a problem.


Anyway, to on-pitch matters. The Falcons started brightly but Leicester scored their customary early penalty, which may well have been spot-on but it was given for not rolling away, something the Tiggers got away with a few times in the following minutes.


Yesterday was always going to be a big test for the new Falcons.


It doesn’t help when the referee has a bit of a shocker. James Fitzpatrick’s yellow card for a trip was probably right, and stupid since it was in Leicester’s half, but minutes later referee Greg Garner took a good few seconds to realise he should give us a penalty for a punch by a home player. No card though.


The first try of the second half was a write-off. A Leicester maul in our 22 didn’t move for about 20 seconds, and as soon as it did – penalty to the Tigers. The resulting lineout and maul yielded an advantage that followed Leicester from one side of the pitch to the other and back again – too long.


Still, can’t blame the referee for the defensive mix-up that allowed Billy Twelveminutes to score in the first half, and as I say Leicester are a very good team that would probably still have won yesterday as it was.


Again though the Falcons played until the end, scoring a couple of second-half tries. If we hadn’t conceded so many beforehand, then things might have been different.


We had some good performances, notably from Will Welch and the returning Andrew van der Heijden. People who know me will not be surprised at the player I thought had an absolute shocker (again), but no point naming that player here.


Perhaps the biggest worry will be how poor our scrum was. Leicester regularly pushed our pack back several yards, allowing themselves a good attacking platform. Leicester’s strength has always been built on solid forwards, and that shows no signs of changing.


While we could have been hopeful of a win yesterday, a six-try defeat is not necessarily cause for despondency.


I don’t understand some people having a massive go at the team for yesterday’s loss. This wasn’t Nailsea 4ths we were playing, but a side full of top-class players. We were always going to lose games in the run-in, the important thing now is to respond and beat Harlequins on Friday.


There is still a lot of rugby to play in the coming two months. The fat lady isn’t even out of bed yet.



(Follow TheSouthStandChoir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

Match preview: Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons

Saturday 25 February 2012 – 3.00pm

Welford Road, Leicester

Aviva Premiership #16

The Falcons tomorrow make their second visit to Welford Road in a month, having lost the LV= Cup meeting with Leicester three weeks ago. This time the points at stake are far more important – the Tiggers need them to further their quest for a playoff place, while we are seeking just to stay in the Premiership.

Only three teams have won in Leicester this season, Exeter and Saracens back in September (the latter becoming the first away team to score 50 points at Welford Road in the league thanks to a late penalty) and Harlequins the following month.

Since then, Richard Cockerill’s men are on a nine-game unbeaten run at home, winning the past seven of those outings in front of the gigantic Caterpillar Stand, which famously holds more spectators than the whole of Kingston Park.

Like Clive Owen in Inside Man, I choose my words carefully – spectators, not fans or supporters. Those who have regularly visited Welford Road as an away fan will know it is not one of the louder stadiums in the Premiership, but even by their standards the Tiggers faithful were quiet three weeks ago. The South Stand or The Shed it ain’t.

Still, we have an extremely poor record at the home of England’s most successful rugby union club, just two wins and nothing but a single draw (a violent Friday night match in 2005) since 1997.

Our record in LE2:

20/09/1969                                     L6-48

31/03/1975                                     L15-18

11/04/1977                                     W18-6

13/03/1982 (Cup QF)                    L9-18

19/04/1986                                      L15-56

28/02/1987 (Cup R4)                    L6-19

16/04/1988                                     L0-65

12/03/1994 (Division 1)                L5-66

30/12/1997 (Premiership 1)        W25-19

12/12/1998 (Premiership 1)        L18-31

12/02/2000 (Premiership 1)        L26-34

17/03/2001 (Premiership)           L7-51

13/04/2002 (Premiership)           L12-20

21/09/2002 (Premiership)           L9-52

26/09/2003 (Premiership)           L21-28

19/02/2005 (Premiership)           L10-83

14/10/2005 (Premiership)           D16-16

27/01/2007 (Premiership)           L5-39

26/01/2008 (Premiership)           L14-41

20/12/2008 (Premiership)           L3-20

19/09/2009 (Premiership)           L6-15

27/11/2010 (Premiership)           L19-44

04/02/2012 (Cup)                          L19-24

Leicester’s most recent match was on Sunday against Saracens in Watford. Their 19-20 victory, achieved thanks to a late Geordan Murphy drop-goal, make the Tigers the first side to win away to the champions since October 2010, so their uncharacteristic fourth placing in the Premiership table does not mean we have an easy task tomorrow.

It will be significantly easier thanks to a large number of internationals being away with their countries in the Six Nations. Toby Flood, Geoff Parling, Tom Croft, Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi and Dan Cole will be at Twickenham facing Wales, though Thomas Waldrom was released back to his club. Top-class tighthead Martin Castrogiovanni is an Italian regular but injury has ruled him out of the rest of the Six Nations, which is a huge loss for his country.

It is interesting that our final three home Premiership games are on Friday nights. I know Quins and Sale were already set to be on Fridays, but Saracens was moved before it was selected to be on TV.

I wonder if this may give us a bit of a psychological advantage over Wasps and Worcester when they play later in the weekend. They will have the pressure of either knowing we have won, so they have to, or that we’ve lost so they need to take advantage.

Unfortunately both of our relegation rivals are in action tonight, Wasps at Sale and Worcester at home to Saracens, the latter live on ESPN. Both very tough games, so perhaps it would not be a surprise to see the relegation picture exactly the same as it is now on Sunday morning.

I feel though that the new-found confidence and ability to fight until the final whistle will stand the Falcons in good stead nowhere better than at Welford Road, where away teams so often come off worse in 50-50s and are kicked into submission by early penalties.

Not that that’s a criticism of Leicester – it is up to their opponents to rise to the challenge and play what is in front of them. It’s been a while since I felt so optimistic that we could do that at Well-quiet Road.

This weekend’s game comes too early for new signings Peter Stringer, James Goode and Adam Balding, but Jeremy Manning is a surprise choice on the wing and Andrew van der Heijden is back in the second row. Having those two fit again is a massive boost:

15 Greg Goosen, 14 Tom Bedford, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Jeremy Manning, 10 Jimmy Gopperth (c), 9 Chris Pilgrim, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Euan Murray, 4 Andrew van der Heijden, 5 Tim Swinson, 6 Ally Hogg, 7 Will Welch, 8 Mark Wilson.

Replacements: 16 Michael Mayhew, 17 Jonny Golding, 18 Ashley Wells, 19 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Rikki Sheriffe, 23 Joel Hodgson.

Tiggers captain Geordan Murphy makes his 300th appearance in the green, red and white tomorrow, but he skippers a side that contains only two former Falcons – James Grindal at scrum-half and Craig Newby on the bench:

15 Geordan Murphy (c),
 14 Horacio Agulla, 
13 Matt Smith,
 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 
11 Scott Hamilton, 
10 George Ford, 
9 James Grindal, 
1 Marcos Ayerza,
 2 George Chuter,
 3 Logoviii Mulipola,
 4 Ed Slater,
 5 George Skivington, 
6 Steve Mafi, 
7 Julian Salvi, 
8 Thomas Waldrom.

 16 Rob Hawkins,
 17 Boris Stankovich,
 18 Julian White, 
19 Graham Kitchener, 
20 Craig Newby,
 21 Scott Steele,
 22 Jeremy Staunton,
 23 Niall Morris.

If you haven’t been to Leicester for the past couple of seasons you may not be aware that The Victory on Aylestone Road, one of the best pubs in the Premiership, has closed. Last year Falcons fans congregated pre-match in the Swan & Rushes further on Oxford Street, which follows on from Infirmary Road, which follows on from Aylestone Road, heading towards the town centre.

Or there is a Wetherspoons in town, can’t remember its name though. There is also a very good Pukka Pies chippy to the north west of the station, down towards the shops. Hopefully the EDL (I think) march was the only reason it was closed a couple of weeks ago.

So, my services to Leicestershire commerce done, all I have left to say it “Come on the Mighty Falcons!!”

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

Peter to pull the strings

The thing about the Sportnetwork site is that sometimes people put up a header that makes you think a story is different to what it actually is. Not that I’m complaining, I’ve been guilty of it in my time.


So when I saw ‘Peter Stringer moving to Newcastle’ this lunchtime I presumed the former Ireland scrum-half had bought a house up our way, or he was moving to the Waratahs and would live in the New South Wales version of Newcastle. Which has a Gateshead nearby, incidentally.


Maybe Stringer was going to retire to County Down, or it was a completely non-rugby story from The Journal.


But no, the Munster legend is leaving Saracens and joining the Falcons next week for the rest of the season. Brilliant!


I’d be surprised if any rugby fan hadn’t heard of Stringer, but if so you can read what the public has written about the Heineken Cup-winner and his 98-cap international career here.


I’m not one for watching non-Falcons rugby, bar the Six Nations and the World Cup when I’m near a TV, but I remember someone telling me about five years ago that in his opinin Stringer was the best scrum-half in the world. Certainly he tended to stand out during the Six Nations with his fast, nippy style back in the day.


Jordi Pasqualin, Chris Pilgrim and Will Chudley could have nobody better to learn from in Stringer’s two months at Kingston Park.

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 19-10 London Irish

Saturday 18th February 2012, 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #15


If our last two league games had been played two months ago I reckon we would have been lucky to get one point – a bonus point yesterday. That we actually got five is testament to the new coaching team that has instilled a never-say-die attitude in our team.

We may stay up, we may not. But we are not going quietly.

For most of yesterday’s game I reckon the Falcons were pretty poor, certainly the first half. The frustrating old kick-and-amble was back, we seemed to make little headway towards the tryline, bar when Jimmy Gopperth knocked over a rare drop-goal (he’s not bad at them actually), and Irish went into half-time 6-10 ahead.

When Adriaan Fondse was sent off, for a punch or a slap on Delon “Boo” Armitage depending on who you listen to, it all seemed to be going wrong. The highlights will show what happened in that incident.

Just a word on red cards – I’m all for them when they are deserved, but why are there so few of them these days? Presuming the last red card I saw wasn’t given to Troy Coker of Saracens for giving Ian Peel a black eye back in 1998, I seriously cannot remember the last one I saw in a Falcons game.

Anyway when you are at the bottom sometimes you need a little break, and an apparently-concussed Ryan Shortland nicking a loose pass on halfway and having nobody in front of him as he legged it to the tryline is about as fortunate as you can get.

It was interesting that when the referee had a chance to card an Irish player for blocking a pass in an offside position he decided a penalty was sufficient. Still, at least we got a penalty. Possibly the most blatantly deliberate knock-on I’ve ever seen was deemed worthy of only a scrum in the first half. I’m talking literally throwing the ball forward, as I saw it anyway. Even when a yellow was given, Jon Golding followed the Irish ball-grabber (allegedly) off too for whacking him.

Yesterday shows again though what I’ve always said – when it really matters, the Falcons deliver. There is still all to play for. Wasps’ bonus point against Exeter is annoying but two successive home defeats will do nothing for their morale. I see Worcester got a losing bonus point at Harlequins too.

Wasps saying they have four interested parties looking at taking over the club means nothing. If they had one, fair enough they might get somewhere soon, but how long will it take to whittle four down to the final winner?

Some of their fans have already thrown in the towel. Bit drastic surely, but it seems they have reason to be worried.

As I said in that thread, some of their Sportnetwork website echoes ours a few months ago, especially one saying the players don’t look motivated. That was something I often thought about our team earlier this season, and when the players are not enjoying their jobs then winning becomes so much harder. The Falcons look a lot happier now – certainly Fondse and Taiasina Tu’ifua had a sneaky smiling hug after the game.

Fondse will be a miss if he does end up suspended, but with Andrew van der Heijden coming back then his absence may not be such a big deal. Word is Alex Tait may be back for Harlequins too – perhaps the injury crisis in the backs is easing despite Suka Hufanga being the latest to drop. We could do with James Hudson getting back though, the lineout was again unpredictable today.

Things may be slowly coming together. There will be challenges, and no doubt defeats, still ahead of us this season, but we now only have to win two more games than Wasps for the rest of the season.

The spectre of D-day on 5th May will be starting to grow in their minds.

By the way, thanks to those I spoke to about this blog yesterday afternoon for your kind words. Please keep reading and start commenting!


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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v London Irish

Saturday 18th February 2012 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #15


It’s funny how fixture lists work out sometimes. John Wells’ first game as a coach with the Falcons was at Leicester, where he made his name, and now Gary Gold’s first home league game in charge is against his former club London Irish.


London Irish are one of our real bogey teams, being unbeaten in this fixture since April 2005 when their manager was – Gary Gold. Indeed, when the final whistle in that game went to signal a 23-16 win for us, Irish were relegated but a late score by Sale at The Stoop sent Harlequins down instead.


That is all true, according to some Exiles fans anyway. Irish allegedly have the “most passionate fans” in the Premiership, although I notice this only counts the London sides.


We have won a couple of times away to Irish since then, most recently in November 2009 when I went back to the office after a week away the following day with a beast of a hangover.


Our record v Irish at home:

20/02/1988 (Division 2) L14-22

18/11/1989 (Division 2) L6-27

20/11/1993 (Division 1) L9-13

05/11/1994 (Division 2) L9-15

04/11/1995 (Division 2) L19-23

11/01/1998 (Premiership 1) W46-13

27/09/1998 (Premiership 1) L21-23

18/04/2000 (Premiership 1) W28-23

10/12/2000 (Cup QF) W33-20

01/04/2001 (Premiership) W42-35

08/05/2002 (Premiership) W33-28

03/11/2002 (Premiership) L16-24

22/12/2002 (Cup R6) L16-17

28/02/2004 (Cup QF) W24-12

02/05/2004 (Premiership) L15-16

30/05/2005 (Premiership) W23-16

11/11/2005 (Premiership) L20-23

22/09/2006 (Premiership) L21-26

13/04/2008 (Premiership) L8-13

16/11/2008 (Premiership) L8-24

20/02/2010 (Premiership) D12-12

25/09/2010 (Premiership) L12-46


Not great, ay?



This season the Falcons have already lost twice at the Madejski Stadium. Irish got a bonus point in both, firstly in the Premiership in late September when Jonathan Joseph scored twice and Tom Homer outkicked Jimmy Gopperth. That game ended 46-29 to the Exiles and a month later the Falcons started OK in the LV= Cup before succumbing to a second-half onslaught by Irish, who won 39-23.


So we will be looking for revenge as well as to kick-start our drive towards Premiership safety after a bonus point at Bath last weekend.


Irish on the other hand will have ambitions of another season in the Heineken Cup as they currently sit joint-sixth in the Premiership with Sale, or perhaps even the playoffs since third-placed Northampton are only three points above both of those sides.


Those ambitions were done little good a week ago in a 30-23 defeat at league leaders Harlequins, and interestingly Irish have only won twice away from Reading this season, at Northampton in the league back in September and in France against Racing Metro in the Heineken Cup before Christmas.


Throw in a draw at Leicester in the Premiership on Guy Fawkes’ Night (well, afternoon) and it has been a strange season away from home for our visitors.


Hopefully it will get worse on Saturday.


Irish prop Alex Corbisiero has started both of England’s games in the Six Nations so far and will be hoping to keep the number one shirt that once seemed destined for our own Jon Golding for next week’s Twickenham clash with Wales. Former Northampton back Joe Ansbro is Andy Robinson’s Scotland squad but is yet to make a matchday 22 in this year’s championship.


Following a string of controversies Delon Armitage, who went to the World Cup with England, will also be looking to get back into the national squad sooner rather than later, while ‘Big’ Bob Casey is a former Irish international and a general in the lineout. Paul Hodgson seems to have dropped down the list of England scrum-halves, as has Nick Kennedy in the second row.


Topsy Ojo has a 100% try-scoring record for England, two in two games, but both of those appearances were on a 2008 tour of New Zealand.


Local interest is provided by Alex Gray returning to KP for the first time since his apparently acrimonious departure from the Falcons at the end of last season. It will be interesting to compare the reception he gets tomorrow compared to Micky Young’s earlier this season.


Speaking of former Falcon scrum-halves, Ross Samson played for our youth teams during his time at Newcastle University before joining Edinburgh, and joined the Exiles last summer, starting our LV= Cup game at the Madejski earlier this season.


For those interested in the other relegation candidates, Wasps host Exeter at the same time as our game and no doubt Worcester’s visit to Harlequins will be on in the ground post-match, ESPN televising the game at 5.30pm tomorrow.



Tom Bedford makes his first start in a black shirt tomorrow on the wing and Grant Shiells keeps his place, deservedly. Jimmy Gopperth continues to captain the team in the absence of James Hudson, which is unfortunately set to be longer than we’d have liked, and Rikki Sheriffe is in the 23 for the first time in a while:


15 Greg Goosen, 14 Tom Bedford, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth (c), 9 Chris Pilgrim, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Euan Murray, 4 Adriaan Fondse, 5 Tim Swinson, 6 Ally Hogg , 7 Will Welch, 8 Mark Wilson.

Replacements: 16 Michael Mayhew, 17 Jon Golding, 18 Ashley Wells, 19 Andrew van der Heijden, 20 Taiasina Tu’ifua , 21 Will Chudley, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Ricki Sheriffe.



Gray has not recovered from injury in time to play for the visitors and so will miss out on a (perhaps not so) good reception at his former home ground. Nick Kennedy captains a team full of pace and strength, which should provide a stern test:


15 Delon Armitage, 14 Tom Homer, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12. Jonathan Spratt, 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Dan Bowden, 9 Darren Allinson, 1 Max Lahiff, 2 David Paice, 3 Faan Rautenbach, 4 Nick Kennedy (c), 5 Bryn Evans, 6 Matt Garvey, 7 Kieran Roche, 8 Richard Thorpe.

Replacements: 16 James Buckland, 17 Clarke Dermody; 18 Paulica Ion, 19. Bob Casey, 20 Ed Siggery, 21 Marland Yarde, 22 Adrian Jarvis 23 Paul Hodgson.



Right, so this is a big one for us. We all wanted change, and we had it. Now the players need us to get behind them like never before. Season ticket holders – are you bringing three friends for £10 each tomorrow? If not, get on the phone and do your bit to help pack the ground and show the lads how much we believe in them.


This is the latest chapter in a new era for the Falcons, it needs to be a good one. We really can make a difference by turning up in numbers and being damn loud!!


Come on Falcons!



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

Match reaction: Bath Rugby 30-24 Newcastle Falcons

Saturday 10 February 2012, 2.15pm

The Recreation Ground, Bath Spa

Aviva Premiership #14

I didn’t get to yesterday’s eagerly-anticipated game in Bath (mate’s stag weekend in Edinburgh) but the wonders of modern technology meant I was one of no doubt many Falcons fans following events through Twitter.

It certainly seems to have been a humdinger of a match, with the Falcons leading 8-14 at half-time before conceding a few tries after the break, but stealing a bonus point at the death.

Obviously we can’t rely on bonus points alone in the relegation battle and given Bath’s league position this game will have been targeted particularly for a win.

But it is a start. By all accounts we played quite well and I hear it’s the first time in over two years that we have scored three tries away in the Premiership.

The fact that the boys kept plugging away and got a reward of sorts will do their confidence no harm at all.

A few months ago I imagined that playing for the Falcons probably wasn’t much more fun than watching them, but with new hope and ideas injected I think that has probably changed.

Hopefully we will see the benefits of this in the coming weeks.

We still need Wasps to lose some games alongside us winning, starting with their meeting with Saracens today, but it is entirely possible.

Wasps’ owner wants out, they have an injury crisis, and what might prove crucial is that as a team they have little experience of a relegation dogfight.

On the other hand, we have been in scraps for the past three seasons and we know what it takes to stay up, and that we can do it.

This could make a difference if relegation comes down to the final match of the season at Adams Park.

If nothing else, yesterday suggests that even if we go down then it will be with a fight, not a whimper as had seemed likely just six weeks ago.

Don’t forget to cheer for Saracens today!

(Follow The South Stand Choir: @SouthStandChoir)