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)

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