Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 22-19 Sale Sharks

Friday 30 March 2012, 8.00pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
Aviva Premiership #19

 

 

ESPN no doubt put on last night’s Leicester v Worcester match at Welford Road because they knew it would attract more TV viewers than our game against Sale.

 

It probably did. However, while Leicester were whupping a 14-man Warriors side, an absolutely epic last half hour at Kingston Park brought us back from the brink and kept the Falcons alive in the relegation battle.

 

For most of the first 50 minutes last night we were bloody awful. It was like Bates and Tait had been snuck back in when we weren’t looking. All of the passionate attacking play from the previous few games had been replaced with aimless, hopeless kicking, with no interest in chasing.

 

Sale on the other hand counter-attacked with pace and scored three tries in the first half. Even at just seven points down at half-time it was hard to see how we would get anything from the game, and that would almost certainly condemn the Falcons to 12th place in the Premiership.

 

Gary Gold’s team talk would have been easy: “I’m going at the end of the season so it doesn’t matter to me. It’s most of you lot that will have to play in the Championship.”

 

Whatever happened at half-time seemed to stir some fight in the team and the match was won by sheer force of will, a bunch of players willing to put themselves on the line, backed by a crowd showing no regard for either their heart rates or the need to speak today.

 

On 52 minutes, Jimmy Gopperth sent a penalty to touch and on ran James Hudson and Adam Balding. Hudson took the catch and as the Falcons drove for the line, the South Stand roared themselves hoarse and at the bottom of a pile of bodies, the referee pointed up and down to send every home fan mad.

 

It was now level at 19-19, and the Falcons plugged away, controlling possession and territory but seeming to be unable to create another chance. Two penalties were given away in the Sale 22.

 

With 10 minutes to go Gopperth had a chance to give us the lead. Hearts were in mouths as the penalty drifted across the goal.

 

I kept thinking “Not another bloody draw!” as I and all other Falcons fans at KP continued to shout and sing as loud as our voices could still let us.

 

Four minutes left, a penalty straight in front of the posts. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Tom May’s vital kick against Gloucester in January 2009, the most celebrated penalty in our history.

 

This kick equalled it, The Wizard sent the ball high and true into the dark Geordie sky and the touch judges flags rose in approval.

 

Just a few minutes now. Could we hold on? Two words foremost in my mind – “NOTHING STUPID!!!”

 

The pick and drive was controlled perfectly, and once we had counted down to zero Peter Stringer whacked the ball into the West Stand and four absolutely priceless points were safe.

 

So now attention turns to High Wycombe tomorrow when Wasps, in theory, have to win to have any chance of avoiding a last-day showdown at Adams Park.

 

As for us, if we can take this spirit into the Gloucester and particularly Saracens games, and marry it with the quality we saw against Irish, then there is still hope.

 

I took wor lass to KP for the first time last night, and though she’s not really a rugby fan she couldn’t help get caught up in the atmosphere and the tension. As I said to her later, winning 50-0 every game is probably nice, but would I rather that than the excitement and nerves we go through? Not for a second.

 

Our win last night meant so much more in the grand scheme of things than Leicester’s over Worcester. How difficult it was to achieve and the effort the players and supporters put into it makes it so, so satisfying.

 

I wonder whether ESPN are thinking they picked the wrong game to televise?

 

 

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

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Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Sale Sharks

Friday 30th March 2012 – 8.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #19

This could be a key weekend in the relegation battle, with both ourselves and Wasps having, on paper, the easiest games of our run-ins until the potentially fateful day in High Wycombe in May.

 

While Wasps host Gloucester on Sunday, the Falcons again have the chance to put pressure on the Pests by playing first, against Sale tomorrow night.

 

After years of this game being an almost-guaranteed win for the Falcons, we haven’t beaten the Sharks at home in the Premiership since September 2007, when World Cup-bound Toby Flood engineered an opening day bonus point win for us.

 

How long ago that seems.

 

A repeat of that, or indeed our 37-7 thrashing of the Sale in the LV= Cup in Gary Gold’s first game in charge in January, would be most welcome. A repeat of Boxing Day, when we lost in Stockport, would not be.

 

Our home record v Sale in the professional era:

10/03/1998 Premiership 1  W23-18

20/12/1998 Premiership 1  W30-15

29/12/1999 Premiership 1  W12-6

06/01/2001 Cup SF       W37-25

11/03/2001 Premiership     W48-24

31/03/2002 Premiership     W30-10

27/10/2002 Premiership     W31-20

21/09/2003 Premiership     W9-8

02/01/2005 Premiership     W30-29

02/10/2005 Cup      W34-9

16/04/2006 Premiership     W32-21

26/12/2006 Premiership     W40-25

16/09/2007 Premiership     W33-12

07/09/2008 Premiership     L9-14

13/09/2009 Premiership     D16-16

07/01/2011 Premiership     D19-19

29/01/2012 Cup      W37-7

 

 

Sharks (which they might end up calling themselves next season, having previously experimented with it in 2002/03) have had a decent season, with none of the relegation worries of previous years.

 

Although they have won only away twice in the Premiership, at Wasps in September and Bath in December, Sale sit seventh on 40 points, just two behind Gloucester, and have realistic hopes of a Heineken Cup place for 2012/13.

 

Head coach Tony Hanks paid the price for two heavy defeats this month, in Exeter and most recently a 9-45 home thumping by champions Saracens. The latter match, last Friday night, led to outspoken CEO Steve Diamond to promise changes, and Hanks’ head was the one to hit the block. Diamond now wants to bring in a “big-hitting, experienced Director of Rugby” in the summer.

 

Sale have already begun adding to their squad for next season, with potential seat-filler Danny Cipriani returning to England from his Australian adventure, and more substantially than stylishly Richie Gray will make way for Glasgow-bound Tim Swinson. Eifion ‘the big fella’ Lewis-Roberts is returning to the North West from Toulon, with injury-prone England prop Andrew Sheridan heading in the opposite direction.

 

On the way out is former Leeds back Luther Burrell, who will be joining Northampton.

 

Alex Tait injured himself again at Worcester last week and is replaced by Tom Bedford on the left wing, and the only other change to the Falcons’ starting line-up is Rob Vickers, back from suspension, coming in for Matt Thompson. James Hudson is back on the bench too, one of six forwards among the replacements:

 

Falcons: 15 Jeremy Manning, 14 Corne Uys, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Tom Bedford, 10 Jimmy Gopperth (c), 9 Peter Stringer, 1 Jon Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Euan Murray, 4 Tim Swinson, 5 James Goode, 6 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 7 Will Welch, 8 Ally Hogg.

 

Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 Grant Shiells, 18 James Hall, 19 James Hudson, 20 Adam Balding, 21 Mark Wilson, 22 Will Chudley, 23 Greg Goosen.

 

 

Former Falcon Rob Miller is at full-back for Sale tomorrow night, having performed well in this position so far this season, including on Boxing Day. The only other ex-Falcon at Edgeley Park, Charlie Amesbury, is nowhere to be seen, but there is plenty of international experience in the starting XV with Mark Cueto, Dwayne Peel, Andrew Sheridan, Richie Vernon and Andy Powell included, and captain Sam Tuitupou is a former All Black:

 

Sale: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Johnny Leota, 12 Sam Tuitupou (c), 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Nick Macleod, 9 Dwayne Peel, 1 Andrew Sheridan, 2 Marc Jones, 3 Tony Buckley, 4 Kearnan Myall, 5 James Gaskell, 6 Richie Vernon, 7 David Seymour, 8 Andy Powell.

 

Replacements: 16 Joe Ward, 17 Alasdair Dickinson, 18 Vadim Cobilas, 19 Tom Holmes, 20 Mark Easter, 21 Cillian Willis, 22 Luther Burrell, 23 Will Addison.

 

 

Time is running out, this is a must-win game, so let’s make ourselves heard tomorrow night and roar the Falcons on to a massive victory! Here’s to a sore throat on Saturday!

 

 

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

Match reaction: Worcester Warriors 19-9 Newcastle Falcons

Friday 23 March 2012 – 7.45pm

Sixways, Worcester

Aviva Premiership #18

The Falcons will have left the Sixways pitch devastated last night after a performance full of heart was not enough to get anything out of Worcester.

The 19-9 defeat leaves us stuck on the bottom with four games left and realistically we now need to beat either Gloucester away or Saracens at home (assuming we defeat Sale at KP on Friday) to have any chance of going to Wasps on the last day of the season able to creep off bottom.

That also assumes the Pests get nothing from their games during the run-in.

It was a frustrating evening for players and fans. Neither side displayed a great deal of quality, but both put on an enjoyable show for the partisans full of thunder and, in some cases, blood. Tries are a rarity at either end in matches involving Worcester and their solid defence and toothless attack showed why.

Penalties were, as expected, key but Jimmy Gopperth missed two, the second being one he would normally score blindfolded with 10 minutes left, and Alex Grove’s try was decisive. The Falcons also defended excellently all game and rarely looked in danger of conceding a try but the Warriors were able to cleverly build an overlap on the left, our team running out of defenders.

Still, as I said in the BBC Radio Newcastle commentary, there is much to be optimistic about for the future. Dean Richards is now on his way, which suggests that even if we are relegated we may be able to keep Mike Ford and John Wells, who have had a big impact on our defence and forwards.

The scrum was superb last night, I can only remember our pack being taken apart once whereas they were regularly on top in the set-piece.

On his debut Peter Stringer played with a speed and intelligence that I for one have not seen from a Falcons scrum-half in may years. His influence ebbed away as the game went on, but then Worcester began to take control in the last half an hour so he had less quality ball to work with.

If we are going to pull off a miracle and get off bottom then Stringer and Gopperth combining to set off the backs will be key, and hopefully the Irishman can pass on some tips to Pasqualin, Pilgrim and Chudley while he is here. As indeed he has said he will.

On a personal note I was glad to get an earlier train to Worcester than I normally would, although despite some tiring early shifts I wasn’t able to get any sleep. Scottish Chris and his pal got the later train and it was delayed – might have been stressful.

It took a long time for me to get a bus from Sixways back to the train station post-match, but finally at 2.30am, but under 24 hours since I had left for the office, it was time to get some sleep. Or not, as the case was. So tired now and not looking forward to the clocks changing tonight.

So, we are all Saints fans today. Northampton v Wasps at Franklin’s Gardens kicks off at 5.45pm, no doubt there will be commentary on the BBC Sport website somewhere for those wishing to lend the Midlanders some moral support. A Wasps win today would 95% guarantee us finishing bottom.

As for us, we just need to keep plugging away, see what happens and if the worst does happen, as seems increasingly likely, make sure that next season is only a one-year break from visiting Sixways, as the Warriors’ time out of the Premiership proved.

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

Match preview: Worcester Warriors v Newcastle Falcons

Friday 23rd March 2012 – 7.45pm

Sixways, Worcester

Aviva Premiership #18

If the Falcons are going to have a chance of staying in the Premiership under their own steam, tomorrow night would be a perfect time to get a first win at Worcester in over seven years.

 

Worcester appear to be safe from relegation, being 12 points ahead of us in the table, but will want to make absolutely sure of not falling straight back into the Championship by beating us.

 

Should we lose at Sixways and Wasps beat Northampton on Saturday, then the gap at the bottom would be anything between 10 and 13 points, and with only four games left, three more wins that the Pests would perhaps be too much.

 

However, were the results to be the other way around, then we could be as little as three points behind Wasps and we play next – by next Friday night we could be off the bottom!

 

Lets not get ahead of ourselves though. As I’ve said, we have not been victorious at Worcester since September 2004, when Jonny Wilkinson played only his second competitive club game in 16 months, alongside debutant Colin Charvis. After our 9-30 victory that day, we have a run of defeats in WR3.

 

Falcons at Sixways:

25/01/1998 Cup R5                       W10-0

04/09/2004 Premiership               W30-9

28/04/2006 Premiership               L27-35

16/03/2007 Premiership               L21-23

25/04/2008 Challenge Cup SF      L16-31

10/05/2008 Premiership               L10-51

21/11/2008 Premiership               L11-26

07/11/2009 Cup                             L6-32

26/02/2010 Premiership               L0-13

 

So far this season the Warriors have had mixed results at their home ground. Following promotion in 2010/11 they won their first match back in the top flight when they hosted Sale, before losing to Harlequins, Wasps and Leicester at home, though they did beat Northampton in the midst of those losses.

 

Only two Premiership games have been held in Worcester in 2012, but both Gloucester and champions Saracens have been sent packing with defeats.

 

In addition to those, Worcester have beaten Wasps and Ospreys at Sixways in the LV= Cup and Bucharest Wolves and Banca Monte Crociati in Europe, but lost at home to Stade Francais back in October.

 

Their last outing three weeks ago was a 36-17 reverse at the Rec, when Tom Arscott and Miles Benjamin tries were not enough against the five-try Bathplugs.

 

The Falcons have of course recently re-signed Adam Balding, who left us for Worcester in 2010, but the two clubs have agreed that he will not play tomorrow night. Another link between the clubs is Polish-descended but London-born prop Oliver Tomaszcyzk. A former Falcons academy member, Tomaszczyk has mainly been used as a replacement in the Premiership this season but has started seven cup games.

 

Then there is our incoming Director of Rugby Dean Richards, who acted as an adviser at Sixways during his ban.

 

Peter Stringer will make his long-awaited Falcons debut tomorrow night, and James Goode makes his first start in the second row. Corne Uys is back from injury too and Jon Golding and Matt Thompson are in the front row alongside Euan Murray.

 

Falcons: 15 Jeremy Manning, 14 Corne Uys, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Alex Tait, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Peter Stringer, 1 Jon Golding, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Euan Murray, 4 Tim Swinson, 5 James Goode, 6 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 7 Will Welch, 8 Ally Hogg.

Replacements: 16 Joe Graham, 17 Grant Shiells, 18 Ashley Wells, 19 Adriaan Fondse, 20 Mark Wilson, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Rikki Sheriffe, 23 Greg Goosen.

 

 

So after three weeks and the Six Nations taking attention away from the club game for two months, it’s now time for the real business to start.

 

How the Falcons have been doing so far in 2012 suggests relegation would not be a disaster (if we come straight back up), but it would be good to get a head-start on the new era by beginning it in the Premiership. A win tomorrow night looks vital to ensuring that happens.

 

Oh, and if you are going to be listening to the game on BBC Radio Newcastle, you will hear me in the fanzone. So far I have a record of two (bonus point) wins, one draw and one defeat when doing games in the West Country!

 

 

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

Club v Country

Now that the Six Nations is over, I thought I’d put together some of my thoughts on the club v country issue that does not rear its ugly head so often in rugby, although it is always bubbling under the surface with Premiership clubs playing on most international weekends.

 

Firstly, I recall when the Falcons played a friendly in Glasgow back in August 2007, just before the start of the French World Cup. Travelling up to Scotland on the Suppy Club coach, I discussed the question of Falcons v England with another fan and said that I would rather the Falcons won the league than England won the World Cup.

 

Heck, I said, I’d rather the Falcons won that night’s game (a friendly, remember) than England won the World Cup.

 

It’s not that I don’t want England to win, I was pleased they beat France and Ireland (though it didn’t bother me too much that I only managed to see the second halves of both games), and had a good shout at my TV when Tom Croft broke through for his try in Paris.

 

It’s just that I feel far more passionately about my club (from my city) than my country.

 

I’ll give you more evidence of this – in November 2008 I got tickets for England v Australia at Twickenham through the Falcons’ season ticket ballot, but the Falcons were playing London Irish the following day and I couldn’t get both days off work. So I gave up the England tickets and even after the Falcons’ dour home defeat, I didn’t regret my choice.

 

Maybe it’s a Geordie thing, as friends of mine who are as passionate about Newcastle United as I am about the Falcons tend to feel the same way about the England football team.

 

It was interesting back in February when myself and Ma Leipy watched the second half of England v Wales in a pub in Leicester city centre, having just watched the Falcons lose heavily at Welford Road.

 

I was annoyed that England were beaten and things weren’t coming off for them, but I wasn’t getting worked up, unlike a rather fired-up gentleman in a Tiggers shirt whose language might well have got him kicked out of the match he had presumably attended an hour earlier.

 

I have since discussed this with a Newcastle United-supporting friend whose knowledge of rugby goes little beyond what I tell him about the Falcons. He said that he finds that his university friends who support Manchester United get far more frustrated about the England football team than he does, and puts it down to the fact that they are used to their club winning, and so they get worked up about England losing more than he does.

 

I think you could say the same thing about myself and the gentleman with high blood pressure in the pub in Leicester.

 

If England win the Grand Slam or the World Cup, I’ll be happy. I’ll probably cheer quite loudly. But my rugby attention will soon turn back to the Falcons’ next match. After all, for me, that’s the most important thing.

 

 

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

Falcons without the Newcastle?

Back in 2005, in order to get some content onto the Sportnetwork site during a Six Nations break, I wrote an article examining the issue of the Falcons’ name.

This was partly inspired by my experiences of football in the former East Germany, where teams are still often referred to by supporters by their Communist-era names. For example, Chemie Leipzig rather than the current Sachsen Leipzig. At their games, even the announcer calls the club Chemie.

VfB Leipzig were the first German national champions in 1903, and went bankrupt slightly over 100 years later. During the Cold War they were named Lokomotiv Leipzig, and when the club was reformed in the summer of 2004, the Lokomotiv name was chosen.

My point was that were the Falcons a German team, they would still be called Gosforth by us fans.

I consider Newcastle to be an integral part of the club’s name, perhaps because I am a Geordie born and bred, but also because I believe a club should have a regional identity, and that is expressed through its name.

I write this now because in the season ticket info that was sent to us from Kingston Park this week, ‘NEWCASTLE’ has been subtly removed from the logo.

I find this disappointing. Perhaps it is aimed at attracting spectators from elsewhere in the North East and Cumbria, but we already have plenty of non-Newcastle-based fans who aren’t put off.

We will still be a Newcastle-based club, but will presumably only be called ‘Falcons’ (as indeed the programme for the 1999 Tetley’s Bitter Cup Final called us). Newcastle will always be integrated in our history, since the club grew out of the original Gosforth FC, which was founded and played in Newcastle.

If the term Newcastle is so threatening, I could just about get used to ‘North East Falcons’ or ‘Northern Falcons’.

But just ‘Falcons’ gives rise to the idea of franchises, artificial constructs like many of those in professional sports in North America. But at least they still have place names too.

I know professional rugby is a business now, and that the priority is making money, with success on the pitch important only to that end. But to supporters it is so much more than that, it is something that gets us emotional, something we care about. Our club’s identity, our being able to identify with them, is a key part of that, and the best way for clubs to build up a loyal following.

I’ll still go to watch the Falcons if the ‘Newcastle’ is dropped. But I hope the club continue to recognise their regional identity.

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

Falcons appoint Dean Richards as DoR

In February 2004, Leicester sacked their Director of Rugby and I immediately said that the Falcons should approach him to replace Rob Andrew.

Whether we did or not I don’t know. Perhaps he wasn’t interested. But if it wasn’t even considered, then it was a massive mistake as, following four titles and two Heineken Cups at Welford Road, that man went on to have success (and obviously just a tiny little bit of controversy) at Harlequins.

The man I am talking about will lead the Falcons next season.

Dean Richards.

Mark Smith broke the story in The Journal this morning, letting us know that Richards is ready to go, coming regardless of whether we stay up and unsurprisingly has stayed as close as possible to English rugby in anticipation of his return from a three-year ban.

I hear Uncle Semore signed Richards up a couple of weeks ago and I would be surprised if our new manager is not already watching videos of our training sessions, never mind matches, and he will be talking with Kurdi about who he wants to sign.

The fact that Richards cannot work with us until August may be a help for us, as he will be able to concentrate solely on next season as Gary Gold works to try to keep us in the Premiership.

If we are relegated however, that is no longer looking like a massive disaster, as long as we come straight back up of course.

Richards is a winner in every sense of the word, as he proved as a player and manager, and it is a shame that he was (rightly though) banned for his part in Bloodgate.

He will now be looking to prove what the game has been missing. I for one am absolutely chuffed that our Falcons will be the ones to benefit from that. What a statement of the club’s ambition in our new era!

The future’s bright, the future’s black!

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