Friday 2 March 2012 – 7.45pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
Aviva Premiership #17
This weekend sees the end of the latest tranche of Premiership matches and a crucial 24 hours in the relegation battle as the Falcons host league leaders Harlequins tomorrow night ahead of Wasps’ home clash with London Irish on Saturday afternoon.
The gap at the bottom remained at six points last weekend, so a win for us would put some real pressure on Wasps.
That’s obviously quite an ask in a top v bottom game, but Quins haven’t won away from home since New Year’s Eve, a 9-11 victory at Exeter in the Premiership. Since then they have been downed at Northampton, Connacht and Cardiff in the league, Heineken and LV= respectively, ahead of last Saturday evening’s 29-23 loss to Gloucester at Kingsholm.
Ross Chisholm’s last-minute try secured a bonus point for Conor O’Shea’s side, which kept them six points ahead of Saracens at the summit of the table.
Quins last visited the North East a year ago amid a three-game winning run for the Falcons, who triumphed 33-18 thanks to tries by Luke Fielden, Micky Young and Alex Gray, overcoming an early try by Tom Williams created by a superb break from Ollie Lindsay-Hague.
The following Friday we beat the south Londoners at the Stoop in the LV= Cup semi-final, but in the grand scheme of things the Premiership victory was far more important.
Harlequins’ record in the North East shows no Premiership wins at KP for over five years:
24/02/1979 Cup R2 W9-3
02/10/1993 Division 1 L3-22
10/02/1996 Cup R5 L22-44
15/02/1998 Premiership 1 W43-15
11/05/1999 Premiership 1 W33-23
05/12/1999 Premiership 1 L15-16
06/03/2001 Premiership L22-24
16/09/2001 Premiership D6-6
01/02/2003 Premiership W32-17
04/01/2004 Premiership L25-29
19/09/2004 Premiership W22-21
10/11/2006 Premiership L3-14
02/12/2006 Cup W21-18
29/09/2007 Premiership W19-12
15/03/2009 Premiership W24-16
25/09/2009 Premiership D17-17
15/11/2009 Cup L8-19
04/03/2011 Premiership W33-18
One of those games in the 1950s is thought to be the first time an English rugby union club side flew to play a game.
Harlequins’ Chris Robshaw has captained England so far in the Six Nations, finally getting a run in the side after starring for his club for several years. Mike Brown and Jordan Turner-Hall have made appearances off the bench, though Joe Marler is still awaiting his first cap.
Uuuuuuuugo Monye will no doubt be hopeful of getting back into the England squad, though despite scoring tries in each of the first three Premiership games of the season he has not crossed the line for Quins since. Nick Easter surely faces an uphill battle to get back his white shirt at the age of 33 following the emergence of Robshaw and Ben Morgan.
Scrum-halves Danny Care and Karl Dickson have had contrasting fortunes in terms of the national side this season, Care missing the World Cup due to injury before a scandal around Christmas and omission from the Six Nations squad, while Dickson was temporarily called up after the win in Scotland as cover for brother and former Falcon Lee.
There is a brother of not one but two current Falcons in the Quins’ squad in the shape of prop Nic Mayhew, the third Premiership player in his family alongside our own Richard and Michael.
Former blacks Pete Browne and Rory Clegg have both impressed at the Stoop since moving south in 2010 and 2009 respectively, though both have seen their appearances restricted this season.
Clegg has one of the toughest tasks of any player in England to get a starting shirt due to the presence at Quins of All Black fly-half Nick Evans, a match-winner on his day who scored his 1,000th point for the club at Kingsholm in just his 92nd appearance.
Despite injury scares both Grant Shiells and Euan Murray are in the starting lineup, which shows two changes from the side beaten at Welford Road. Ally Hogg moves to number eight as Taiasina Tu’ifua replaces Mark Wilson, and Adriaan Fondse returns from suspension for Andrew van der Heijden. Adam Balding could make a second Falcons debut from the bench, while James Goode is also a replacement.
Rob Vickers plays his 100th game in a Falcons shirt and Alex Tait is the only loose back on the bench, interestingly. Hopefully the backs injury crisis isn’t returning.
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 Adriaan Fondse, 5 Tim Swinson, 6 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 7 Will Welch, 8 Ally Hogg.
Replacements: 16 Michael Mayhew, 17 Jonny Golding, 18 Ashley Wells, 19 James Goode, 20 Mark Wilson, 21 Adam Balding, 22 Will Chudley, 23 Alex Tait.
Conor O’Shea has Brown, Turner-Hall and Marler back from England for tomorrow night, though Robshaw is unavailable. Easter captains the team and Clegg and Browne are on the bench:
15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 George Lowe, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Ugo Monye. 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 1 Joe Marler, 2 Chris Brooker, 3 James Johnston, 4 Olly Kohn. 5 Tomas Vallejos, 6 Tom Guest, 7 Luke Wallace, 8 Nick Easter (c).
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Tim Fairbrother, 19 Pete Browne, 20 Will Skinner, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Matt Hoppe.
If you still don’t have a ticket for tomorrow night, don’t forget it’s only £10 for adults and a fiver for the little ones. Let’s fill the ground and help the boys to a crucial victory!
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)