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)