Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 3-9 Saracens

Friday 20th April 2012 – 7.45pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #21

Anger and frustration were probably the biggest emotions I felt at full-time last night, after watching the Falcons inexplicably squander a huge opportunity to go level on points with Wasps at the bottom.

As it is, since we got only a losing bonus point from Saracens at KP, the Pests have the chance to secure their Premiership status with a game to spare if they win at Bath this afternoon. Three months of hard work will have been wasted because of 60 minutes of absolute stupidity last night.

Last week we pulled off our first win at Gloucester since 1998, playing ball in hand and taking the home side on up front. So you would be forgiven for expecting us to play a similar way last night, since it is proven that we can win with that style of play.

But no. For the first hour the Falcons were content to waste possession by kicking aimlessly to Saracens and letting them dictate the play. Not that Saracens were much better, and if ESPN were regretting not putting our last home game v Sale on live, neutral viewers won’t have been happy with much of the fare last night.

That is the most frustrating thing – for defending champions going for a second successive title, Saracens were poor. In the first half they looked content to frustrate us, nick a win if they could, but mostly try to avoid serious injuries. The Falcons were too stupid to realise they were there for the taking. I said as much at half-time, when the atmosphere seemed thick with frustration rather than the excitement that should have been all around.

Then around the hour, I can only assume that James Hudson told the players to switch styles, as that is the only way I can explain it. We kept the ball in hand, pounded into Saracens and something happened that no doubt surprised everyone within the club but not on the terraces.

We actually started playing better! For much of the last 15 minutes the Falcons battered the Saracens line and a couple of times were only inches away from a try that would have set us up for a conversion to win the game. Unfortunately it was not enough, we ran out of time.

If the Falcons had played like they did in the last 20 minutes for the first 60 too, I’ve no doubt we would have won and won well. That we didn’t gives Wasps the opportunity to (Bristol permitting) relegating us this afternoon.

Lets not have any talk of the referee – JP Doyle and his assistants were poor, missing a late shoulder-charge to the leg on Peter Stringer for one – but in the last 20 minutes we gave away very little and he did card Justin Melck for what many believe was a fairly innocuous offence.

The Falcons have only themselves to blame for the rubbish they served up to just over 8,000 people last night. Many will probably be glad they didn’t pay full price.

So, we now have to hope the Bathplugs do us a favour at the Rec this afternoon and allow us to go to Adams Park still with a chance of overtaking Wasps.

But it didn’t have to be that way.

A word on the new shirts – the replica ones don’t look too bad, mainly because they seem to have less red on. However, the Falcons just don’t look right out on the pitch in that kit, at least not to me. Maybe I’ll get used to it. Maybe we’ll see a lot more tries next season if we do end up going down. If we do it’ll be our own fault.

Rant over.

(Follow The South Stand Choir: @SouthStandChoir)

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Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Saracens

Friday 20th April 2012, 7.45pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #21

 

 

Well, this is it. The last home game of the season, against the champions. Newcastle Falcons are five games unbeaten at home, and last week won away to Gloucester for the first time in 14 years. We now have two games left to save our Premiership status.

 

A massive game, the champions in town and a huge crowd is promised. Basically, if you aren’t excited about this one then perhaps being a fan of a sports team isn’t for you.

 

A 10,000 crowd is a possibility with tickets reduced to £10, and if it happens this would be our first five-figure crowd for quite a while (Northampton in April 2007 springs to mind).

 

Saracens are going for a second successive title but their hopes have taken a little blow last week as they have dropped to third behind Leicester and leaders Harlequins, who triumphed over the Fez Boyz at Wembley three weeks ago.

 

While we were winning at Gloucester though, Sarries were beating London Irish in Reading.

 

We need the points far more than our visitors though.

 

No big boring preview this week, we just need to know that the Falcons need to throw everything they have at Saracens as a defeat gives Wasps the opportunity to condemn us to bottom spot when they visit Bath on Saturday.

 

A win though, and a defeat for Wasps, brings us either level or at least within a point of the Pests.

 

If you have any voice left after Sale and Gloucester, get it onto to form for tomorrow night! As Fitzy says in The Journal today, we can make a real difference.

 

This is the team we have for tomorrow night, an unchanged starting line-up from Gloucester:

 

15 Greg Goosen, 14 Corne Uys, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Peter Stringer, 1 Jon Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Euan Murray, 4 James Hudson, 5 Tim Swinson, 6 Ally Hogg, 7 Will Welch, 8 Adam Balding.

Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 Grant Shiells, 18 James Hall, 19 James Goode, 20 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 21 Mark Wilson, 22 Chris Pilgrim, 23 Tom Catterick.

 

 

It’s getting close to do or die time. This is it. What an exciting time to be a Falcons fan.

 

Come on!!

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir: @SouthStandChoir)

Match reaction: Gloucester Rugby 20-29 Newcastle Falcons

Saturday 14 April 2012 – 3.00pm

Kingsholm, Gloucester

Aviva Premiership #20

 

Wow! What an incredible game that was yesterday. Whatever happens now, nobody can say the Falcons have not had a bloody good go at remaining in the Premiership.

 

This isn’t going to be a very technical piece, because I am still nursing a heck of a hangover and because it was a day of pure emotion. The Falcons won at Kingsholm for the first time over 14 years and that, coupled with Wasps’ defeat at Harlequins, means that we could well be off the bottom of the table come 10pm on Friday!

 

We should be so proud of our lads. They stood up to Gloucester, completely outfought the home forwards and restricted the much-lauded Cherry and White backs to sideways passing most of the time.

 

Even when in the second half Gloucester went a point ahead, the only time in the game they led, the Falcons kept their heads, kept doing what was working and got their reward.

 

It was a day for hugs, dancing and singing until our necks snapped for the visiting fans. What a racket we made in the middle of the Shed, and those seated behind the east goal were no calmer.

 

Incredibly, one point when I didn’t jump up and down was when Mark Wilson scored our second try. The lineout appeared overthrown so it was head-in-hands time, and then Wilson caught the ball and raced through unchallenged, probably to his own surprise as much as anybody else’s.

 

It was one of those moments when you just have to hug the person nearest to you and thank the Lord that you are a Falcons fan, for them giving us moments like this!

 

After the game the players will not have been in any doubt what the win meant to us supporters. Especially Euan Murray and Jamie Helleur, who have probably not been hugged by that many men for quite a while! The players looked elated too, which is always brilliant to see.

 

Wow. I can’t believe I’ve just written all of that, just did it on automatic.

 

It is now time to really get behind the team on Friday night. Nobody can say that in 2012, even if the results have not always gone our way, the Falcons have not put the effort in. Now we need one final home win to set us up for the game at Wasps, which could prove momentous.

 

For now though, I’m knackered again after writing that. Off for an afternoon kip.

 

See you Friday!!

 

 

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

Match preview: Gloucester Rugby v Newcastle Falcons

Saturday 14th April 2012 – 3.00pm

Kingsholm, Gloucester

Aviva Premiership #20

Come 7pm tomorrow evening, the Falcons could be condemned to bottom spot in this season’s Premiership, should we fail to win at Kingsholm and Wasps pull off an upset against Harlequins at the Stoop.

 

The gap is currently eight points with three games to go, and we are going to have to beat either Gloucester tomorrow or Saracens at KP a week tonight, or perhaps both, while hoping the Pests are beaten at both Harlequins and Bath to set up a final-day shootout at Adams Park.

 

The challenge is stark – Saracens are obviously going for a second successive championship, while Castle Grim is one of the hardest places in English rugby to win, and we have not been victorious there since April 1998. Even then it required a wonder try by Peter Walton and a trip by Paul Van-Zandvliet on the storming Mark Mapletoft to secure a vital two points in our quest for the title.

 

Falcons in GL1:

25/02/1978 Cup R2                       L10-19

15/01/1994 Division 1                   L9-15

11/04/1998 Premiership 1           W29-27

17/10/1998 Premiership 1           L32-41

11/09/1999 Premiership 1           L16-31

23/12/2000 Premiership               L13-28

29/12/2001 Premiership               L25-29

18/05/2002 Playoffs QF                 L9-60

12/04/2003 Premiership               L23-25

07/02/2004 Premiership               L12-36

25/09/2004 Premiership               L17-31

08/05/2005 Wildcard SF               L16-23

05/11/2005 Premiership               L20-27

24/03/2007 Premiership               L18-24

27/10/2007 Cup                             D18-18

23/02/2008 Premiership               L20-28

01/10/2008 Premiership               L23-39

05/12/2009 Premiership               L13-25

02/04/2011 Premiership               L9-34

 

There have been some close calls in among those – in April 2003 we were 0-20 up at one stage and only a last-gasp Thinus Delport try and Ludovic Mercier conversion denied the bottom-placed Falcons a win away to the league leaders.

 

In our 2007 cup clash Tom May failing to capitalise on a loose ball and another 80th-minute score from Gloucester stopped our second win at Kingsholm, and later that season May attempted a drop-goal to seal a win but the hosts broke and we did not even get a losing bonus point.

 

Gloucester go into Saturday’s game in sixth place, ten points behind fifth-placed Exeter who they are unlikely to catch but still in a battle with Sale and Bath, two and four points behind the Cherry and Whites respectively, for the final Heineken Cup spot.

 

Bryan Redpath has brought in a perhaps-unlikely reinforcement for the rest of the season in the form of former Falcons winger Ollie Phillips from Stade Francais, though he has only played once so far.

 

Gloucester have their fair share of flying youngsters in the backs though with Henry Trinder, Charlie Sharples, Jonny May and fly-half Freddie Burns. The latter could well battle with Leicester’s George Ford and Owen Farrell of Saracens for the England no. 10 shirt for the next few World Cups.

 

I thought he might no longer play alongside club-mate Mike Tindall in the national side, but it seems that Zara Phillips’ husband has not actually retired. I’m not sure why I thought he had.

 

Another Falcons connection is Australian-born prop Rupert Harden, who failed to make the grade at Kingston Park but began last year’s LV= Cup Final against us and has been in Gloucester’s starting XV 22 times this season. He recently made his 51st appearance for the club in the tight defeat at Wasps on April Fool’s Day, a result that left both Gloucester fans and ourselves gutted.

 

The Tractor Boys’ loss at Wasps was their third successive defeat, following a hammering at Leicester and a one-point home beating by Exeter in late March. In front of 15,000 people at Kingsholm a last-gasp try by Aly Muldowney, given by a trial TMO and converted by Gareth Steenson gave the Chiefs victory.

 

Jeremy Manning will miss the rest of our relegation battle after suffering an injury in Portugal last week, but James Hudson starts for the first time in 2012 alongside Tim Swinson in the second row. Interestingly, the offy has Jimmy Gopperth named as captain rather than Hudson, not a choice I’d have made but there we are.

 

 

Manning’s fortune allows our third foreigner, Ryan Shortland, back into the team. Adam Balding starts for the first time in his second spell with the Falcons:

 

Falcons: 15 Greg Goosen, 14 Corne Uys, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth (c), 9 Peter Stringer, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Euan Murray, 4 James Hudson, 5 Tim Swinson, 6 Ally Hogg, 7 Will Welch, 8 Adam Balding.

 

Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 Grant Shiells, 18 James Hall, 19 James Goode, 20 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 21 Mark Wilson, 22 Will Chudley, 23 Tom Catterick.

 

 

So it’s getting to do-or-die time for the Falcons. Bristol may not win the Championship, Wasps may get points docked, or the Premiership might give us an extra 20 points for winning the Most Passionate Fans competition. I wouldn’t bet on any of those happening though.

 

The travelling fans really need to get behind the boys tomorrow, the team need to silence the Shed and with any luck things will look up at 4.45pm.

 

And Wasps won’t pull off the upset of the season by winning at Quins!

 

 

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

Anyone but Bristol!

Hedging my bets with a blue pirate!

 

Back in early December I found myself recalling that episode of The Simpsons when Lisa says “It’s no use kidding myself, I’m having an ethical crisis”. That had a vague rugby connection, but I won’t bore you with the details.

 

I have though found myself thinking this again recently as it seems ever more unlikely that our Falcons will avoid relegation from the Premiership on their own.

 

Now I have always said that if we finish bottom then we deserve to go down, and I still believe that. However, I like to be honest, and I must shamefully say that I find myself agreeing with the growing band of Falcons fans saying that we should support Cornish Pirates, Bedford or whoever Bristol play in the Championship final (or semi-finals indeed), as Leeds and Nottingham struggle in the playoffs.

 

I didn’t feel this way last season, even when at half-time in the final match it seemed we were destined for the second tier. Even a few months ago I wanted us to go down if we finished bottom, even as I desperately wanted us to finish 11th.

 

The irony is that back then it seemed possible that the Falcons might cease to exist if we went down, even as I thought about how great trips to Penzance and Esher would be. Yet now that the club seems more stable off the pitch, I want us to stay up by any means, fair or foul (well, wrong if not illegal).

 

Perhaps I was unconsciously just sick of watching the team lose. Relegation promised wins, perhaps an opportunity for a complete revamp.

 

But now we have had changes, Semore Kurdi has proven his commitment and Dean Richards is on his way. So we can hopefully look forward to better things if we stay up.

 

Relegation would hopefully only set us back one year, providing we come straight back up and I hear that the playoffs will be less of a problem by virtue of them involving only the top four rather than the top eight.

 

Maybe I’m afraid that we might not come back up straight away, and who knows what might happen once the parachute payment runs out. Hopefully I’m just excited about what we might do in the Premiership next year with Richards in charge, and I don’t want to wait until 2013/14!

 

Who knows, but it just feels wrong that at present I don’t want Bristol to win the Championship.

 

We could avoid all this by winning our last three games and overtaking Wasps though!

 

 

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