Saturday 14th April 2012 – 3.00pm
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)