A good day for the Falcons, a bad day for rugby

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Looking around the internet and Twitter this afternoon, most Falcons fans seem happy that we will most likely be playing Premiership rugby next season, since London Welsh have not satisfied stadium criteria.

Many are philosophical – we deserved to be relegated but won’t turn down this reprieve.

Myself and wor lass were sitting in sunny Regents Park with a picnic when my brother texted me the news, so I was already in a good mood, but in the cold light of day I feel a bit flat.

Two possible reasons:

1) I gave up caring which division we play in next season a couple of days after the Wasps game.

2) This decision on London Welah goes against the competitive principles of sport that I consider sacred.

As my article about relegation a couple of months said, I believe relegation needs to stay.

And not with franchises and licences, but decided by performances on the pitch. We (or at least I) do not go to rugby to watch directors, administrators, or even managers. I certainly don’t go because I will be able to go to the toilet quickly at half-time.

I go to watch the players. If London Welsh (or Cornish Pirates for that matter) win the playoffs then for me they deserve to a crack at the Premiership. That a committee sitting around a table say they cannot have it does not sit easy with me.

I’m not going to go through all the arguments, but I believe that a team’s fate should be decided by its results on the pitch, not by meeting some arbitrary and hypocritical stadium rules.

The Rotherham case in 2002 was wrong and so is this. But since the rules are here to stay, hopefully Welsh, Pirates and others will meet them ASAP to stop this farce happening again.

Of course, if the Falcons do play in the Premiership come September then I will be there cheering them on as usual.

But I hope that next season’s rollercoaster of emotions turns out to mean something come a year’s time.

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

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A Tulip in the garden again

One of the Falcons’ worst-kept transfer secrets of the summer has been confirmed – Tane Tu’ipulotu will return to KP for 2012/13 after spending a year in Japan.

 

While the news has generally been welcomed by those fans who have so far commented on it online, not everyone is 100% happy.

 

In my opinion, Tulip started slowly with us after making his debut in November 2008, but at the back end of that season he formed a strong midfield partnership with Jamie Noon and Tom May, running some good lines and scoring in a home win over Leicester.

 

Over the following two seasons, he was perhaps not as prominent, though in the late months of 2010/11 the Tongan did make two massive contributions that will be remembered. Firstly, scoring the winning try in the LV= Cup semi-final at Harlequins with the last play of the match, and then dribbling through for Luke Fielden to score a late try against Bath at KP.

 

That try gave the Falcons the bonus point that ultimately kept us in the Premiership a year ago.

 

I think we have been missing a creative centre this season, so if Tulip can rediscover his best form, and rumours of an end to the injuries that plagued his final season in the North East prove correct and enduring, he should be a good addition.

 

 

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

Lawson roars north

The Falcons have announced a third international signing of the week, with the rumours of Rory Lawson coming from Gloucester proving true.

 

The scrum-half will join up with his fellow Scotland internationals Euan Murray, Ally Hogg and the also newly-signed Scott MacLeod next season. He has 30 caps for the national team, including taking the captaincy on several occasions such as against Georgia and Argentina in the World Cup last year, though he was overlooked in favour of Mike Blair and Chris Cusiter in the 2012 Six Nations.

 

Lawson played 10 Premiership games for the Cherry n Whites in 2011/12, and all told had 99 league appearances in his six years at Kingsholm. The one I most remember was at Kingston Park in January 2009, the game that saw Tom May moved to fly-half at half-time and began our six-game unbeaten run. Lawson scored a try but I most remember that he didn’t seem fond of putting the ball into the scrum, something I will obviously forgive when he is wearing the black shirt next season.

 

Interestingly, out of our starting XV in that game, only Rob Vickers is still at KP, unless Adam Balding stays, and there are rumours that Tane Tu’ipulotu may come back.

 

Off the pitch, Lawson has a big rugby pedigree, since his father Alan was also a Scotland scrum-half.

 

He is also the grandson of legendary commentator Bill McLaren, whose famous voice must be the earliest rugby memory for many of us.

 

Dean Richards’ squad for 2012/13 is coming along nicely.

 

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

Match reaction: London Wasps 10-14 Newcastle Falcons

Saturday 5 May 2012 – 2.00pm

Adams Park, High Wycombe

Aviva Premiership #22

The Falcons beat Wasps 10-14 yesterday, and we are now confirmed as finishing bottom of the Premiership.

Despite all the positivity in the build-up to the game, deep down most of us probably knew that the Falcons weren’t going to pull it off.

We just hoped that the team would make us proud.

And how they did. Strange as it may sound, yesterday was a great day to be a Falcons fan.

Back in January, when we lost with a whimper to Exeter at KP, who’d have thought we would take it to the last half hour of the season.

Wasps being 10-0 at half-time meant little really, as four tries would still have done the job. We just had half the time to get them.

I imagine Gary Gold’s team talk at the break was something like “OK it probably won’t happen now. Just go out, keep doing what you know, put on a show for those fans and enjoy yourselves.”

In the early stages of the second half we hordes of away fans standing behind the goal just enjoyed ourselves, singing what we wanted and looking forward to Jersey.

Fitzy’s try made things interesting – with 25 minutes left, another three tries were just about possible. We dared to believe.

Unfortunately Wasps’ defence was excellent and by the time Stringer got our second it was too late.

Perhaps finishing has let us down this year, and we have not been able to cope with Fielden’s injuries, but such thoughts are for another day.

As it is, we were by far the better team in Wycombe yesterday and almost completely dominated the second half.

500 of us Geordies put 9,500 Wasps to shame in the stands, we had a good time and we will have a good time next season in whatever league.

That we even made it this far is to the immense credit of Semore Kurdi, Gary Gold, John Wells and Mike Ford, as well as everyone else who has been revitalised since they came.

Since January the club has rediscovered its self-respect, and we fans have pride in our team again.

I for one have enjoyed my rugby in the past four months in a way I haven’t for a few years.

Whoever we play on the first day of next season, in whichever league, it is the start of a new era for Newcastle Falcons.

If Jimmy Gopperth and Dean Richards believe in our club so much to be with them in the Championship, then that’s good enough for me.

One city. One team. One love.

Newcastle Falcons

 

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

Match preview: London Wasps v Newcastle Falcons

Saturday 5 May 2012 – 2.00pm

Adams Park, High Wycombe

Aviva Premiership #22

So this is it, 21 games and 1,680 minutes of Premiership rugby this season comes down to one final match in Buckinghamshire tomorrow afternoon.

When the fixtures were published back in the summer, I imagine most fans looked at Wasps away on the final weekend and thought “That’s a tricky one if we need to win to stay up”. As it is, that is true, but it will be the Pests that drop into bottom spot if we manage to pull off the unlikely.

As you no doubt know, there are two ways we can finish the season in 11th spot:

1) Win by 24 points.

2) Score four tries, concede fewer and win by more than eight points.

It may seem impossible, but four coachloads of Falcons fans would not be making the long trip on Saturday morning if they didn’t believe.

Just to get a little whinge out of the way first, look at the Premiership table. Three teams are still in the hunt for top spot, and bottom spot is not decided. If we didn’t have title play-offs and promotion criteria from the Championship, this would be an incredibly exciting and tense weekend. As it is, it is tainted by the fact that neither of the title or relegation will be decided this weekend.

Right, rant over.

So how to approach the game? I’m writing before the team is named, so this may have less relevance come matchday. I think we just have to go for it. We are liable to give away kickable penalties, and Wasps have pace out wide, so building up a 24-point lead with mostly kicks will be difficult.

On the other hand, if we can dominate in the forwards the way we did on our only previous win at Adams Park, in January 2010, then they could set a platform for Stringer and Gopperth to feed our powerful backline.  We need to play the game in the Wasps half as much as possible, with the ball when we can but better they have the ball in their own 22 than we do in ours.

None of the stupid wasting of possession through poor kicking that made a nasty comeback against Saracens, especially when this time we need more points than we could possibly score in the last 15 minutes.

We need to rediscover the style of play that actually worked at Gloucester and in the second half against Sale.

The team also need as much support as we fans can give from the stands. Wasps are obviously going to have 95% of the crowd but we have the loudest away following in English rugby, this is the time to prove it. We did it at Bristol in 2009, we did it at Sale in 2010, we did it at Leeds last February. We need the same spirit again.

You have the whole summer to recover your voice!

If the Falcons are getting to avoid relegation themselves, this is the team that will do it. Gary Gold has picked an unchanged starting XV for the third successive match for his last game in charge, and Tim Swinson and Peter Stringer will wear a Falcons shirt for the final time:

15 Greg Goosen, 14 Corne Uys, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 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 Chris Pilgrim, 23 Tom Catterick.

The time for talking is almost over and I can’t wait for kick-off tomorrow. This is why I love watching the Falcons – the excitement and fear before a big game all jumbled up.

My prediction? No idea, but I just hope that the Falcons play the way that gives them the best chance to win, and at the end of the game we can be proud that the lads have had a good go.

Twitter shows that people have been changing their pants on a regular basis since Monday, and though I’m not quite at that stage, I leave you with my customary big game introduction:

80 minutes agonising, terrifying, gut-wrenching tension. Can’t wait!

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