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)