Season review 2011/12 – Part 2

 

Now when Semore Kurdi took full control of the Falcons, he had three choices:

1) allow things to continue as they were,

2) accept that relegation was likely, and look to rebuild in the Championship, or

3) make changes and try to retain our Premiership status, restoring some supporter pride in the club in the process.

 

Fortunately, he chose option three. In the wake of the Exeter game, Alan Tait was relieved of his duties and former London Irish manager Gary Gold was brought in as Director of Rugby until the end of the season, alongside Mike Ford as defence coach. They would later be joined by Leicester legend John Wells.

 

Tait’s assistant Paul Moriarty managed the side in final two European games, seeing a win over Padova and a defeat in Lyon, before the new era began with an LV= Cup hosting of Sale on 29th January.

 

For the first 15 minute, little looked like it had changed, our players kicking away possession badly and training 0-7. Just over an hour later, with a 37-7 win in the bag thanks to some inspired and exciting play, how different things looked!

 

A defeat at Leicester on a freezing, snowy afternoon eliminated us from the cup but few really cared – the real business of the Premiership run-in was about to begin!

 

It started at the Rec against Bath, ironically where Gold and Ford will coach next season.

 

Leading 8-14 at the break, things looked good but a yellow card for Jimmy Gopperth and a penalty try allowed Bath to pull away, however Gopperth atoned with a conversion of Will Chudley’s last-minute try to steal a bonus point.

 

We then moved on to Irish at home, a game we hadn’t won since April 2005. This time the Exiles were in the lead and a rush of blood to the head from Adriaan Fondse saw the lock red-carded for a slapping (or punching, depending on who you listen to) Delon Armitage.

 

Then came one of the moments of the season. On the halfway line, Ryan Shortland intercepted a pass from Irish and raced downfield (I can still see it now), and we were in the lead 16-10. The Falcons managed to see out the win, Gopperth adding a penalty to be sure, and four vital points were in the bank.

 

The fightback was on!

 

The Falcons returned to Welford Road to take on Leicester in a far more important game than that of three weeks earlier, but never recovered from an early yellow card for James Fitzpatrick. Julian Salvi scored a minute later and Leicester scored six tries in all in a 42-15 win, including two from Thomas Waldrom as the home forwards dominated the second half.

 

Jon Golding and Richard Mayhew got consolations for the Falcons but that is all they were.

 

More than 7,200 packed into KP on a Friday night in early March, buoyed by a £10-a-head offer, to witness a tense and occasionally violent meeting with champions-elect Harlequins. The game was dominated by the boot, Jimmy Gopperth and Nick Evans each scoring three penalties apiece in a 9-9 draw.

 

Evans broke Geordie hearts in the dying seconds when the referee gave a penalty at a scrum, allowing the former All Black to equalise.

 

But as those who were at KP that night or watched it on TV know, that was only half the story. Post-match Harlequins fans jammed the internet in anger at the perceived thuggery of our team, who had had Chris Pilgrim and Rob Vickers sent to the bin on different occasions.

 

Taiasina Tu’ifua was their main target, but much to the delight of Falcons fans, the big guy was found innocent following a citing.

 

After the break for the end of the Six Nations, the Falcons travelled to Worcester and never really got into the game. The Warriors turned the screw in the second half and all but sealed their own Premiership survival with a 19-9 victory.

 

Four games were now left: Sale at home, Gloucester away and Saracens at home before R-Day at Wasps.

 

That the Falcons even had a chance of staying up at this point is to the immense credit of those in charge.

 

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

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