Season review 2011/12 – Part 3

So the Falcons had four games left to save their Premiership status, beginning with Sale at home on Friday 30th March.


The gap was eight points going into the game and we found ourselves 12-19 down at half-time following a pathetic showing, Rob Miller among the Sharks’ try-scorers.


However in the second half the Falcons, with Irish legend Peter Stringer making a home debut, turned things around and Sale didn’t seem to know what hit them. With 53 minutes gone Tim Swinson was driven over in front of a roaring South Stand, possibly the loudest we were all season, and Jimmy Gopperth’s conversion levelled the scores.


That was how it stayed until four minutes left, when Gopperth sent a penalty high into the night and gave the Falcons a priceless win.


Unfortunately two days later Wasps’ 26-24 win over Gloucester, a topsy-turvey match that showed the Pests were also not going to lie down, restored the eight-point gap.


Then in mid-April came a Saturday afternoon that no Falcons fan who was at Kingsholm will likely forget for many, many years. We had not won away to Gloucester since 1998, but now had no choice if we were to have a chance of getting off bottom.


With a couple of minutes to go until half-time, Jimmy Gopperth’s four penalties to two from Freddie Burns had us 6-12 ahead and the Shed were restless. They were becoming hostile when the score at the break was extended to 9-19 by a try from Ally Hogg.


Away fans were taking photos of the scoreboard as if we couldn’t believe it would last, and maybe that is how we felt. Indeed, three Burns penalties and a try by Akapusi Qera gave Gloucester a 20-19 lead with 10 minutes left.


Oh well, we had played well, and maybe a losing bonus point wouldn’t be useless.


However, within a couple of minutes Gopperth had restored our lead with the boot and with five minutes to go Mark Wilson was the only player to react to a lineout and ran in unopposed for a try that some celebrated wildly, while others just looked to the heavens in almost disbelieving joy. I was among the latter.


Many a beer was sunk by Geordie rugby fans that night I can tell you, particularly since two hours later Harlequins defeated Wasps 33-17.


An admittedly unlikely bonus point victory over champions Saracens would take us off bottom!


The build-up to the Saracens match was marred by controversy over the Falcons’ new kit, with its large red stripe, and the removal of ‘Newcastle’ from the logo on the shirt.


Come the Friday night game, the Sky cameras were treated to a dour first 60 minutes as neither the Falcons nor Sarries realised the other was there for the taking. By the time the Falcons decided to start playing in the style that had beaten Sale and Gloucester we were 3-9 down and though we dominated the last 20 minutes, no scoe came.


There was a feeling of frustration and despondency around the South Stand, and the following afternoon Wasps piled on the misery by taking a losing bonus point at Bath through Nicky Robinson’s late penalty.


We now had to get a bonus point win at Adams Park while winning by more than seven points, or win by 24 clear points.


500 Geordies amassed among the sell-out crowd in High Wycombe on 5th May and outsang 10,000 home fans throughout the game, even turning on some black humour when we were 10-0 down: “Que sera sera, we’re going to Jersey”.


Christian Wade’s try and five points from Nicky Robinson seemed to have done for us, despite the Falcons domination.


However, finally James Fitzpatrick got the breakthrough and Gopperth converted. We dared to dream.


The Falcons got close again but it wasn’t until 76 minutes when Peter Stringer, on his final appearance for the Falcons, put us ahead for the first time.


We won the battle 10-14, but Wasps won the war between us in the Premiership table by one point.


Post-match you would have been forgiven for thinking we had actually stayed up, as we cheered the Falcons off the pitch while the home fans slipped away to the exits.


After all, the players had given their all, not just at Adams Park but over the past few months too. We were proud of them.
We now look forward to 2012/13, in whichever division. Incredibly, 47 days since that ‘decider’ at Wasps, our fate is still not decided.


The Richards Revolution approaches and wherever it starts, I expect it’s going to be one hell of a ride!


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


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