Friday 30 November 2012, 8.00pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
RFU Championship #11
The regular Championship season reaches the halfway point this weekend, and tomorrow night the Falcons have the chance to ensure they end it with 11 wins out of 11 as Plymouth make the 340-odd mile journey to KP.
The Albion have been in this division for a few years now, having been promoted in 2002. They had quickly threatened to get into the Premiership promotion mix (ground criteria willing), finishing a lofty third in 2004 and 2005, before ending the last two seasons in the relegation play-off places.
However, the Devon side have performed better so far this season and had found themselves in the top four at one stage. They are currently sixth on 23 points, nine points behind fourth-placed Leeds, after five wins and five defeats over the first 10 games.
Plymouth have lost their last two games, going down 8-21 at home to Bristol on Saturday, when Redford Pennycook scored against the Falcons’ next opponents for the second successive game, following a 24-20 victory over London Scottish at Brickfields before the November break. Nottingham have also been victorious in Devonport this season, though the Albion beat Doncaster, Leeds and Rotherham in September.
Away from home, Plymouth lost at Jersey four weeks ago and were thumped 55-17 at Bedford, following a loss at Pirates in September, but have won at Moseley.
So basically, our visitors are generally performing better against more northerly clubs, at least at home.
Among Plymouth’s most prominent players are Paul Roberts, a former Bath fly-half, and hooker Jonathan Vickers who was once at Northampton and played for the Championship XV against New Zealand Maori the other week. Paul Bailey has played in the Premiership for Saracens and is looking to finish top of the Championship with the Albion.
An interesting bit of trivia about Plymouth the city is that, since Hull City were promoted to the Premier League in 2009, it may now be the biggest UK city that has never had a top flight football team, although Milton Keynes vies for the dubious title. Indeed, Plymouth Argyle FC have unfortunately seen hard financial times recently.
We have only met the Albion on three previous occasions, all in this league when it was called Courage League Division Two back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Plymouth won the two meetings at their former home Beacon Park, while Newcastle Gosforth as-was triumphed 54-21 against the relegated-to-be southwesterners at KP at the back end of March 1992. Peter Walton was among our try-scorers.
Andrew Higgins has been brought back into the team for his first league start since September, in the only change to the starting line-up from Jersey. Rory Lawson and Taiasina Tu’ifua are back from international duty and on the bench alongside Suka Hufanga, who will be looking to make his first league appearance of the season. Scott Wilson could also make a Falcons league debut.
Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Luke Fielden, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Andrew Higgins, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 James Hall, 4 Sean Tomes, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Chris York, 7 Mark Wilson, 8 Ally Hogg (c).
Replacements: 16 Michael Mayhew, 17 Scott Wilson, 18 James Goode, 19 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 20 Rory Lawson, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Suka Hufanga.
Don’t forget tomorrow night is fancy dress night at KP, and there is real ale to provide relief if the morph suit or mankini (please no!) aren’t warm enough. Hopefully a decent performance and big result will do the job too.
(Follow: The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)