Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Plymouth Albion

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)

Match reaction: Jersey 3-24 Newcastle Falcons

image

Saturday 24 November 2012 – 3.00pm

St Peter, Jersey

RFU Championship #10

It’s now a perfect 10 out of 10 for the Falcons at the top of the Championship, with eight bonus points, but we were certainly made to work for this latest victory.

Under-strength Jersey put in a committed and spirited performance, particularly in the first half, but in the end the Falcons’ greater quality told and we came away with the five points.

For a while that looked far from certain though. Jersey’s had us on the racks in tight play in the first half and the Falcons struggled for quality ball. How the first try came was not surprising, a cutting run by Jimmy Gopperth through the defence at close range.

Jersey had chances to add to their three points that initially had the hosts in the lead, including a monster 70-metre penalty attempt that had one travelling fan offering to buy everyone in the stand a drink if it was scored. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it dropped short.

Maybe a plane was taking off as Barry Davies stepped up.

The Falcons stabilised after half-time and dominated territory, running in three more tries by Ryan Shortland, James Hall and centurion Alex Tait. The last try was controversial as there looked to be a forward pass from Gopperth to Alex Crockett, and some thought Chip dropped the ball as he grounded it, but the officials thought otherwise.

With another five points in the bag, and a 13-point lead over Bedford now at the top of the table, things look rosy on paper however performances remain enigmatic.

I suppose we just have to trust that Richards and co know what they are doing and will have the team ready for the Premiership if indeed we make it back there in May. They’ve done little wrong so far this season.

I have always had the view that you win games first then the performances will come, anyway.

Off the pitch it’s been quite a weekend so far. The nibbles and beer at the ground on Friday night was very good, giving us a chance to check it out and sample Liberation Ale, which is not a bad tipple at all.

The main bar in the clubhouse is quite something with probably well over 100 plaques from visiting teams, old and greying team photos, wooden boards naming presidents and captains. Outside was a cabinet with trophies and various articles the club has picked up over the years.

The home crowd were also very friendly and passionate, contributing to a great atmosphere during and after the game yesterday. It’s a great place to watch rugby is St Peter.

St Helier is also a pretty little town with some good pubs, including one that bought in a load of Brown Ale for the occasion. Had a couple last night but fortunately not too many as wor lass and I are intending to do a 10-mile hike round the east of the island today.

I just about feel fit enough to do it. Hopefully those fans who finished off Friday night with two rounds of brandy sours at 1am will not be too rough after last night!

Perhaps some players will be worse for wear after a night on the town, but then they are on tour and we could hardly have had a better start to the season.

Hopefully when Jersey come to the North East later in the season they will have as good a time as most of us have here.

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

Match preview: Jersey v Newcastle Falcons

Saturday 24 November 2012 – 3.00pm

St Peter, Jersey

RFU Championship #10

 

I’ve been to Jersey before, when I was just a few months old. I got ill, and the doctor refused to tell my parents I had German measles because we wouldn’t have been allowed on the boat but they were strongly advised to get me home.

 

30 years later, I hope to actually stay for the whole planned time this weekend, not least since I’ve been looking forward to this game since, well, before Wasps in May, when we away fans sang about the island in the English channel with a population of just under 100,000.

 

Jersey has been in the news recently with allegations that HSBC holds accounts of tax evaders there. I had a look at our hosts’ squad the other week and recognised only one name, former Leicester fly-half Ross Broadfoot. Amazingly, he works for HSBC on Jersey according to Google, though a global markets associate is probably not involved in anything dodgy. I don’t know if any of their players are involved in Jersey’s vulture fund legal culture, which politicians have voted to ban.

 

 

The Islanders are currently higher than they have ever been in the leagues, following several successive promotions into the Championship. The club appears to have been founded in 1879, two years after ourselves, or at least that is when their website says rugby was first played on the island. They have been at St Peter since the early 1960s and built their current clubhouse in 1994, around the time that Jersey joined the Hampshire league, and the already-lengthy travelling that came with that.

 

If you thought Falcons fans travel a long way, at least we don’t have to go overseas for every away game. Even their local rivals Guernsey, who Jersey play in the annual Siam Cup, are on a different island, obviously.

 

Working their way up through the leagues, Jersey were promoted from National League Three in 2009/10, League Two in 2010/11, and then National One in the summer.

 

As such, it is no surprise that our two clubs have never met before, despite Jersey’s popularity as a destination for touring teams down the years.

 

 

After losing a home friendly in August to Leicester by a in-no-way disgraceful scoreline of 21-34, Jersey had a difficult start to the league season and lost their first six league games. Defeats at St Peter to Cornish Pirates, Moseley and Bedford were complemented by reverses at Leeds, Rotherham and Nottingham on the mainland. However, a 20-20 home draw with Pontypridd in the British & Irish (& Jersey apparently) Cup set our hosts up for a four-game unbeaten run.

 

Also in the cup, Leeds were beaten at York RUFC before Jersey won against London Scottish 20-17 and Plymouth Albion 16-14 on the island. 11 days ago however the run without a loss ended with a 39-16 beating at Bristol. The Falcons will be hoping to follow the example set by the south-westerners and former black Redford Pennycook, who was among the home try-scorers at the Memorial Stadium.

 

Oops, I hope Peter Herbert didn’t read that last sentence, or I can expect to be reported to the Metropolitan Police.

 

Jersey did suffer in Bristol however with a rare red card – for Ashley Maggs for a tip-tackle – and two sin-binnings, those offenders Dave Felton and Guy Thompson. Richard Barrington was Jersey’s try-scorer late-on, Donovan Sanders converting, adding to three Mike Le Bourgeois.

 

 

On another personal note, this will be my first overseas game since Montauban in December 2006, when I almost missed the 6.30am plane from Gatwick to Toulouse. If I hadn’t already checked in online, I would have. Fortunately myself, wor lass and Scottish Chris are booked a more sensibly-timed flight, so plenty of time for a Falcons beer train out of Liverpool Street in the morning.

 

Don’t forget the club (Jersey that is) are hosting a jiggy tomorrow night at the ground, with free “nibbles” and all the beer you can drink, though I’d imagine we have to pay for that. It’ll be interesting to see whether this Liberation Ale lives up to its reputation.

 

This is the kind of weekend we support a team for. With less than an hour left to go in the office for the week, I really, really, cannot wait to get over there tomorrow!

 

 

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 29-9 Nottingham

Friday 9 November 2012 – 8.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

RFU Championship #9

I go to far more Falcons matches that I don’t go to, at least the first team, so it was a bit weird listening to the game on BBC Newcastle. Once the commentary finally began working online about 10 minutes in, as suddenly Big Smithy’s unmistakeable accent filled my living room. Not the kitchen though, the tumble dryer was still on.

So finally I could go and make me toast. I don’t like eating when, well, not stressed, but when something isn’t working.

It must have been about 10 minutes in, and after 20 minutes Nottingham kicked a penalty. I wondered if this was the first time we’ve been losing at home this season, but alas we weren’t losing – Twitter showed a 7-3 lead, but no tweet about the actual try. I was surprised neither Smithy nor Mark Laycock beside him mentioned the score for so long.

I see from the offy that Richard Mayhew was the scorer.

Discipline didn’t sound too good in the first half, even if the commentators were not quite in agreement with the referee at every decision. They were pretty shocked that it took six scrum penalties to give us a penalty try later in the game, and Laycock made a good point when saying that five minutes of potential rugby time had been wasted.

This is a major reason why the scrum has to be sorted out, it is very frustrating to watch and I bet the players out there, especially the backs on a cold night, don’t enjoy constant resets either.

That said, it appears Oliver Tomaszczyk had a particularly strong game up front. Indeed his opposite Matt Parr was sin-binned in the final 10 minutes.

That led to the penalty try and then a man up the Falcons got the bonus point through the returning Luke Fielden.

So, it sounded like a solid night’s work, at least in the second half when the Falcons turned the screw a bit after a sluggish first 40. I think the problem we have playing for 80 minutes needs to be sorted ahead of the play-offs, where nerves and psychology can come into play and where mistakes may be far more costly, and a potential return to the Premiership, where they are far more likely to be punished.

I’m not expecting us to win the league next season if we go up, or perhaps even qualify for the Heineken at the first attempt, but you’d hope we’d be well clear of relegation by March or April. That is what we also have to be working towards, as well as the obvious goal of promotion.

Bedford grabbed a tight win at Doncaster last night to re-take second place but we are now 12 points ahead of the Blues, squeaking an extra point on them and increasing our lead at the top from eight as Nottingham drop to third. Next up in the league is Jersey two weeks from today, and I really cannot wait for that one.

Obviously on Tuesday there is the friendly at home to Tonga also, which for those going should be quite a night, not just watching an international side in action but also seeing them perform the Sipi Tau war dance pre-match. I’ve always been a fan of the Haka, and their Samoan and Tongan equivalents.

Anyway, back to the radio, I listen to a lot of football on 5 Live (I blame my occasional anger management issues on growing up to the sound of Alan Green) and TalkSport, and those guys talk a lot. But in rugby, when the ball is in play there is always something happening and it is only when you’ve been up in the commentary box, as I have on several occasions in the fanzone with Smithy and previously Kevin too, that you realise how hard a job it is to talk that quickly, watch what is going on, and also think about the next issue to bring up.

It’s giving me a sore throat just to think about it.

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Nottingham

Friday 9 November 2012 – 8.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

RFU Championship #9

 

I completely forgot about Patrick Stewart being in Robin Hood Men in Tights – one of the subtly funniest actors around. But as William Shatner said, don’t leave the bridge of the Enterprise. One day you’re in an #epic fight with the Borg, the next you’re advertising MoneySupermarket.

 

Anyway, there were a few interesting results in the Championship last weekend, but probably the most eyebrow-raising came on Sunday when Nottingham destroyed Bristol 63-7, moving the archers (there’s one on the badge anyway) into second place in the table.

 

Hence, for the second successive week, the Falcons are involved in a top-of-the-table match with Nottingham coming north tomorrow night.

 

Nottingham have 30 points so far, eight fewer than ourselves and three more than Bedford, who now sit in third. One would imagine they would go for promotion too, considering they play at Notts County’s Meadow Lane ground, which I’m looking forward to visiting in March.

 

Like Bedford last week, we will see a former Falcon tomorrow night as Brent Wilson skippers the visitors. Brent was a very popular player during five years at KP for his drive and energy, and is currently captain of the green and whites. He scored two of his side’s nine tries against Bristol on Sunday.

 

Wilson is not the only player in Martin Haag’s squad with Premiership experience, with props Michael Holford and Matt Parr both having spent time with Leicester, while the latter is also an ex-Saracen. Winger Rhys Crane has played for Bath at the top level, while Nic Rouse spent a year at Sale as well as a short spell at London Irish before his second spell at Nottingham began last year.

 

All of Nottingham’s nine tries against Bristol were converted by Japanese international James Arlidge, who incredibly enough was born in New Zealand. He was one of his adopted country’s top players in his homeland’s World Cup last year.

 

Brothers and three-quarters Jack and Joe Cobden came through the Tigers academy.

 

Nottingham’s glory days came in the 1980s when Brian Moore became their only British Lion, while among their other internationals was former Falcons manager Rob Andrew.

 

Our club (or Gosforth, if you prefer), has a history with the outlaws stretching back to the 1950s, although as with many of our opponents this season, we haven’t met Nottingham since the late 1990s.

 

In the Falcons’ last season at this level, 1996/97, we beat Nottingham twice with an aggregate score of 127-46, including a 53-17 victory at KP on a Sunday (a rarity back then) in March. One Steve Bates scored a hat-trick after coming on as a replacement, while Garath Archer got two tries and Martin Shaw, Dean Ryan and Gary Armstrong also crossed. Rob Andrew’s boot got the rest of the points, 24 hours after he had sat on the bench for England at Twickenham in a Six Nations match.

 

The Falcons team that day was: Tim Stimpson, Martin Shaw (Andy Blyth), Graham Childs, Va’aiga Tuigamala, Tony Underwood (Steve Bates), Rob Andrew, Gary Armstrong, Matt Long, Ross Nesdale, Paul Van-Zandvliet, Garath Archer, Doddie Weir, Pat Lam, Richard Arnold, Dean Ryan.

 

Nottingham in Newcastle:

07/11/1959 Club Match                            W16-9

04/11/1961 Club Match                            W24-3

09/11/1963 Club Match                            L12-15

18/12/1971 Club Match                            W21-6

16/12/1972 Club Match                            W21-9

20/12/1975 Club Match                            W9-3

17/12/1977 Club Match                            W22-6

15/12/1979 Club Match                            W12-11

20/12/1980 Club Match                            L8-18

18/12/1982 Club Match                            D16-16

15/12/1984 Club Match                            W21-7

03/10/1987 Club Match                            W9-6

17/02/1990 Club Match                            L3-16

01/02/1992 Club Match                            W27-9

10/10/1992 Division 2                               W28-6

15/10/1994 Division 2                               W27-6

16/09/1995 Division 2                               W31-24

16/03/1997 Division 2                               W53-17

 

 

Luke Fielden returns from injury tomorrow night on the right wing and Jamie Helleur gets a start in the centres as Alex Crockett drops out. The returning James Goode is on the bench with fellow Welshman Warren Fury, who could make a first league appearance for the Falcons.

 

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Luke Fielden, 13 Tane Tu’ipulotu, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Sean Tomes, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Richard Mayhew, 8 Ally Hogg (c).

 

Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 James Hall, 18 James Goode, 19 Chris York, 20 Warren Fury, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Alex Crockett.

 

 

Nottingham hand a first league start to Tom Calladine in the back row, alongside Brent Wilson, after the former had come off the bench in every game so far this season. The other star man Arlidge is in the number 10 shirt.

 

Nottingham: 15 Andrew Savage, 14 David Jackson, 13 Joe Cobden, 12 Joe Munro, 11 Rhys Crane, 10 James Arlidge, 9 Sean Romans, 1 Matt Parr, 2 Joe Duffey, 3 Michael Holford, 4 Dan Montagu, 5 Nic Rouse, 6 Tom Calladine, 7 Brent Wilson (c), 8 Alex Shaw.

 

Replacements: 16 Shaun Malton, 17 Matt Shields, 18 Joe Quinn, 19 Rupert Cooper, 20 Finlay Barnham, 21 Rory Lynn, 22 Tim Streather.

 

 

Another win will do nicely and restore our lead at the top of the Championship to double figures, though Nottingham will no doubt be more confident of upsetting the odds than most visitors to KP this season.

 

Also, don’t forget your programme so you can get a free pint at the Tonga game on Tuesday.

 

 

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

Match reaction: Bedford Blues 20-29 Newcastle Falcons

Saturday 3 November 2012 – 3.00pm

Goldington Road, Bedford

RFU Championship #8

 

With an 11-point lead after more than a third of the season, the Falcons should be well on the way to top spot in the Championship now after a win away to Bedford, the team that look most likely to challenge us for the league title.

 

The Blues were by far the best team to take on the Falcons this season, as the result suggests, and on another day could well have won the game had Jimmy Gopperth’s boot not been on target for most of the second half. However, after what should be our hardest game of the regular season, we have 38 points out of 40 and have won a perfect 10 of our first 10 games under Dean Richards.

 

Bedford showed themselves to be a very good attacking team and deserved their two tries, they have quite a set of backs, certainly in a different class to what Rotherham brought to KP last week. They should do well in the league this season and it would be no surprise were we to meet them in the play-off final come May.

 

I certainly wouldn’t mind another trip to Goldington Road, which like Scottish and Moseley’s grounds is a proper rugby setting with a nice history-filled bar and a friendly crowd, though with a louder crowd than the previous two I mentioned. Bedford is a nice town too and the Three Cups was a lovely pub for a pre-match beer and some banter.

 

The Cricketers looked absolutely rammed at about 2.15pm though, as expected, but it looked a canny boozer so that’s probably why.

 

On the pitch, the slope did seem to have an impact on the play with a lot more time spent on the lower side, indeed both of the Falcons’ tries came in the trough in front of the main stand. There doesn’t seem to be much of a slope between the ends however, even if all tries were scored at the far end from the clubhouse.

 

The slope certainly adds to the character of the ground though.

 

The Falcons’ forwards were on top for most of the game I thought, Richard Mayhew in particular performing strongly along with Jonny Golding. The backs are continuing to struggle – Tane Tu’ipulotu and Tom Catterick were lively but the others among the back five weren’t too hot. I’m not really sure what Alex Crockett is bringing to the team, but Jamie Helleur had a couple of good runs when he came on later.

 

6-20 up at half-time, one might have expected the Falcons to press on and get more points in the second period but Bedford were the better team after the interval and it was only the Falcons’ hearty defence that restricted the hosts to two tries. A couple more penalties and a rare drop-goal from Gopperth kept us in the lead and left the Blues without a bonus point. Joel Hodgson, a lively replacement later on, almost got a third try but could not ground the ball.

 

I would imagine most Falcons fans really enjoyed yesterday’s game, not least since it was closer and more competitive than a lot of games we have had so far. It will have been good to keep the team on their toes too, ahead of what could be another top-of-the-table clash this Friday against Nottingham, should the Midlanders beat Bristol today.

 

 

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

Match preview: Bedford Blues v Newcastle Falcons

Saturday 3 November 2012 – 3.00pm

Goldington Road, Bedford

RFU Championship #8

 

The Big One, or at least one of them, is upon us. The Falcons visit Bedford tomorrow in a top-of-the-table clash that could see us extend our lead at the summit of the Championship to up to 12 points, or have it reduced to as small as two.

 

So far the Blues look to be our main challengers in the regular season, though who knows what could happen in the play-offs. This clash would have been between the only two unbeaten teams but Bedford lost their first game of the season at Bristol on Sunday, losing 23-13 to Bristol at the Memorial Stadium. Presumably the south-westerners have their nine players back now.

 

Former Falcon Luke Eves was the home side’s hero with two tries, the second score denying Les Bleus a bonus point.

 

So far this season Moseley, London Scottish, Nottingham, Plymouth and Stirling (in the B&I Cup) along with Cardiff in a pre-season friendly have been beaten at Goldington Road, with only Saracens winning their in another August warm-up game. Of those tasting defeat, only Nottingham went home without conceding under 50 points. The currently-nomadic Fez Boyz will play a home game in Bedford a week tonight incidentally, against Leicester in the LV= Cup.

 

However, despite Bedford’s lofty status in the division they have only won once away from home in the league, in Jersey, while they drew with Rotherham in September along with the aforementioned loss at Bristol.

 

This will be our first meeting with Bedford since 2000, when both teams were last in the same division. Back them Bedford were relegated from the Premiership but their only victory of the season was against the Falcons at Goldington Road, and they lost the twice-postponed KP clash by a slight margin of 23-20.

 

They were also one of only two sides, the other being Coventry, who beat us in our last season in this division back in 1996/97. Following financial problems in the late 1990s, Coventry looked to buy out Bedford and take the latter’s place in the Premiership, causing the first of the postponements of our home game with the Blues in 1999/2000.

 

 

Falcons in MK40 (Bedford is in the Milton Keynes postal area):

14/10/1967 Club Match                            L11-14

29/11/1969 Club Match                            L0-3

31/10/1970 Club Match                            L3-9

30/10/1971 Club Match                            L12-34

08/03/1975 Cup QF                                   L6-12

23/01/1982 Cup R3                                   W14-3

23/04/1983 Club Match                            W24-15

14/04/1984 Club Match                            L12-15

07/12/1985 Club Match                            W13-3

05/12/1987 Division 2                               W25-16

17/03/1990 Club Match                            4-8 (Abandoned)

11/04/1992 Division 2                               L4-9

09/03/1996 Division 2                               W24-6

05/04/1997 Division 2                               L28-34

24/10/1999 Premiership 1                       W29-22

21/03/1999 C&G Cup SF                            D27-27 (Bedford won on tries)

08/04/2000 Premiership 1                       L22-32

 

Rob Andrew, no stranger to brushes with authority in his former life as a club DoR, was not happy with that semi-final in 1999, having not read the rules that said tries scored came into consideration at the end of normal time, not extra time.

 

 

There is a recent Falcons connection in the Bedford squad in the shape of prop Darren Fearn, who moved south this summer after two seasons on Tyneside. Luke Fielden, now an established member of the Newcastle team, spent time with Bedford before returning to KP in 2010, and Will Chudley, now of Exeter but a Falcon last season, also came from Goldington Road.

 

Other names we might know from former Welsh international Mike Rayer’s squad are Don Barrell, a former Saracens flanker, and Ollie Dodge. Dodge graduated from the academy at Leicester, where his legendary father Paul made over 400 appearances while winning 32 England caps.

 

George Kruis, Will Fraser, Jackson Wray and new England call-up Mako Vunipola are all dual-registered from Saracens, as is winger James Short, among others. Captain James Pritchard has top flight experience with Northampton and Perpignan as well as almost a half-century of Canada caps, and is now in his second spell in Bedfordshire. Paul Tupai has also spent time with Northampton.

 

Obscure fact – according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, to “go for a Mike Rayer” means to “go on an all-dayer”.

 

 

Carlo del Fava’s injury means Sean Tomes comes into the starting line-up tomorrow, and Ryan Shortland makes his first start since pulling a hamstring in September and Mark Wilson is in for the crocked Will Welch, meaning Ally Hogg wears the metaphorical armband. Still no sign of James Hudson, and with no recognised second-rower on the bench, we can only assume he is injured, unless that has been confirmed and I’ve missed it.

 

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Ryan Shortland, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Tane Tu’ipulotu, 11 Tom Catterick, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Sean Tomes, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Richard Mayhew, 8 Ally Hogg (c).

 

Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 James Hall, 18 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 19 Chris York, 20 Jordi Pasqualin, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Jamie Helleur.

 

 

Fearn lines up for the Blues tomorrow, in his first match against his former Geordie employers.

 

Bedford: 15 James Prictchard (c), 14 Ben Ransom, 13 Brendan Burke, 12 Henry Staff, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jake Sharp, 9 Luke Baldwin, 1 Darren Fearn, 2 Neil Cochrane, 3 Phil Boulton, 4 Paul Tupai, 5 Mike Howard, 6 Gregor Gillanders, 7 Sacha Harding, 8 Don Barrell.

 

Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling, 17 Ricky Reeves, 18 Dan Seal, 19 Alex Rae, 20 Darren Fox, 21 Ali Price, 22 Mark Atkinson.

 

 

Having been losing semi-finalists in the play-offs in each of the past three seasons, Bedford will be looking to go at least one better this season, and will no doubt be keen to take the Falcons’ scalp. Tomorrow should be a cracker and I for one can’t wait.

 

 

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