Tuesday 1 January 2013 – 2.30pm
Castle Park, Doncaster
RFU Championship #13
2013 is the year we hope to see the Falcons get firmly on the comeback trail, and it starts with a right royal encounter at Castle Park against the Knights of Doncaster.
Hopefully the Falcons will do to Doncaster what King Arthur and Sir Mordred did to each other on TV just before Christmas, though by putting the ball over the tryline and through the posts rather than a sword through the gut. So actually, a win tomorrow would be nothing like the final episode of Merlin.
Especially since our own wizard, Jimmy Gopperth, remains on the injured list. But with Joel Hodgson in good form and winning the man of the match award against London Scottish last time out without his better-known Kiwi colleague providing a steadying hand, the fly-half position is not one we should have to worry about.
This game could not have been better scheduled for either team really, leaving more than a week free either side, although fans may not be too pleased about having to dust off the New Year’s Eve hangovers early, particularly those in the North East. For most of us, drinking will be curtailed tomorrow by going back to work on Wednesday. Since I’ve got man flu, I’ll probably be off it altogether.
Doncaster are currently embroiled in a relegation battle, on 13 points alongside Moseley, though their worse points difference means that it is the Knights who currently sit in bottom spot in the Championship. Jersey are one point ahead on 14, while London Scottish have 18.
The Yorkshiremen have only won two games this season in the league, perhaps unsurprisingly at home to Moseley in October and against Jersey at Castle Park at the end of November. They also drew with Cornish Pirates at home, meaning that in fact only Bristol and Bedford have actually left Doncaster with a win in the Championship in 2012/13.
Doncaster did lose to Melrose 29-30 in the cup however, while remarkably the Knights’ other home B&I Cup game against Llandovery this month ended in the exact same scoreline as the visitors left with a bonus point win.
While the Falcons have never visited Doncaster for a first team match before, we have obviously already met this season. Our first home game of the season back in September ended with the Falcons beating the Knights 37-3, though Jimmy Gopperth left it late to secure the bonus point with our fourth try following a penalty try and further scores from Jonny Golding and James Hudson.
Away fans will no doubt be pleased to see teenage starlet Zach Kibirige getting another run-out in the first team, his first away from Kingston Park, and Jonny Golding is back after several weeks out from injury, straight into the starting lineup. The also-fit-again Will Welch has to be content with a place on the bench and Rory Lawson takes over the captaincy despite James Hudson keeping his slot in the second row. Kibirige’s start means Luke Fielden moves to full-back and the early-season centre partnership of Alex Crockett and Tane Tu’ipulotu is back together.
Falcons: 15 Luke Fielden, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Tane Tu’ipulotu, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Rory Lawson (c), 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Carlo del Fava, 5 James Hudson, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Richard Mayhew, 8 Taiasina Tu’ifua.
Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 Scott Wilson, 18 James Goode, 19 Will Welch, 20 Warren Fury, 21 Waisea Luveniyali, 22 Jamie Helleur.
There is one name that will be very familiar to Falcons fans in Doncaster manager Clive Griffiths’ team – prop Kieran Brookes, on loan from Leicester as he continues his rehabilitation from long-term injury, will go up against his old colleagues who will no doubt be out to prove that though the shirt is greener at Welford Road (these days anyway), the grass is not always. Former Newcastle sevens flyer Tyson Lewis is on the left wing, and is joined in the back three by the man with one of the best names in rugby – Dante Mama.
Doncaster: 15 Dante Mama, 14 Dougie Flockhart, 13 Will Simpson, 12 James Tincknell, 11 Tyson Lewis, 10 Connor Braid, 9 Louis Silver, 1 Tom Davies, 2 Rhys Buckley, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Matt Challinor (c). 5 Dominic Parsons, 6 Sam Pailor, 7 Jethro Rawling, 8 Chris Planchant.
Replacements: 16 Will Hafu, 17 Brian McGovern, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Royce Cadman, 20 Andy Boyde, 21 Chris Hallam, 22 Jamie Lennard.
With Bedford and Nottingham not playing until Saturday, there is potential for us to increase our lead at the top of the table from the current 12 points to up to 17 at the start of what could be a fantastic year to be a Falcons fan. It all starts here.
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)