Match preview: Doncaster Knights v Newcastle Falcons

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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)

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 12-9 London Scottish

SAMSUNG

Sunday 23 December 2012 – 3.15pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

RFU Championship #12

The Falcons failed to give a crowd of over 5,000 at Kingston Park a pre-Christmas cracker today, labouring to a three-point win over London Scottish and almost shooting themselves in the foot.

12 wins out of 12 league games, 16 out of 16 in all competitions and friendly wins over Edinburgh and Tonga should have sent us into the New Year on a high but many home fans left KP dissatisfied this afternoon. We should have given the players a rousing post-match cheer to end 2012, but the atmosphere was flat.

The game plan appeared to be to ignore the massive wind that looked likely to snap at least one of the goalposts in front of the North Stand and give most penalties to Joel Hodgson to kick over. Joel’s boot erred on a number of occasions in the Chicago-like conditions, at did that of the Scottish kicker, but still we persevered.

I can only remember one real chance for us to score a try, a huge scrum that rumbled towards the line but inches out Taiasina Tu’ifua picked up the ball and was tackled.

Scottish defended well, give them credit but they also offered little in terms of try-scoring chances.

I have no doubt that we could have had a lot more points had we played a more intelligent game plan. We might have been undone when late Scottish were awarded a penalty around our 22 with the Falcons’ lead at just three points, but after conversing with his touch judge the referee brought the play back into the middle of the pitch.

I kept switching between thinking the Falcons were showing Scottish too much respect (something I think they have been guilty of in other home Championship games) and thinking we were being complacent, carrying on with a struggling strategy and assuming we were in no danger of ever losing.

Like the Worcester and Saracens games last season, we got a relatively big crowd today but disappointed them.

Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong. Maybe today we had the right plan after all and had we ran more and pressured Scottish’s line more, we would have lost. The mood among fans I spoke to post-match and on the internet suggests otherwise though.

Not everything was bad though. Young Joel had a very good game I thought, and was a deserved man of the match. Ryan Shortland looked one of our more dangerous player, and penalty decisions aside (if indeed he was making them, as it was mentioned that he was looking at the bench), James Hudson was good.

The PA seems to be working better too. Oh, and 15 minutes after the final whistle the hot water was still on in the South Stand!

This style of play doesn’t really fit in with the “entertaining rugby” promise in the Falcons’ new values and vision strategy, as outlined in the programme today. I feel this is a positive step however, outlining the culture that the management want to implement and drive professionalism and a responsible, winning attitude. It is something we have not always had in the past I feel.

Anyway, Merry Christmas rugby fans of all colours, thanks for reading and see you Falcons lot at Doncaster on New Year’s Day! In the end, I’ll personally put today down as a one-off and say that we’ll sort everything out and win promotion next year.

Right, off to Newcastle’s favourite falconry-named pub for a post-match tipple.

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v London Scottish

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Sunday 23 December 2012 – 3.15pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

RFU Championship #12

The back 11 of the Championship gets underway on Sunday as the Falcons welcome the team with the most geographically-confusing name in the division, to beginners anyway I imagine.

Festive cheer appears to have been in short supply at London Scottish recently, with off-field troubles and a defeat at Llanelli in the British & Irish Cup last weekend. That game marked a seventh straight away defeat of the season for exiles, who have lost several players over the past month after deciding to turn professional.

They are also facing a potential three-point deduction in the Championship, which would see them drop from 17 points to 14, within touching distance of bottom-placed Jersey on ten.

England Sevens legend Simon Amor is Scottish’s director of rugby and last month celebrated a year in the post, but had to cope with the loss of forwards and defence coach Alex Codling less than a week into the season.

Since then, on their travels Scottish have been beaten heavily at Bedford, Nottingham and Bristol in the league, though they gained losing bonus points at Jersey and Plymouth and also only lost out by four points to compatriots Gala in the cup. In Richmond, besides giving the Falcons a second-half scare in September while gaining a try bonus point, Scottish have beaten Rotherham, Doncaster, Cornish Pirates and Moseley, with Leeds matching ourselves in winning in south west London.

Following a run of 11 consecutive appearances, 23-cap Scottish international Phil Godman, the man who once shifted Jonny Wilkinson into the centres while at KP, missed the defeat in Wales last week.

Another link to the Falcons was Mungo Strachan, a young forward who came off the bench late on for Scottish at the Athletic Ground back in September, but who has since left the club. Strachan, usually a hooker but who played in the back row too in our reserve side a couple of years ago, was released when the exiles started full-time training.

We (or Gosforth, if you prefer) first met London Scottish in February 1982, just a few months before I was born. That was a fourth round national cup match at North Road that Gosforth won 26-19, quite a high-scoring game for the time.

London Scottish in Newcastle:

27/02/1982 Cup R4                       W26-19

08/01/1983 Club Match                W9-6

26/11/1988 Division 2                   W16-14

13/10/1990 Division 2                   L12-13

01/04/1995 Division 2                   L10-18

13/04/1996 Division 2                   W45-11

26/04/1997 Division 2                   W71-20

31/03/1999 Premiership 1           W43-20

Our last meeting at this level was supposed to be the final match of the season, but due to postponements, the Falcons still had two games left. However the 71-20 win at KP sealed an automatic promotion spot so the party for Rob Andrew’s star-studded side could begin.

The try-scorers that day for the Falcons were Va’aiga Tuigamala (2), Gary Armstrong (2), Tim Stimpson, John Bentley, Graham Childs, Rob Andrew, George Graham and Steve O’Neill, while Stimpson and and Andrew kicked three and five conversions respectively in front of a crowd of just over 2,500.

After a 93-0 walloping of Newport on Sunday, and playing against a team up against it both on and off the pitch at the moment, the Falcons have a chance to make a real statement this Sunday in front of what should be a good festive crowd, with an afternoon kick-off and many people having Christmas Eve off.

It would be great if they could give us supporters an early birthday present, win over some of the doubters among the fan base and start to bring people back through the gates.

‘Wor’ Suka Hufanga makes a first league appearance of the season this Sunday in the centre alongside Jamie Helleur, while Jimmy Gopperth is not in the team for only the second time in 2012/13 due to an ankle injury. Ally Hogg is also injured meaning a start for Mark Wilson, but Carlo del Fava is back in the second row. Joel Hodgson continues at fly-half.

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Luke Fielden, 13 Suka Hufanga, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Grant Shiells, 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 Scott MacLeod, 19 Chris York, 20 Warren Fury, 21 Waisea Luveniyali, 22 Alex Crockett.

Scottish, ready for a bonny Hogmanay in 10 days’ time no doubt, field an all-former-Falcon half-back partnership in Godman and Ross Samson. Replacement Lewis Calder has also spent time at KP and is the son of former Scottish international Jim Calder, as well as the nephew of former Lions captain Finlay.

15 Jim Thompson, 14, James Love, 13 Oli Grove, 12 Andy Reay, 11 Dave McCall, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Ross Samson, 1 Mark Irish, 2 Adam Kwasnicki, 3 Colin Quigley, 4 Paul Spivey, 5 Tyler Hotson, 6 Ben Russell, 7 Chevvy Pennycook, 8 Mark Bright (c).

Replacements: 16 Billy Moss, 17 Harry Allen, 18 Alex Mackenzie, 19 Josh Thomas Brown, 20 Lewis Calder, 21 Jamie Stevenson, 22 PJ Gidlow.

Make sure you brush up on the Blaydon Races for Sunday in case Geordie Santa turns up. Or at least, Fairytale of New York. We can take advantage of the proximity to Christmas and the fact the world did not end this morning and have a reet canny time as the Falcons look to make it 12 from 12 in the Championship.

(Follow The South Stand Choir: @SouthStandChoir)

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 93-0 Newport RFC

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Sunday 16 December 2012 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

British & Irish Cup Pool 4 #4

 

So like most people I was expecting the Falcons to win yesterday, but from the scoreline it looks like we quite crushed Newport. 15 tries is a good return and a clean sheet, rare for any side, is always welcome.

 

I had intended to go to this game last weekend, until it was swapped around with the match down in Wales for some reason, so with BBC not bothering to broadcast commentary I and other missings were stuck with Twitter.

 

But I missed the first 25-odd minutes of that as about 2.30pm yesterday my brother texted asking me to proof the text on his new business website. I’m half-hoping that will do as an engagement present and I won’t have to follow up his exciting news on Saturday with a nice bottle of champagne.

 

So there was a nice surprise to see that we already had five tries after just over a quarter of the match. The half-time score was 57-0, more than we have scored in 80 minutes in any game this season, and 93 is tantalising close to the century. Probably not as frustrating as the 97-0 against El Salvador the other year.

 

Still it wasn’t too bad for Newport, as we have a £4m budget, as a tweeter from down there pointed out at half-time. In that person’s view anything under 150 would probably be a success. Fortunately Dean Richards will not take that attitude next season against the big clubs.

 

Interestingly, looking at Facebook during the second half one fan expressed hope that the Falcons would play better in the second half – seems a bit strange, nine tries and 57 points scored while conceding none is not a bad effort and even if not everything came off, you can’t argue with that kind of scoreline. I don’t think so anyway.

 

Another reviewer has said that the first half was better than the second! I suppose it depends on your viewpoint and how you assess a good performance.

 

Still, a lot of people seem happy with such a big scoreline. The backs seem to have played quite well too, indeed they scored seven of the 15 tries, which can’t be bad considering how they have often misfired this season.

 

It is interesting to see Dean Richards saying that the two teams should not have been on the same pitch, and maybe there is some truth in that. Taking that alongside claims that people don’t care about this cup (although a crowd of 3,900+ is not bad) it leads to the possible conclusion that, like the Challenge Cup, this tournament probably only exists to give the teams in it more games to raise revenue. At least in the format it does.

 

I guess the B&I Cup and Anglo-Welsh Cup both exist for those reasons, but maybe also to prevent huge mismatches from having top teams batter lower-league ones. Clearly in the case of this tournament it isn’t always working.

 

It probably serves another purpose though in giving teams like ourselves some lower-standard games to try out players and moves, as the Falcons have done this season. James Hall mentioned on Twitter yesterday that Joel Hodgson deliberately kicked a penalty into touch around the 22 to allow the backs to have a run, and this is the kind of thing you can do with a 40 or 50-point lead, something that even in the Championship we haven’t had too often. The sides selected for the two pool games remaining will be interesting.

 

Finally of course, it is a cup and it is there to be won. We are now in the quarter-finals and it will be interesting to find out from Smithy what kind of weird way the knock-out draw is done.

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir: @SouthStandChoir)

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Newport RFC

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Sunday 16 December 2012 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

British & Irish Cup Pool 4 #4

 

The return leg of this year’s cup double-header is upon us as the Falcons look to seal qualification for the quarter-finals of the British & Irish Cup, which a win by more than seven points or with a try bonus point would do.

 

Our opponents are, obviously, Newport whom we defeated in south Wales last Saturday despite what most witnesses describe as a poor performance. The return game against semi-professional opposition at KP allows the Falcons the chance to put on a show in front of the Geordie crowd and perhaps put a couple of hundred onto the gate for next weekend’s pre-Christmas league showdown with London Scottish.

 

Since we met the Gwent side just last week and we don’t have a great deal of history with them, this preview will be a bit of a shorty. Back in the pre-region days of Welsh rugby however, Newport RFC were our first-ever opponents in the Heineken Cup. On a Saturday evening in September, the TV cameras showed the clash at KP and more than 5,000 turned out to see the Falcons join Europe’s rugby elite.

 

However, it was the Welshmen who took home the points with a 21-34 victory, all of our points coming from the boot of Jonny Wilkinson. Matt Mostyn, Jon Pritchard and Peter Buxton all scored tries for the visitors and Shane Howarth, one of several internationals in the Black and Amber team, kicked five penalties and two conversions.

 

Rob Andrew’s team that day was: Dave Walder, Liam Botham (Michael Stephenson), Jamie Noon, Tom May, Va’aiga Tuigamala, Jonny Wilkinson, Gary Armstrong (Hall Charlton), Micky Ward, Christian Balshen, James Isaacson (Yellow card) (Ian Peel), Hugh Vyvyan (Doddie Weir), Stuart Grimes, Epi Taione (Jon Dunbar), Rob Devonshire (Ian Peel temp), Pat Lam (c).

 

Some of my favourite Falcons players are in that team, people like Walder, Noon, May, Vyvyan, Grimes, and of course the Wor Micky. On the back of a cup final win at Twickenham seven months earlier, it was an exciting time to be a Falcons fan. As long as you didn’t go to away matches but I’ve mentioned that too often recently.

 

So after the third round of matches, the Falcons top Pool 4 in the B&I Cup on 15 points, ahead of Newport on eight, while Cross Keys are on their compatriots’ heals on five following last week’s home win over Connacht Eagles, who prop up the group with just two points. Even if we were to only be 10 points ahead of Newport come Sunday night, our points difference, currently 94 compared to their -8 and improved after the game, would pretty much see us through.

 

With unrest setting in among greedy supporters however, there is every incentive for the Falcons to go out and do their best to give Newport a whacking on Sunday.

 

Apart from winning at Cross Keys on matchday two in this competition, our opponents have not been consistent on their travels this season, winning three away matches in the Welsh Premiership (at Aberavon, Carmarthen Quins and Neath) while losing four (to Cardiff, Llandovery, Bridgend and Bedwas).

 

In front of the home crowd at KP, against a fully-professional Falcons team, it is difficult to see anything but a home win. Mind, stranger things have happened and after last week Dean Richards will know that our team cannot afford to be complacent.

 

 

James Hudson makes a welcome return to the starting lineup after injury, as does Ryan Shortland, while Tane Tu’ipulotu and Oliver Tomaszczyk are back in with Rob Vickers starting at hooker. Ally Hogg captains from the back row.

 

Falcons: 15 Jimmy Gopperth, 14 Luke Fielden, 13 Tane Tu’ipulotu, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Sean Tomes, 5 James Hudson, 6 Ally Hogg (c), 7 Richard Mayhew, 8 Taiasina Tu’ifua.

 

Replacements: 16 Michael Mayhew, 17 Scott Wilson, 18 Scott MacLeod, 19 Chris York, 20 Warren Fury, 21 James Fitzpatrick, 22 Suka Hufanga.

 

 

Newport have made a lot of changes for their trip to England.

 

Newport: Elliot Frewen, Owen Broad, Will Richards, Dominic Franchi, Will Hodnett, Scott Sneddon, Andrew Quick, David Pattison, Ryan Prosser, Gethin Robinson (c), Dafydd Rosser, Rhodri Jones, Brendan Lampitt, Oliver Griffiths, Craig Everett.

 

Replacements: Dale Rogers, Jamie Jeune, Andrew Brown, Lance Randall, Daniel Robinson, Geraint O’Driscoll, Rhys Downes.

 

 

Forecast is for a dank and wet day, so running rugby may once again not be the order of the day and indeed our team looks in many ways set up for a physical battle, but there is still no reason why we should not be celebrating a win of some sort and a quarter-final place by Sunday night.

 

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

Match reaction: Newport RFC 10-26 Newcastle Falcons

Saturday 8 December 2012 – 2.30pm

Rodney Parade, Newport

British & Irish Cup Pool 4 #3

“Technology has brought us closer to the people far away from us, but distanced us from those close to us.” I can’t remember where I heard that quote but I think there is some truth in it.

Indeed, sitting on a train right now I can see two young people who got on together but are each looking silently at their own laptop screen.

Social media would appear to be the major driver of this trend. Still, it has its uses. For example, myself and wor lass have spent this weekend visiting her family in deepest rural Cumbria but even though phone signals and internet are as scarce there as news about semi-pro rugby, I could still see the Falcons’ score.

Just. Hiking through the hills on Saturday afternoon I remembered about the game not long after 4pm and after a few minutes of trying, finally got a faint signal on me phone. A few minutes later Twitter updated and Rob Vickers had just confirmed the full-time result.

Another bonus point win, very good. Not so good was Smithy’s opinion that this was our worst performance of the season.

Reading through the reports online now, tearing through the countryside on the way back to London, the Falcons appear to have struggled to play the referee after half-time and Dean Richards has quite rightly been critical of that.

It is something we have long struggled with compared to the bigger teams in the Premiership but it’s essential in a sport where interpretation is so important in refereeing.

Still, apparently playing badly but getting a four-try victory and not being in real danger means the winning habit is continuing so there are obvious positives.

It’s good to see James Hudson back on the pitch too after a while out with injury. I really like Huddo, very good player and someone who has that look that commands respect.

Joel Hodgson also seems to have had a good game. This weekend’s return game with Newport may be the time to give Jimmy Gopperth a rest and give Joel the main playmaking and kicking responsibilities.

Off the pitch, Mr Vickers’ tweets showed photos of sunshine, which I didn’t know was legal in Newport but would have been good for the crowd. I got a text today from someone who was at the game and said it was more like football than rugby – not sure what that means but I’ll be interested to find out.

I haven’t looked at the B&I Cup tables yet but we must be seven points clear of Newport now, and with two of our three remaining group games being at home you’d think that should mean a quarter-final place is there for the taking.

I don’t know if the draw would be seeded but I would expect so since rugby seems to love a nice seeding, so a home QF may be a more than realistic target too.

Onwards and upwards!

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

Match preview: Newport RFC v Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 8 December 2012 – 2.30pm

Rodney Parade, Newport

British & Irish Cup Pool 4 #3

 

The swivel between different competitions is no different in the Championship than in the Premiership, well apart from the fact there are only two competitions. While the elite do battle in the Heineken Cup this weekend and the next tier of teams meet in the Challenge Cup, the Falcons are also back in cross-border action in Newport.

 

This game has been moved at least three times that I can see – initially from next weekend (we were originally due to meet Newport at KP on Sunday), then from Sunday, then from 6pm tomorrow night and if those intending to go are lucky it will be played tomorrow afternoon at 2.30pm.

 

I don’t have a lot of personal experience of Newport. Having spent many summers in south-west Wales as a youngster I know its Welsh name from road signs – Casnewydd. I stopped off once there on a long train journey from Swansea to Newcastle when I was 17 and was immediately confronted by a particularly large beggar (probably lucky I’m not little myself), then the second time was when we played Newport Gwent Dragons in the Heineken in 2004. It hoyed down the whole day but we won of course (more on that later).

 

My brother has done a couple of jobs in Newport down the years and describes it as “the Liverpool of Wales”. Make of that what you will.

 

Still, there are obviously parts of Newcastle that aren’t very nice, the back of the Rose & Crown on Newgate Street for one.

 

This will of course not be the Falcons’ first visit to Rodney Parade, nor would a win there be our first, following that glorious but very, very wet game against the Dragons back in October 2004. I can remember like yesterday Mike McCarthy charging down a home kick and scoring with the loose ball right in front of us screaming away fans like it was yesterday.

 

Seconds later, I turned to my left and saw another Geordie shouting at me. We hugged and jumped up, crushing my then-girlfriend who was still sat down. She never liked rugby anyway and that’s why I’ll not apologise to those who have heard that story many times before.

 

Other than that try, Dave Walder played one of his best games in a Newcastle shirt, adding the other five points in the absence of Jonny Wilkinson and controlling play brilliantly. Our starting hooker that day? The unlikely figure of James Isaacson.

 

It was a bit better than our one previous visit to Newport, that being to play the Newport club in the Heineken in January 2002. We were already out of the competition after four defeats in our first five pool games against the Welshmen, Leinster and Toulouse, though who could forget that epic 42-9 win over the French team at KP?

 

Having hosted Leinster at Headingley on the Tuesday following two controversial postponements at the weekend, we travelled to Newport for a Friday night game and played a scratch team that got hammered. Speaking of hookers in Wales, I might be right in saying that game in 2002 was Matt Thompson’s Falcons debut.

 

Our record in Wales does not read well, with just three wins from 11 visits. Alongside the legendary 2004 mud-fest, were victories in Europe over Dunvant and Cross Keys, also in our B&I Cup pool, over a decade ago. More on the Cross Keys visit next month.

 

 

Falcons in Wales:

15/04/1968 Llanelli RFC                Club Match               L9-20

19/09/1998 Swansea RFC             Friendly                       L14-26

08/05/1999 Cardiff RFC                Friendly                       L20-70

11/12/1999 Dunvant                     European Shield           W45-26

21/01/2001 Cross Keys                 European Shield          W25-11

11/01/2002 Newport RFC             Heineken Cup              L17-53

29/08/2003 Llanelli Scarlets         Friendly                      L33-45

23/10/2004 Newport G Dragons  Heineken Cup            W10-6

09/10/2005 Llanelli Scarlets         Powergen Cup           L20-22

03/10/2008 Newport G Dragons  EDF Energy Cup       L14-25

31/01/2010 Cardiff Blues              LV= Cup                         L24-45

 

 

It would however be quite an upset were Newport to win tomorrow, their club now being semi-pro in the Premiership as the Dragons carry the professional baton for Gwent in the Robot League, though Newport RFC do co-own the regional team with the WRU. As you read our hosts sit eighth in the Welsh Premiership following last Friday’s 30-9 defeat at leaders Bedwas.

 

That did however follow a five-match winning run that saw Newport beat Connacht Eagles 18-14 at home and their east Wales neighbours Cross Keys 24-20 away in this cup, putting them a solid second behind ourselves on eight points (the Falcons have ten).

 

Those wins were followed by two home league victories over Pontypridd and Swansea and a defeat of Neath at The Gnoll, before the Black and Ambers’ last scheduled home game against Aberavon (for some reason that name and no other always brings back memories for me of the days when rugby scores were read out on Grandstand on a Saturday).

 
The Falcons have made several changes to the team for this return to cup action, with Suka Hufanga and Michael Mayhew getting rare starts and James Goode making a first start of his second spell with us. Jamie Helleur captains in the centre, and the returning Rory Lawson partners Joel Hodgson behind the scrum as Jimmy Gopperth moves to full-back. Young Scott Wilson is given another senior game after playing in our first match in this competition against Cross Keys. James Hudson returns from injury on the bench and Waisea Luveniyali may get a run-out.

 

Falcons: 15 Jimmy Gopperth, 14 Luke Fielden, 13 Suka Hufanga, 12 Jamie Helleur (c), 11 Andy Higgins, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Michael Mayhew, 3 Scott Wilson, 4 Sean Tomes, 5 James Goode, 6 Chris York, 7 Richard Mayhew, 8 Taiasina Tu’ifua,

 

Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 18 James Hudson, 19 Mark Wilson, 20 Warren Fury, 21 Waisea Luveniyali, 22 James Fitzpatrick.

 

 

Newport team: 15 J Leadbeater, 14 Elliot Frewen, 13 Geraint O’Driscoll, 12 Adam Davies, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 S Sneddon, 9 Rhys Downes, 1 David Pattison, 2 Ryan Prosser, 3 Dan Mathews, 4 Dafydd Rosser, 5 Adam Frampton, 6 Brendan Lampitt, 7 Craig Attwell (c), 8 Craig Everett.

 

Replacements : 16 Andrew Brown, 17 Jamie Jeune, 18 Lance Randall, 19 Ollie Griffiths, 20 Dominic Franchi, 21 Tom Hancock, 22 Andrew Quick.

 

 

There is no real reason why we can’t get a third cup bonus-point win of the season tomorrow, so those few away fans heading to south Wales should have a good day out. Hope the rain keeps off for you.

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