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)