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.
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