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)