Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 50-3 Cornish Pirates

Pirates of Penzance

Saturday 23 February 2013 – 7.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

RFU Championship #16


There seems to be quite a good feeling around following last night’s win over Cornish Pirates. Coaches, players not involved, and fans helped to clear the pitch of snow to prevent a second postponement of this match and they were rewarded with a 50-point victory.


Of course, this means that the Falcons have secured a play-off place for the end of the season and eight tries against the team in fifth is a good return. It seems a shame that there was such a low crowd for the Falcons’ return to form, just 2,208 getting to KP.


Fans writing in the internet seem to have been impressed with what was apparently “The best game of the season so far”, with some good performances around the pitch. Michael Tait in particular seems to have grasped the opportunity of a couple of starts with both hands and it would be nice if he could finally get a run in the team after spending so much time injured.


The commentary on BBC Radio Newcastle was quite upbeat too compared to the last game I listened to, which was Nottingham in November as the Falcons just started to struggle sometimes. John Pearson, who if I’m not wrong used to frequent KP in tight shorts, was interesting to listen to as he provided insight into the murky world of officialdom.


If the backs are finally coming into form then we should have a few more games to saviour before the end of the season as the pitches improve and hopefully Luke Fielden returns from injury to join what seems to be the makings of a settled backline. It’s particularly pleasing to see Tom Catterick in form after his strong start to the season was curtailed by injury.


It’s back on the road again this weekend for Rotherham away. Now that the job of securing a play-off position is complete, we can hopefully kick on with some good attacking rugby and put some more teams to the sword, arriving into the play-offs in prime form.



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


Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Cornish Pirates


Saturday 23 February 2013 – 7.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

RFU Championship #16

The Falcons could secure a play-off spot with six matches to spare in the Championship tomorrow night with a win over Cornish Pirates in a game rearranged following the recent Geordie snow.

We need just two points to be out of reach for sixth-placed Leeds who have 41 points, while two points more than the Pirates get at KP will put us out of reach of the West Country side who are fifth with the same amount of points as the Cardigans.

Championship top six:

Newcastle P15 Pts70

Bedford P16 Pts55

Nottingham P15 Pts49

Bristol P15 Pts42

Pirates P15 Pts41

Leeds P16 Pts41

It should be an interesting evening, although perhaps not as interesting as it would be if the BBC’s fixture list that has us playing the Pirates at 7pm and Moseley at 8pm tomorrow night were accurate. The first game at Penzance earlier in the season saw the Falcons denied a try bonus point for the first time in the Championship on an extremely wet day.

We still won that game 3-25 however, with tries from Rob Vickers, Taiasina Tu’ifua and Tom Catterick.

The Pirates had a difficult start to the season and won just three of their first eight league matches following on from two successive play-off final defeats to Worcester in 2011 and London Welsh last year, but have pulled things together and look set to challenge again.

Their away form has been patchy with defeats at Bristol, London Scottish, Bedford and draws at Doncaster and Moseley, and a win at local rivals Plymouth on Boxing Day provided a first away success in the Championship since Jersey on the opening weekend back in September.

In the British & Irish Cup, the Cornishmen lost their final pool game at Carmarthen Quins last month but five other wins against the Welsh side, their compatriots Swansea, and Dundee High saw then safely through the the quarter-finals in advance.

The last two weekends have seen matches at Mennaye Field on the south coast, and though Doncaster were dispatched 31-18 on the same day we won at Leeds, a resurgent London Scottish left Cornwall with a 17-20 victory on Sunday, Phil Godman’s Exiles completely a league double over the Pirates, for whom Canadian international Matt Evans scored two tries.

A World Cup full-back for the Canadians and a former Newport Gwent Dragon, Evans now has ten tries for the season from just eight appearances, all starts. Former Harlequins back-rower Phil Burgess has eight scores.

Incredibly, the Falcons have ten penalty tries this season now. Our joint-top-scoring players, for the record, are Jimmy Gopperth and Ally Hogg on seven apiece, followed by Richard Mayhew with six.

As well as Evans, a former Newport Gwent Dragon, other notable names in the Cornish squad are Rob Elloway, a Mancunian hooker who has two caps for Germany, the country of his birth, and Tom Bedford, who played a few games for the Falcons in the second half of last season having become Alan Tait’s final signing as manager.

Bedford is a qualified tree surgeon so will not be intimidated by people like Taiasina Tu’ifua, James Hudson, notwithstanding the fact that the former two were his teammates a year ago. He has played 15 games for the Pirates this season, but has just the one try to his name.

Michael Tait continues in the centres following an apparent decent showing against Moseley on his latest comeback from injury, and Grant Shiells and Matt Thompson get starts in the front row. James Hudson and Mark Wilson return to the starting lineup for James Goode and Taiasina Tu’ifua.

Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Andrew Higgins, 13 Michael Tait, 12 Jamie Helleur 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Rory Lawson 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Scott MacLeod 5 James Hudson, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg.

Replacements: 16 Michael Mayhew, 17 James Hall, 18 James Goode, 19 Taiasina Tu’ifua 20 Warren Fury, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Alex Crockett.

Pirates team: W. Davies, B. Mercer, G. Pointer, T. Bedford, A. Smith A. Penberthy, T. Kessell, J. Tyas P. Burgess, A. Cheesman D. Barry, G. Johnson (c), P. Joyce, D. Semmens, R. Storer.

Replacements: P. Andrew, R. Elloway, B. Prescott, D. Lyons, K. Marriott, O. Hambly, T. Riley.

Tomorrow promises to be an entertaining match in front of hopefully a bumper crowd bolstered by free tickets for Armed Forces and Emergency Services members and former members. That is a great gesture by the Falcons and hopefully they and those who turn up are rewarded. Looking forward to listening on the radio, wish I could go  but life is getting in the way a bit more often than I’d like this season.

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

Match reaction: Leeds Carnegie 9-13 Newcastle Falcons


Sunday 10 February 2013 – 12.00pm
Cross Green, Otley, Leeds
RFU Championship #14

I would like to say that today’s match didn’t go to plan but I’m not actually so sure.

The second half was probably the worst 40 minutes I’ve seen from the Falcons this season but it seemed like our kicking tactics were set in stone, perhaps to give the defence some practice.

Like London Scottish at home, there seemed to be no recognition of the fact that there was another team on the pitch that wanted to win. Heck, Leeds are fourth in the table so they aren’t a terrible side.

If there is any complacency, which would surprise me, it must be gotten rid of now otherwise we will come unstuck in the play-offs.

Fair enough, Leeds didn’t create many clear chances in the second half but it only takes one and had Fred Burdon had someone on his shoulder when he broke through the middle, the score would likely have been tied at 10-10 and who knows what happens then?

The only time the Falcons had a decent attack in the whole of the second half was a scrum late on and from a penalty we went for goal and missed.

Fortunately, the next kick went over, but the Falcons were again content to defend.

The defence was good, but it shouldn’t have needed to be.

We could so easily have lost today and would have deserved it. No doubt some people will use the mud and rain as an excuse but it didn’t stop Leeds playing rugby and there were only four points in it.

The last thing we want is to get a reputation as a team that “doesn’t fancy it” when the weather isn’t perfect.

I’d like to think a couple of changes will be made for Friday. Alex Crockett did nothing of note and I thought Andy Higgins had a poor game. In fact I’d say that Jamie Helleur is the only back who could be satisfied with his game today. Fans were crying out for Joel Hodgson but he remained on the bench.

It was good to see Ally Hogg back though.

I suppose we got the win and are still unbeaten this season. Our aggregate score against Leeds (and Scottish for that matter) should put paid to moans about losing play-offs to “a bad 20 minutes”.

But it would take a quite amazing series of events now to stop us finishing top with a 15-point lead with eight games left and a game in hand.

We need to start putting teams to the sword again like in September and October, winning with a few tries to spare, or things could get hairy come May.

Mind, if it comes to it, I’ll take a one-point aggregate victory in the playoff final.

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

Match preview: Leeds Carnegie v Newcastle Falcons



Sunday 10 February 2013 – 12.00pm

Cross Green, Otley, Leeds

RFU Championship #14


The Falcons get back into league action on Sunday with a trip to Leeds – well, Otley to the north of the city that many people in the south seem to believe England stops at.


The Cardigans have moved the game to Otley, and several others, following some controversial pitch problems in a game against Plymouth earlier in the winter. Uncontested scrums were needed after less than a quarter of that match and with Leeds winning, Albion were awarded a replay. The home side were also successful in the repeat game at West Park on Sunday.


That win took Leeds back into fourth place in the table where they sit with 39 points, six behind Bedford but two ahead of Bristol after 14 games. Cornish Pirates, four points behind the former-Tykes, still have their visit to KP in hand.


When the “Yorkshire, Yorkshire” side visited KP earlier in the season they were put to the sword 53-10 by the Falcons, for whom Jimmy Gopperth (two), Luke Fielden, Jonny Golding, Rob Vickers and James Hudson scored tries alongside our new friend Penalty Try. Steve McColl crossed for Leeds’ only five-pointer.


There have been many players to wear the jerseys of both of England’s northernmost professional clubs down the years, including Jon Dunbar, who moved from KP to Headingley in 2004, and Tom Biggs, currently starring for Bath and England A after a tricky one season in our colours in 2009-10. Michael Stephenson and Warren Fury were in the home team the last time we visited Headingley in 2011.


Fred Burdon is the latest former Falcon at Leeds, while they have Joe Graham on loan (so he won’t play on Sunday) and also the Prince himself, our former academy graduate Rory Clegg who has joined temporarily from Harlequins, though his parent club have recalled him this weekend.


The Falcons have a good record away to Leeds, losing only one competitive game in Yorkshire since the merger of Roundhay and Headingley. That came on a dour Good Friday in 2008, however our last visit in 2011 was far more satisfying.


In front of the live TV cameras on a dark Sunday evening, Jeremy Manning and Ally Hogg scored tries too add to four Jimmy Gopperth penalties as the Falcons put the Cardigans to the sword 5-22. Manning in particular will want to forget the return game at KP a few weeks after that.


Falcons away to Leeds:

17/10/1992      Club Match                 W37-26

14/08/2000      Friendly                      W28-14

20/01/2002      Cup QF                       W41-24

10/02/2002      Premiership                 W19-9

07/02/2003      Premiership                 W17-12

28/03/2004 Premiership                 D30-30

27/12/2004      Premiership                 W15-11

02/12/2005      Cup Group                 D18-18

27/12/2005      Premiership                 W13-10

21/03/2008      Premiership                 L15-16

17/08/2008      Friendly                      L21-25

06/09/2009      Premiership                 D9-9

27/02/2011      Premiership                 W22-5



The Otley club itself, which has played at Cross Green since 1921, has an interesting history. Founded in 1865, it broke away from the RFU 30 years later to join Northern Union (later Rugby League) but found its way back to the light in 1908. In the 2000s they were regular members of this division, hosting Dean Richards and Harlequins in 2005/06.


Two recent relegations mean Otley currently play in National League Two North, the fourth level of the game. Last Saturday they were beaten 21-26 at home by Hull.


But on Sunday the Falcons and Cardies will be treading on the same ground on which the North of England beat New Zealand in 1979 and Australia in 1988. The USA played Italy at Otley in the 1991 World Cup too.


Not that our club is a stranger to Otley. We first met the Yorkshiremen back in 1924, the visiting Gosforth winning 9-3 in north Leeds, though Otley got revenge 0-3 at the County Ground the following season. Our clubs’ most recent meeting was in October 1985 at Cross Green, Otley winning 13-12.


We were regular opponents in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and the record at Cross Green stands at ten wins, a draw and three defeats at Otley for the Falcons, or Gosforth as was.


Perhaps a fact not too many Falcons fans will know: Nigel Melville and Danny Care came through Otley’s junior system.



An international opponent of Care’s will start for us at scrum-half on Sunday, with Rory Lawson back in the team. The only other starting change from Cross Keys is Taiasina Tu’ifua at number eight for Ollie Stedman, though Ally Hogg, Suka Hufanga and James Goode come onto the bench.


Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Andrew Higgins, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 James Hudson, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Taiasina Tu’ifua.


Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 James Hall, 18 James Goode, 19 Ally Hogg, 20 Warren Fury, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Suka Hufanga.



Leeds team: 15 Stevie McColl, 14 Christian Georgiou, 13 Oli Goss, 12 Fred Burdon, 11 David Doherty, 10 Joe Ford, 9 Craig Hampson, 1 Ben Harris, 2 Phil Nilsen,

3 Damien Tussac, 4 Calum Green, 5 Mike Myerscough, 6 Rob Baldwin, 7 Jacob Rowan (c), 8 Ryan Burrows.


Replacements: 16 Scott Freer, 17 Lee Imiolek, 18 James Currie, 19 Matt Smith, 20 Dominic Moon, 21 Ollie Frost, 22 Pete Lucock.



I still think it’s farcical that this game has had to be moved away from Headingley, but Cross Green is a new ground to go to and I expect it will match up to similar ones we have been lucky enough to see so far this season like Jersey, Bedford and Cross Keys. Looking forward to it.



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

Match reaction: Cross Keys 3-34 Newcastle Falcons


Friday 1 February 2013 – 7.00pm
Pandy Park, Cross Keys
British & Irish Cup Pool 4 #6

They say that on the seventh day, God rested. I reckon that while He had His eye off the ball, the devil created Newcastle Brown Ale.

At full-time last night, a bloke in the clubhouse seemed to be nursing the same Dog he’d been drinking at half-time, and this morning I’m kind-of regretting not following his example.

Mind, on a night like last night it’s easy to forget about sensibilities. It was one of the best rugby nights I’ve had in years. From a chat with Smithy to start, to meeting new Wales-based Falcons and seeing one fan I hadn’t seen for years, and then making new friends with the home fans.

I wanted to swap shirts with one bloke who was wearing a home-made Cross Keys-Dragons shirt but he didn’t want to lose it, and said he’d meet me at the station this morning with something else.

In the end he very kindly gave me the two shirts above. Since I’m now Falcons-shirtless for Leeds, might have to see if the Cross Keys one fits.

I need a new pair of gloves though – a girl decided that my Falcons mittens would go well with the shirt she’ll hopefully get from Tom Catterick, so I gave them to her post-match.

The game itself was played in mud-bath – the forwards were covered within minutes. But, to their credit, both teams tried to play rugby.

The Falcons were dominant for almost all of the first and restricted Cross Keys to just a missed long-range penalty in terms of scoring chances.

We just couldn’t turn our pack’s dominance into more points, going into half-time 0-13 thanks to a try by new signing Ollie Stedman.

I had a chat with Stedman’s dad in the bar before the game, very nice bloke. He will have been happy to see a solid debut by our new number eight.

The second half was also mostly one-way traffic with Warren Fury sniping a try down the blindside and the referee lost patience with the home forwards, sending two to the bin and awarding two penalty tries.

So we got the full compliment of five points, which I think means a haul of 28 points from a possible 30 in the cup group. We now await the quarter-final draw, once all the postponed games have been played.

The game wasn’t pretty, indeed it was never likely to be on such a boggy pitch, but the Falcons did what they had to do. It was a professional job by the forwards in particular.

Behind the scrum, Jamie Helleur had another strong outing and I thought Fury had his best game for us.

Off the pitch, the welcome from Cross Keys for the nine (I think) away fans was warm and friendly. It’s a lovely club and going to places like this is what rugby is all about.

Otley next week should be another good experience.

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