Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Cornish Pirates

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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)

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