Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 34-12 Jersey RFC

SAMSUNG

Friday 29 March 2013 – 5.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

RFU Championship #20

It’s now a nice round 20 wins in the league and 30 overall for the Falcons this season after a Good Friday defeat of fellow Championship new boys Jersey last night.

It was mostly an enjoyable game I thought, apart from the seven minutes of scrums at the end of the first half that yielded little of interest apart from a yellow card for Kieran Brookes, who I didn’t think was one of our better performers on his first Falcons start since the 2011 LV= Cup Final.

The scoreline probably reflects the game – Jersey were dogged and showed some good play, but the Falcons were never in any real danger. In the islanders’ best spell of possession in the second half, the Falcons defence restricted them to the ten-metre line mostly, and we were in control for most of the evening.

It was sluggish for a long time until Noah Cato’s controversial try – the third of the evening and one that looked like it came from a drop by the winger on halfway – saw the Falcons pull ahead but the table says we are still unbeaten and, barring an upset in the last two games of the regular season, that is a formidable statistic heading into the playoffs.

Like I say, I don’t think Brookes had a great game, but there were a few who will have competed with Ryan Shortland in the sponsors’ minds for the man of the match award. Joel Hodgson showed some quite nice touches, particularly in the first half, and Tom Catterick continues to be a very dangerous attacker. Catterick should be very much in the mix for Falcons player of the season, for me.

Adam Powell showed what Dean Richards brought him in for, to be a driving force in the midfield on which we can build attacks. All three of the starting back row can be proud of their evenings too.

It was interesting to see the lesser-spotted Jordi Pasqualin get a couple of minutes run-out finally, though not long enough to show anything of note.

We got a bonus point, there are things to work on after conceding two tries to a team battling relegation, but I think the coaches will think “Job done” after last night. The next four weeks will be about getting to the semis and hopefully also the final of the British & Irish Cup, and building on towards the playoffs.

Off the pitch, it was nice to meet some of those friends we made over in St Peter, and be reminded again that though rugby is a competitive sport and the league table is important, the game doesn’t begin when the referee blows his whistle and end when he points to the tunnel.

It was good to see a half-decent crowd number again too, our first 4,000+ attendance since September. I’m sure that if we do get to the playoff final, that number will swell considerably.

Interestingly, on that note I am told that the top seed has the choice of whether to play the first or second leg of the final at home. Surely, there is no reason not to go away first and then have the crowd see you home in the second game? We’ll see if that’s true and if it happens.

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Jersey RFC

jersey-egg-cups

Friday 29 March 2013 – 5.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

RFU Championship #20

 

“Tell me ma, me ma, we’ll not be home for tea, we’re going to Jersey” we sang at Wasps just over 11 months ago. It was a cracking trip over to the Channel Islands, back in November.

 

I doubt when Jersey were going for promotion to the Championship this time last year, their fans were singing about going to Newcastle (if we were to go down), but hopefully plenty will be coming over for the return game tomorrow and they will experience something near the hospitality shown to the Falcons and us fans over in St Peter.

 

The somewhat-odd early evening kick-off time will give them time time to sample the Geordie nightlife on a Friday night as well as Saturday night, though I’m not sure where they’ll find any Liberation Ale. Probably somewhere, as for a ‘real’ ale it’s quite a nice pint.

 

A win tomorrow will bring the Falcons to a nice round 20 wins in the league this season, and 30 including friendlies. It will keep us on course for 100 points, for what that’s worth. Jersey will also be looking for points to haul themselves away from the relegation zone.

 

The islanders are 11th on 26 points, seven ahead of Doncasster who have a game in hand, and so may need some return from their final three games to avoid an immediate return to National League One.

 

This game will represent Jersey’s first visit to Kingston Park, but certainly not their first to the North East, our visitors having shared a division with Blaydon and Tynedale last season. Back in late October 2011, Jersey beat Blaydon 6-12 away and later in the season returned from Corbridge with a mighty 0-64 victory!

 

Quite a contrasting weekend for top North East rugby that was, considering just 24 hours earlier the Falcons had had a tense victory over Sale at KP. Not sure how Blaydon did.

 

Anyway, back to this season and Jersey have recovered from a difficult start to life in the Championship – with six successive defeats yielding just one point for scoring four tries at Rotherham before a couple of positive results in the British & Irish & Jersey Cup – to give themselves a fighting chance of seeing London Welsh, Sale or London Irish next year (or ourselves, hopefully not).

 

Jersey’s game against Bristol last weekend beat the weather near the island’s airport and the home side very nearly pulled off a stunning late victory, but while Jersey were convinced a try had been scored the referee gave ‘held-up’ and the south-westerners had hung on for a 23-29 win to assist in their hunt for a play-off place.

 

That followed another bonus-point defeat in a rearranged match at home to Nottingham, who left the Channel win a 13-20 victory.

 

If you thought Falcons fans travel long distances, at least they tend to be over land – even Jersey’s local derby against Guernsey in the Siam Cup (not the Guam Cup, apparently) is over water.

 

Their previous away match was the closest Jersey will get to a local derby in this league, at Plymouth on the south coast. Jersey took four points home, winning 15-19, though a week earlier they were beaten 41-33 at London Scottish.

 

That Plymouth win was Jersey’s long-awaited first away success in the Championship, though they beat Leeds at York RUFC in the B&I Cup back in October. As far as I can tell, their final group game away to Pontypridd in January was postponed but never played… ah, it’s being played a week tomorrow. Presumably neither team can reach the quarter-finals, of course scheduled for next weekend.

 

Over at St Peter in November the Falcons were given a stern test by Jersey in difficult weather conditions, indeed I believe Matt Thompson recently said it was one of the hardest games he’s had this season. Jersey went ahead with a penalty before Jimmy Gopperth scored a close-range try.

 

Ryan Shortland, James Hall and Alex Tait also scored to give the Falcons a bonus point and a make it a perfect ten wins in the league at the start of the season.

 

 

There are plenty of changes to the Falcons’ team tomorrow. Calls from some fans for Joel Hodgson to start in place of Jimmy Gopperth. Alex Crockett starts in the centres alongside home debutante Adam Powell. In the forwards, Sean Tomes and James Goode are the second row pairing in front of Ollie Stedman and Grant Shiells and Kieran Brookes rekindle their partnership that did so well on an unforgettable night in Stockport three years ago.

 

Interestingly, there are only two backs on the bench, although since one is Jordi Pasqualin, there is an argument that we only really have one there.

 

Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Sean Tomes, 5 James Goode, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ollie Stedman.

 

Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 James Hall, 18 Jonny Golding, 19 Scott MacLeod, 20 Jordi Pasqualin, 21 Jimmy Gopperth, 22 Ally Hogg.

 

 

Ben Harvey has named the following Jersey side. I had to take a second glance at the name of the hooker.

 

Jersey: 1 Richard Barrington, 2 Elvis Taione, 3 Jon Brennan, 4 Rob Anderson, 5 Dave Markham, 6 Charlie Walker-Blair, 7 Joe Buckle, 8 Fred Silcock, 9 Dave McCormack (c), 10 Michael Le Bourgeois, 11 Ed Dawson, 12 Mark Foster, 13 Mark McCrea, 14 James Copsey, 15 Max Stelling.

 

Replacements: Sean McCarthy, Dave Felton, James Gethings, Talite Vaioleti, Kingsley Lang, Donovan Sanders, Dai Bishop.

 

 

Don’t forget the early kick-off! And if you’re wondering what is interesting about the photo at the top (bar the fact that it’s Easter), they are apparently Jersey egg cups.

 

 

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

Match reaction: Nottingham 12-14 Newcastle Falcons

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Friday 22 March 2013 – 7.45pm
Meadow Lane, Nottingham
RFU Championship #19

I picked up a cheap pair of headphones at the Spar opposite Kings Cross yesterday afternoon, normally £10 (so the bloke said) but I paid what my brother would call a deep sea.

On the train fron St Pancras to Nottingham I put them in and heard the Top Gun anthem in quality I’ve never known before. Impressive for £5. Amazingly, the next song my phone put on was Local Hero.

I turned the volume up loud, picked up my can of Brown Ale and closed my eyes. For the next few minutes I felt like the only person on Earth.

I began thinking about Newcastle and it suddenly hit me that I might never live properly in my home city again. Eep.

Still, at least next year we’ll hopefully have a Premiership rugby team to watch again, last night’s squozen win at Nottingham keeping up our unbeaten record in the Championship.

It was a game of two halves, as most are obviously, but this was figuratively too. In the first 40 the Falcons were very sloppy against a fired-up home side and deservedly went into the break trailing.

But after half-time Nottingham were barely in our half, and three penalties sneaked the Falcons a 12-14 victory.

As I write this I’m on a train hurtling through the Midlands and through the window I can see probably an inch of snow. Last night’s promised apocalyptic covering never materialised on the banks of the River Trent.

I’m not one to blame the weather for a poor performance, but I think both teams deserve credit for putting on what, for me anyway, was quite an enjoyable game through almost-relentless snow and a strong swirling wind.

I hated every step walking through it to the hotel in the afternoon, it can’t have been a lot of fun to play in.

The Falcons often tried to play through the backs but it just wasn’t working. Jimmy Gopperth had a distinctly off-day and it was no surprise that he was replaced by Joel Hodgson late on.

I think for next season, and perhaps this too as you never know what might happen, it’s good for the team to beat a good opponent without our star player and for Richards to show he has confidence that we can do that.

The big psychological result from last night though must surely be like after Bedford – Nottingham played well first half and defended well second half, but it still wasn’t enough. Come the last few minutes of a tight playoff, who can keep their head and their confidence could be the difference.

Meadow Lane is an interesting ground, a mix of the new football stadia you see and some nice features like a proper bar room under the stand and a raised sign on one side stand roof, like many old footy grounds had.

All things considered though it’s a shame Nottingham couldn’t have stayed at their old ground or sorted a new proper rugby facility.

Another cracking night out with some other members of the Falcons family last night, no doubt some are paying for it this morning but we have until Monday to recover.

We’ve been everywhere in the Championship now except Plymouth, looking forward to that one now after a couple more home games.

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

Match preview: Nottingham v Newcastle Falcons

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Friday 22 March 2013 – 7.45pm

Meadow Lane, Nottingham

RFU Championship #19

 

Yet again, it’s 1st v 2nd in the Championship tomorrow night with the Falcons taking on closest-challengers Nottingham, who will be looking to cement their position going into the play-offs by being the first team to beat us in competitive action this season.

 

This game, which like our previous against Bedford could be a rehearsal for the play-off final, sees the Falcons visit Meadow Lane, home of Notts County FC, for the first time. It is an all-seater ground with a capacity of just over 22,000, though since it was one of the early Taylor-compliant stadiums the facilities may be more Vicarage Road than Wembley. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing another new ground.

 

Nottingham initially played on and off at Meadow Lane in 2006 before moving there permanently later in that year. They had previously played at Ireland Avenue for over a century and hosted Gosforth there as far back as 1958.

 

Our club had quite a good record at Ireland Avenue, winning 11 of 20 visits including a cup quarter-final back in 1981, and drawing two more. We are unbeaten in competitive visits to Nottingham.

 

The last time we visited Nottingham, now captained by former Falcons stalwart Brent Wilson, was back at the start of our 1996/97 promotion season. The team that day included Phil Belgian and Ross Wilkinson, who were soon to be edged out by star names, while Garath Archer made his first appearance in his second of three spells on Tyneside.

 

Gary Armstrong scored four tries, and was joined on the scoresheet by Wilkinson and Archer, as well as Andy Blyth, Graham Childs, Tony Underwood, Rob Andrew, Doddie Weir and Ross Nesdale. Andrew converted seven of the 12 tries, but later expressed concern at his team conceding 29 points to the Midlanders.

 

Falcons in Nottingham:

22/03/1958      Club Match                 W17-5

05/11/1960      Club Match                 W6-3

03/11/1962      Club Match                 W11-3

07/11/1964      Club Match                 L8-14

15/04/1967      Club Match                 W11-6

19/04/1969      Club Match                 L9-13

19/12/1970      Club Match                 W14-3

03/02/1973      Club Match                 L3-44

21/12/1974      Club Match                 D16-16

18/12/1976      Club Match                 W7-3

16/12/1978      Club Match                 W15-10

28/03/1981      Cup QF                       W23-3

17/12/1983      Club Match                 L6-23

21/12/1985      Club Match                 L9-23

04/10/1986      Club Match                 L9-39

18/02/1989      Club Match                 L13-25

02/02/1991      Club Match                 W16-11

08/04/1995      Division 2                   W33-18

13/01/1996      Division 2                   D24-24

14/09/1997      Division 2                   W74-29

 

 

Nottingham have obviously had an excellent season under director of rugby Martin Haag and with four games left have a six-point advantage over third-placed Bedford in the league table. They need only six more points at this stage to secure a play-off place but with even Leeds in fourth 12 points behind it is hard to imagine Nottingham dropping out of the top three, never mind the top four.

 

In their most recent fixture, in Jersey last Saturday, Nottingham were victorious 13-20, following up a good victory at Bristol eight days earlier. A defeat at London Scottish last month was Notts’ only loss in their last 11 games in all competitions so they go into tomorrow night with some form behind them. Only Rotherham have left Meadow Lane with a victory in the Championship this season and that was back in September, although Doncaster did win there in the B&I Cup a month later.

 

Our meeting with the outlaws at KP back in November saw the Falcons labour to a 29-9 win, Luke Fielden securing a bonus point late on. My main memory of listening to that game on BBC Newcastle was a lengthy period of scrums that eventually led to a yellow card for Nottingham and a penalty try for us, but Mark Laycock (who was alongside Big Smithy) made a good point that collapsed scrums had just wasted five minutes in which those at the game could have watched some rugby.

 
Dean Richards has named quite a strong team for tomorrow night with Adam Powell making a debut following the end of his loan spell at Saracens. Noah Cato gets a chance to keep up his scoring start to life on Tyneside.

 

Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Sean Tomes, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg.

 

Replacements: 16 Rob Vickers, 17 Kieran Brookes, 18 James Goode, 19 Ollie Stedman, 20 Warren Fury, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Alex Crockett.

 

 

Like Matt Thompson, Nottingham’s starting hooker Joe Duffey is a double centurion, or at least he will be tomorrow night. His props Matt Parr and Michael Holford are both former Premiership players and Brent Wilson is captain in the back row.

 

Nottingham: 15 Andrew Savage 14 David Jackson 13 Tim Streather 12 Joe Munro 11 Alex Lewington 10 James Arlidge 9 Sean Romans 1 Matt Parr 2 Joe Duffey 3 Michael Holford 4 Dan Montagu 5 Nic Rouse 6 Rupert Cooper 7 Brent Wilson 8 Alex Shaw.

 

Replacements: 16 Shaun Malton 17 Ryan Bower 18 Joe Quinn 19 Tom Calladine 20 Finlay Barnham 21 Joe Cobden 22 Andrew Forsyth.

 

 

It’s great news that there will be a busload of away fans at the home of the other Magpies tomorrow night with the game being on a Friday. However, with Nottingham “smashing” pre-match sales records this week, it might be a bit of a battle off the pitch as well as on it. Looking forward to a good game, even if the blizzards do materialise.

 

 

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 17-15 Bedford Blues

Friday 8 March 2013 – 8.00pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
RFU Championship #18

So ahead of today’s visit to a tipi camp on the Welsh border for a mate’s 30th, I took the opportunity to watch a commie am-dram in a little theatre in Kensington last night. Interesting stuff.

Afterwards, wor lass and I got a taxi to Clapham and as we sat down in Pizza Express, she asked “Isn’t the rugby tonight?”

Lightbulb moment. I whipped me phone out and saw on Twitter that Bedford were 10-15 up at 70 minutes, and that was 16 minutes.earlier. Totes shockballs!

After a few moments I clicked through to the Falcons page and the top post said: “Noah Cato try!”

I’m sure half the people on the tables around us will today be telling people about some bloke who suddenly yelped “Try!” in the middle of Pizza Express before feeling decidedly sheepish, but it was exciting!

I managed to contain myself when the full-time score of 17-15 was posted, fortunately.

It looks like I wasn’t the only jubilant one, various texts and internet posts tell of an explosion at KP as we won with the last play of the game. Probably not a good.game to miss.

But hopefully I’ll not be missing any more league games this season.

Some are saying that the Falcons got out of jail free last night and used our only joker of the season. I disagree.

Firstly, a team doesn’t win in the last minute by luck or for “free”, they do it because they keep fighting until the very end and never give up. It’s an admirable quality that not every team has.

Secondly, reports of Bedford being deflated at full-time are encouraging for us. Yes, last night’s memory may fire them up if we meet again in the play-offs, but think about it another way.

Lets say it’s 75 minutes in the second leg, and Bedford are less than seven abead on aggregate. The Falcons think “We’ve been here before but we got through it. We’re [hopefully] unbeaten, we just have to keep playing and the chance will come.” Bedford may think “We’ve been here before and they still beat us, [hopefully] nobody has beaten them.”

The Falcons should still be confidence, while Bedford may have doubts. Psychology is what separates the top performers in any field or group, and it’s a powerful thing.

I really believe that if we can remain unbeaten and then play Bedford in the play-off final then last night will give us an advantage.

As for what this game tells us about next season, well we need to get to the Premiership first and there will be changes made to improve the.team.

From what I’ve read and heard about last night, I for one am a happy Geordie this morning.

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Bedford Blues

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Friday 8 March 2013 – 8.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

RFU Championship #18

 

It’s first v second in the Championship again tomorrow night as the Falcons play Bedford, knowing that any kind of win will secure top spot.

 

Third-placed Nottingham are the only team that can still overhaul us as they have a game in hand, but four points will ensure that they cannot do so as they will only be able to equal our point total and not beat our number of wins. That is the situation Bedford are in right now.

 

It looks as though the Blues and their Midlands neighbours Nottingham, who we face in our next game in two weeks’ time, will meet in the play-off semi-finals, with the Falcons taking on Bristol, Leeds or Cornish Pirates, but there are plenty of games still to go and form to build.

 

A win tomorrow night would be our 28th of the season including friendlies and give us a league double over the Blues for only the second time ever, hopefully providing a psychological boost were we to meet again in May.

 

That double came in what was then Premiership 1 in 1998/99, when a win at Goldington Road was followed up by a momentus comeback by the Falcons from 5-23 down to win 34-23 in injury time at Kingston Park on a cold January night.

 

The following season, our hosting of Bedford was twice postponed, the first time due to Coventry trying to take over the Blues and then later due to freezing December weather, before the sides could finally play in February 2000.

 

John Leslie made his debut in that game and although our young front row of Micky Ward, Richard Horton and Ian Peel struggled, Leslie being preferred to Marius Hurter due to the two-foreigner rule and George Graham and Ross Nesdale having long-term injuries, we ground out a 23-20 win.

 

Jonny Wilkinson scored all of our points, converting both of his tries and adding three penalties.

 

Bedford in Newcastle:

27/03/1967 Club Match L0-17

09/11/1968 Club Match L9-17

23/04/1973 Club Match L11-14

13/04/1985 Club Match W25-3

11/04/1987 Club Match W21-10

10/09/1988 Division 2 L16-17

13/04/1991 Division 2 W22-7

03/04/1993 Division 2 W19-13

30/09/1995 Division 2 L23-30

26/10/1997 Division 2 W49-12

05/01/1999 Premiership 1 W34-23

27/02/2000 Premiership 1 W23-20

 

 

The Blues are obviously having a good season, sitting second on 55 points, one above Nottingham but 25 behind ourselves. Last week’s home defeat to Bristol was only their fifth in the Championship this season, but was actually a third reverse in five league games following defeats earlier in 2013 at Nottingham and London Scottish. Bedford also lost at the Memorial Stadium back in October, conceding a league double to Bristol.

 

Away wins in the league have come at Jersey, Leeds and via two single-point wins at Doncaster and Plymouth, alongside a September draw at Rotherham, always a tough place to go as we ourselves found out a week ago.

 

In the B&I Cup, things have been more straightforward for the Blues, with six bonus-point wins against Bedwas, Stirling and Neath seeing them top seeding for the quarter-finals, in which they will host Llanelli.

 

Among the better-known players in the Bedford squad is back-rower Don Barrell, an England Sevens international who has Premiership experience with Saracens. Ollie Dodge is a former Leicester Tiger youngster and the son of Welford Road legend Paul Dodge, and Samoan international Paul Tupai played for local rivals Northampton in the top division. Then of course there is Darren Fearn, who left KP for Goldington Road in the summer.

 

The Blues are captained by Canadian international back James Pritchard. Pritchard scored all of his team’s points in our 20-29 victory at Goldington Road back in November with two converted second half tries to go with a pair of penalties before the break. Both teams saw yellow cards, namely for Tupai and former Blue Sean Tomes, and for the Falconbs Tom Catterick and Richard Mayhew were the try-scorers.

 

 

New signing Noah Cato is set to make his Falcons debut on the right wing tomorrow night in placce of Andrew Higgins, while Kieran Brookes could make a second Geordie bow from the bench after signing until the end of the season. Jonny Golding and the departing Jimmy Gopperth are back in the starting line-up, the only changes to that from the win at Rotherham apart from Cato.

 

Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Michael Tait, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Jonny Golding, 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 Kieran Brookes, 18 Sean Tomes, 19 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 20 Warren Fury, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Alex Crockett.

 

 

Bedford have apparerently left their best front row on the bench, suggesting that the starting Fearn is not among them:

 

Bedford: 15 Brendan Burke, 14 James Stephenson, 13 Ollie Dodge, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Myles Dorrian, 9 Darryl Veenendaal, 1 Darren Fearn, 2 Chris Locke, 3 Ben Cooper, 4 Mike Howard, 5 Ben Gulliver, 6 Gregor Gillanders, 7 Darren Fox (c), 8 Don Barrell.

 

Replacements: 16 Neil Cochrane, 17 Dan Seal, 18 Ricky Reeves, 19 Paul Tupai, 20 Joe Vandermolen, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Jake Sharp.

 

 

Hopefully there will be a better crowd at KP tomorrow night than the Pirates game to roar the Falcons further towards an unbeaten season, against a team we might well be welcoming back in a couple of months’ time.

 

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

Match reaction: Rotherham Titans 22-34 Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 2 March 2013 – 3.00pm

Clifton Lane, Rotherham

RFU Championship #17

 

I’m at a total loss to explain yesterday’s match. For the first half an hour the Falcons were in total control, but then Rotherham took over and could probably count themselves unfortunate not to become the first team to beat us this season.

 

Four tries up after less than 30 minutes, the scoreline reading 0-28, some away fans were predicting a cricket score. But it didn’t work out like that and the storming start died off to allow the Titans to score 22 unanswered points, before two late Joel Hodgson penalties made the win safe.

 

It wasn’t as if we even kicked away too much possession wastefully, as happened at Leeds, for example. On a balmy sunny day the conditions could not be used as an excuse. For a lot of the second half we just couldn’t get the ball and were forced to defend for lengthy periods.

 

All that said, the Falcons played some nice stuff and dominated the concerning Yorkshire pack early on, though we were aided by Laku Makaafi being sent to the bin after just a few minutes for taking out Andrew Higgins in the air.

 

The first try saw a beautiful instant offload by Scott MacLeod on the far right, James Hudson scoring the opening try. I thought both second rows had excellent games yesterday, the lineout functioned very well and they both got through some good work.

 

Jamie Helleur also remains in solid form and made a fine break to score the second try. The fourth try was not a great one for the spectators, a penalty try coming following five minutes wasted by repeated scrums.

 

Rotherham’s first try came before the break and was controversial, with many believing the ball had not been grounded. But the score was given, and the two teams came out for the second half like the opposite of what they had been at kick-off.

 

I can only remember the Falcons having one try-scoring chance in the second half – replacement Alex Crockett steaming for the line and rolling over the white with a tackler, yet inexplicably failing to touch down. Following that Hodgson sent a big kick across the field but it was too far for Helleur to catch infield.

 

Taiasina Tu’ifua’s yellow card for a late tackle didn’t help things, although Rotherham’s last three points were all we conceded while down to 14 men.

 

So it was a strange one, I presume that privately Dean Richards and the coaches weren’t very happy but surely we need to get consistency back into the team before the play-offs.

 

Opinion was mixed about whether it would be good to lose a game before the playoffs. Personally, I think it’s best to keep going unbeaten, as if things do get hairy in a playoff second leg, we should still have confidence and the opposition may be wary that despite some tricky situations this season we still haven’t lost.

 

Interestingly though a bonus-point win over Bedford on Friday night will secure top spot for us, just two weeks after we made sure of a playoff place, since the Blues were beaten at home by Bristol yesterday. A point will do if Nottingham get nothing at home to Plymouth this afternoon.

 

Finally, Clifton Lane (or the Stafforce Stadium) is another nice little ground on the Championship Magical Mystery Tour. The seated stand is very small and the main bar was busy if you didn’t know that there was a little alternative one around the corner. The balcony outside the clubhouse made for a great spot from which to watch the game.

 

Somehow, I don’t think Meadow Lane will be quite the same.

 

 

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