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)