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)