Saturday 20 April 2013 – 3.00pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
RFU Championship #22
The last time Bristol came to KP Jonny Wilkinson was still playing for us – in fact it was his last home game for the Falcons.
That was in September 2008 and even after just three games of the season, it was considered a potential relegation decider. Wilkinson kicked a penalty and converted tries by Adam Balding and John Rudd to give us a 17-3 win, which was a bit less #epic than the return game on Friday 13th later in the season, but it was an early blow at the bottom of the table.
Our team that day contained the likes of Tim Visser, Jamie Noon, Tom May, Joe McDonnell, Carl Hayman, Mark Sorenson and Phil Dowson. I’m not going to say it was necessarily a better time, but the crowd of just over 6,000 suggests it might have been.
Not that Bristol’s 22 was full of slouches – David Lemi, Jason Hobson, Roy Winters, Dan Ward-Smith, Andrew Blowers and Mark Regan are not names to be taken lightly.
Anyway, at that time both the Falcons and Bristol were very much on the way down, there was a feeling that both were living on borrowed time in the Premiership. The Pasty Boys dropped into the Championship at the end of the 2008/09 season and have not yet gone back up, while we lived to fight on for another three seasons before suffering the dreaded drop.
Tomorrow’s game at KP is obviously the reverse of the opening weekend of the season, and I wondered back then if this was so Sky could show both games, thinking that we and Bristol would be fighting it out at the top of the table. They didn’t show the first game and won’t be showing tomorrow’s, so perhaps the first round of fixtures was reversed on the last day so every team was guaranteed a home game to either start or end the season.
Bristol have certainly not had the season they would have wanted – with one game to go they face an uphill battle to get into the playoffs, where they would face ourselves in the semi-finals if they manage to overtake Leeds.
Although Bristol sit just two points behind our northern neighbours (with 13 wins to Leeds’ 12, but six fewer bonus points), they must become the first team to beat the Falcons in a competitive game since Saracens exactly one year ago tomorrow and hope Leeds slip up at home to Nottingham. Even though Nottingham have secured second place, you would hope (or those of us with a black heart would anyway) that our unbeaten run continues.
Bristol have quite a good record up in the Toon, winning six and losing six of 12 games away to first Gosforth and now the Falcons. A couple of games are notable – the 1998 meeting was the last game before the ill-fated Gateshead experiment. In March 1998 meanwhile, Steve Bates took charge for the first time and Rob Miller’s man of the match debut performance was one of few bright spots in a pretty poor team display.
Bristol in Newcastle:
29/04/1978 Club Match L6-7
23/04/1994 Division 1 L13-22
26/04/1998 Premiership 1 W43-18
26/09/1999 Premiership 1 L32-37
12/11/2000 Cup 5th round W32-16
27/12/2000 Premiership W23-15
14/10/2001 Premiership W37-20
01/12/2002 Premiership L12-20
11/09/2005 Premiership L14-16
03/11/2006 Premiership W26-21
16/03/2008 Premiership L8-28
26/09/2008 Premiership W17-9
In 2012/13, Bristol recovered from their opening day 20-37 defeat by the Falcons, managed competitively by Dean Richards for the first time and seen home by tries from Luke Fielden (two), Tane Tu’ipulotu and Ally Hogg to then win at now-relegated Doncaster in their second game. However, it was not until Plymouth at the end of November that they won another away outing in the league.
In that time, Leeds, Rotherham and Nottingham sent Bristol packing, as did Cornish Pirates on New Year’s Day. However, the Bris fans dared to believe again after a 6-18 upset of Bedford at Goldington Road at the start of March, and though that was followed by losses at home to Nottingham and at Moseley, since then our visitors are unbeaten in three in the Championship, beating Jersey away, Plymouth at home and most recently winning 19-38 at London Scottish last Saturday.
Bristol are of course now under the stewardship of former England and Scotland gaffer (I wonder if he’s the only person to manage two different Six Nations teams?) Andy Robinson and if we are Saracens reserves, with the recent signings of Noah Cato and Adam Powell and the promise of Andy Saull, so the Memorial Stadium must have a bit of Falcon feel to it. Luke Eves and Redford Pennycook both wore the black shirt before returning to the South West, while James Grindal played for us for many years in between two spells with Leicester. Glen Townson is another former Newcastle player.
All of these (or the ones Robinson keeps, anyway) will be joined by James Hall next season.
On top of that, Bristol have several players with masses of Premiership experience. Roy Winters – full name Royston Anthony Maria Winters, if you believe Wikipedia – and Jason Hobson each have a couple of England caps, though are probably unlikely to ever add to them. Jon Goodridge spent several years at Gloucester and then Leeds, and Adrian Jarvis has played for a number of top flight teams. Jarvis’s fellow fly-half Matthew Jones was at Worcester before moving to the Mem last January.
Then there is Bruce Douglas, a 43-cap Scotland prop who also moved from Worcester last year. So not a terrible squad we are up against tomorrow, but one that has probably failed to fulfil its potential this season. Hence Robinson’s appointment.
Falcons team: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Adam Powell, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Alex Tait, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Scott Wilson, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 Carlo del Fava, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg.
Replacements: 16 Rob Vickers, 17 James Hall, 18 James Goode, 19 Richard Mayhew, 20 Jordi Pasqualin, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Michael Tait
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