Thursday 23 May 2013 – 7.45pm
Goldington Road, Bedford
RFU Championship Final 1st leg
So this is it, the seven days we’ve been waiting for since, well, probably since Wasps last May. The seven days that will decide the Falcons’ immediate and perhaps long-term future.
Tomorrow night is the first leg of the playoff final against Bedford, with a flagless trip to Goldington Road the first half of the tie that will decide whether we will regain Premiership status immediately, or be condemned to another year in the Championship.
Not that I haven’t enjoyed the Championship, but we need to get back into the big league before the parachute money runs out and all of the problems that brings.
There is every reason to be optimistic – we have beaten Bedford thrice already this season, twice at Goldington Road, despite each time the Blues playing quite well and threatening to triumph. If our opponents do not indeed intend to go for promotion should they win the playoffs, it also means that our team, at least those who will be here next season, have so much more to play for.
This is Bedford’s first playoff final, having lost in the semis in each of the past three seasons. Last season it was London Welsh who defeated the Blues in the final four, in 2010/11 Worcester and Exeter in 2009/10. What that means is that Bedford have always lost in the playoffs to the team that has gone up – a good omen?
Promotion wasn’t this stressful last time out in 1996/97, but then we did lose at Bedford but crush them by almost 40 points at home if I remember right, so a defeat tomorrow night would not necessarily be disastrous. Just have to turn it around at KP. Still, probably best not to give Les Bleus any encouragement and if we win tomorrow night, I’d be 99% confident of winning the tie overall.
It seems that Mrs Gopperth has been able to time birth perfectly so Hor Jimmy is able to play, but surprisingly Joel Hodgson is not in the 22 named today. Suka Hufanga and Rob Vickers are the only starters who were also in the initial lineup in the British & Irish Cup Final last Friday, and Noah Cato is back from injury. Surprising omissions are also Tom Catterick and Jamie Helleur, though with five forwards on the bench the back places are limited.
Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Suka Hufanga, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Carlo del Fava, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg.
Replacements: 16 Michael Mayhew, 17 Jonny Golding, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 James Hudson, 20 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 21 Rory Lawson, 22 Waisea Luveniyali.
These are the players who have the task of getting a first-leg lead to take back to KP a week tonight. They will be backed by a couple of coachloads of Geordie fans and many more independent travellers. The beer train is booked.
Bedford team: 15 Ben Ransom, 14 James Stephenson, 13 Brendan Burke, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 James Short, 10 Myles Dorrian, 9 Luke Baldwin, 1 Ricky Reeves, 2 Neil Cochrane, 3 Phil Boulton, 4 Mike Howard, 5 Paul Tupai, 6 Gregor Gillanders, 7 Darren Fox (c), 8 Nick Fenton-Wells.
Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling, 17 Dan Seal, 18 Ben Gulliver, 19 Don Barrell, 20 Darryl Veenendaal, 21 Jake Sharp, 22 Ollie Dodge.
This is it. Let battle commence!
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