Match reaction: Edinburgh Rugby 15-5 Newcastle Falcons

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Friday 30 August 2013 – 7.45pm

Mansfield Park, Hawick

Friendly

The Falcons’ pre-season preparations are over and it’s now time to put up or shut up with our Premiership campaign beginning on Friday night at home to Bath.

Last night’s friendly in the Borders was a good night out, personally I had a really enjoyable drive over from the south of Cumbria, about two hours each way. Some beautiful countryside, and on the way back, the brightest night sky I’ve ever seen. At one point I pulled over, turned the lights off and just looked up. I’ve never seen so many stars. It was quite humbling.

Onto the game anyway. Hawick’s Mansfield Park ground was a reminder of what we will miss now after the Falcons returned to the Premiership at the first attempt – a real old rugby ground with just one stand, lots of standing room and a good proper bar, priced reasonably (sadly I no longer consider £3 a pint to be unreasonable, having been to Twickenham this summer).

Dean Richards started Danny Barnes, Mike Blair, Andy Saull and Fraser McKenzie alongside the returning Phil Godman and a front row made up of three new signings: Franck Montanella, Scott Lawson and Kieran Brookes.

Montanella in particular looks a decent signing, he held up well in the scrum and looks quite mobile. At one point in the second half he almost got over the tryline from a five-metre tap, and was only stopped by three defenders.

Phil Godman looks sharp as well despite a season in the Championship (though most of our players have had that I suppose) and Blair seems able to do what we need him to, supply the quick and quality ball that Falcons backs have not seen for a long time. Although I had expected Rory Clegg to start the season in the number ten shirt, if he does remain injured then I’d expect Godman and Blair to be the half-backs against Bath.

Andy Saull and Will Welch as a partnership should help provide some real speed in the back row alongside Ally Hogg’s power.

For the game itself, the Falcons didn’t do much of note in the first half, the only real chances coming when Blair found a gap just inside Edinburgh’s half and steamed forward but hesitated in the 22 and was tackled, and then Jamie Helleur pouncing on a loose ball but being unable to capitalise.

Godman missed a penalty but Edinburgh’s Greig Laidlaw kicked three to put the Scots (well, the Scots from Scotland) ahead at the break in a half that the ‘hosts’ had dominated.

In the second half, Newcastle had most of the initial possession and Godman scored the only try of the night, squeezing over on the far left. Continuing to turn down kickable penalties, the Falcons gave the forwards and backs plenty of practice, but were unable to add any more points. A lineout that struggled for most of the game did not help.

The last 20 minutes of the game were more even and Piers Francis knocked over two more penalties, sealing the win for Edinburgh.

Overall, the defence was outstanding in the first half, and we had a lot of ball and territory in the second 40, but were let down by the final execution. The lineout needs work, but the scrum held up and the players were strong and aggressive in attacking the gain line.

Of the new signings, I’d say Blair and Montanella were the most impressive, though Dominic Barrow, a second half replacement, showed some of his strength too.

Many positives, a lot to work on, but it’s a friendly and the real business will start on Friday. I guess only then will we know whether the Falcons are ready to take on the Premiership again.

Finally, on a personal note, having missed the Connacht game it was good to see some 15s rugby again after the summer drought that was only punctured by sevens. It’s nearly time for the new season.

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

World Club 7s

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With the missus and I moving back up north this summer (in just a few days’ time, in fact), one of the things she wanted to do before leaving London was go to Twickenham.

 

The first-ever World Club 7s provided the perfect opportunity. Unfortunately, the Falcons crashing at the Premiership Sevens finals in Bath a week earlier meant that our team would not be involved in TW1, so rather than the whole weekend we just went to the finals yesterday.

 

That turned out to be a good idea, as apart from the fact that Saturday morning was a write-off after wor lass’s leaving party on Friday night, we had a lot of DIY to do in my flat ahead of tenants moving in.

 

Meeting another couple of southern-based Falcons fans in the William Webb Ellis for a pre-match drink (near two lads who had apparently been out all night, though their clothes were remarkably clean if that were indeed the case), I learned that Carlin ‘The Speedster’ Isles had apparently been on good form on Saturday as his San Francisco team reached the quarter-finals.

 

One English team would be in the main semi-finals and another would drop into the plate as Harlequins were due to play Gloucester, though Northampton were condemned to the shield tournament.

 

The first game of the day was a South African derby with Western Province taking on Blue Bulls. The Bulls booked their place in the shield final against Kuban Krasnodar, the Russians keeping a clean sheet in their own game against a poor Northampton team.

 

The crowd was quite small at lunchtime, but grew throughout the day. There were plenty of empty seats along the sides of the West and East Stand lower tiers, I guess a lot of people wanting a day out will have gone on Saturday so they could pound a few and get rid of the hangover yesterday.

 

Maybe more would have had hangovers if the beer had been cheaper than £4.80 a pint (£5 for Guinness!).

 

In the main competition, Bienos Aires, ACT Brumbies, Harlequins and Auckland advanced to the semis, Auckland looking the strongest as they outclassed San Francisco. The Kiwis had a lot of pacy players of their own and Isles never really got a chance to show off his own speed.

 

Northampton’s misery was completed by a heavy defeat to Western Province, condemning the Saints to last place of the 12 teams. Krasnodar pulled off a respectable shield victory and finished ninth.

 

New York and Gloucester beat Saracens Moscow and San  Francisco respectively in the plate semi-finals, though this time Isles did get a few chances to run and he certainly does have some speed. Incredibly, when he scored a try, a different player was initially credited with it.

 

ACT Brumbies, roared on by at least one vocal fan in the East Stand, turned on the style to rip top seeds Buenos Aires apart in the cup competition and were unsurprisingly joined for an all-Down Under final by Auckland, who outclassed Harlequins.

 

New York completed a solid weekend for the underdogs by beating Gloucester for the plate and fifth place overall, before Buenos Aires hammered Harlequins for third.

 

The final, unusually just seven minutes each way, looked initially to be going the way of the Brumbies. The Australians were dominant in the first half and took a 12-0 lead into the break.

 

Auckland came back though and two quickfire tries gave them a 12-14 advantage. However with the very last play Henry Speight broke through the Kiwi defence and secured the title for his team, with the missed conversion academic.

 

After almost six and a half hours of rugby, the feeling among the four of us Falcons fans was that it had been an enjoyable day with some good crowd interaction. The weather had been kind, with a mixture of cloud and sun and only a little rain early on. The players and crowd also kept a good spirit.

 

Perhaps in the future it might be better to play the tournament on bank holiday weekend if possible, to encourage a bigger crowd on the Sunday, although that risks more people being on  holiday I suppose.

 

For a first go though I think the organisers can be pleased with themselves and hopefully this tournament will go on to become a big part of the rugby calendar.

 

 

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

Premiership Sevens Finals reaction

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Friday 9 August 2013
The Recreation Ground, Bath

When the fire alarm went off in the Bath Travelodge at 8.25 this morning, my immediate thought was “Ouch!” My head was quite sore from an epic night out and needed another two hours of dozing to sort out.

Finally putting feet to floor, a pain shot through my right knee. Spacehoppers should be illegal.

Finally, the £15 in coins in my pocket indicated that a good night had been had, and over pasta salad and orange juice in the Parade Gardens wor lass and I managed to piece together our memories.

Matchday almost had a disastrous beginning. No, not because I was in the office in the morning, but because we arrived in Bath at midday and went straight to the Rec to get some tickets, only to be told they had sold out!

I was speechless, absolutely gutted. After a little pleading, the nice lady in the ticket office said she was about to go around the ground testing the entry systems, and had five tickets to do it with. After that they could be sold, and so an hour later she came back to the ticket office and sold us two tickets for the sheep pen in front of the clubhouse! Success!

So all looked good until after a couple of pints in The Boater, we tried to get into the ground but the tickets wouldn’t scan properly. Back to the ticket office. Of set of tickets two, only one would scan. Fortunately the stewards’ gaffer took pity and let us in anyway.

The less said about matters on the pitch the better I think. We definitely missed Mayhew’s power and Hodgson’s creativity – York and Catterick couldn’t really compensate – and some lax defending was punished by Gloucester and Saracens.

Still, at least the Falcons scored some tries against Saracens, having been nilled by Gloucester.

Still, if we play in this tournament next season I’ll be happy as it will mean survival has been achieved.

At least there was fun to be had off the pitch, with some good banter with Gloucester fans in particular. We also ran into a couple of guys from Sussex who were eager to hear about which of the Falcons’ young players they should watch out for.

Oh, and of course there was the fan challenge obstacle course. As soon as I was asked to participate, the missus took away the rest of my two-pinter (the Premiership Rugby lady said participants had to be sober) and took me to the bar for a pep talk. I was not quite so serious, playing a few notes from Eye of the Tiger on me phone.

Nobody at the bar answered when I called “Can I get a bowl of Frosties over here please?” but then I didn’t ask too loudly.

Having not used a spacehopper before, at least not since I was a nipper, I thought it wise to get some practice first. It was going well until I got a shooting pain in the right knee. That’s both of them knackered then. Still managed to complete the course though and despite finishing last it was fun!

So Gloucester went on to win the title and come midnight the Rec’s clubhouse was sparsely populated and the bar closed. Some Falcons and Premiership Rugby officials had turned up and we tagged along to a nightclub near the train station.

The entrance being in a small terrace building, the club was surprisingly large and labyrinth-like inside, and not a bad place. More officials were there, including the night’s event manager who asked me my opinion on the entertainment. Good I thought, but as I was only there for the rugby (and the beer too I guess) then maybe I wasn’t the right person to ask.

Come 3am, I ran into a Falcons player who saw my shirt and immediately shouted “Gannin’ along the Scotswood Road, to see the Blaydon Races”. After a lot of beers, I just smiled and decided that since I could not think of an appropriate response, it might be time to hit the hay.

Until the fire alarm began.

The headache is now gone and although it probably not quite Cross Keys, last night was a cracker. Often the least-planned ones are. This is one big reason I love rugby – everywhere you go, you will make friends and meet some very nice and humble people.

Now that wor lass and I are planning how we’re going to do Brive in October, can’t wait for more of the same over there. It’s been a short summer but rugby is back!

Plate-winning reaction: Premiership Sevens Group B

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Friday 2 August 2013

Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton

 

The Geordies are back! Our return to the Premiership went swimmingly as for the third year out of four, the Falcons clean-sweeped their group in the JPMorgan 7s. The exception was last year, when we didn’t compete.

 

It is an anomaly that we haven’t finished in the top half of the Premiership since 2002 yet in the shorter format of the sport we have won the Premiership Sevens, Middlesex Sevens and numerous Plates in the latter over the past 15 years.

 

Maybe we should forget the full game and just play in the international sevens series, Commonwealth Games and Olympics.

 

Not sure I’d like that to be honest. I enjoy sevens as a day/night out – my first experience of live rugby was a sevens tournament at KP on 1996 – but it lacks something.

 

Anyway, the Falcons team had a job to do last night, and led by captain Richard Mayhew and deserved man-of-the-evening Tom Catterick, they did it.

 

Northampton were the only team to really trouble our lads, going ahead late in an absorbing opening game before a last-gasp try sealed us the five points.

 

In our final game, which would decide who won the night’s trophy plate, Sale fought back with a late try at the end but were unable to overhaul the Falcons’ 12-0 lead.

 

The sevens tonight, next week and hopefully at Twickenham the following week will not tell us very much about the Falcons’ survival chances in the Premiership.

 

The main points I’d take are that Catterick and Mayhew look sharp, but also that, after Scottish at home and Bedford away last season, I really hope that Joel Hodgson has not been coached out of tackling hard around the knees.

 

It is an effective move that too few players seem to do these days.

 

But wins are never bad and winning a sevens tournament or two would not do any harm.

 

Ahead of our move back north, it turns out that wor lass is owed some holiday so hopefully we might get a weekend in Bath for the finals on Friday.

 

As for tonight, I was happy to finally eat at the Thomas A Becket pub in Northampton after many years of pre-match beers there. The steak pie and geet big pile of chips belied the cheap price, and the veg didn’t come out of a can. Good stuff.

 

Even though this has been quite a short close season due to the Championship playoffs, it has felt quite long and it’s great to be back into rugby mode!

 

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