Friday 30 August 2013 – 7.45pm
Mansfield Park, Hawick
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)