Match preview: Saracens v Newcastle Falcons

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Sunday 3 November 2013 – 3.00pm

Allianz Park, London

Aviva Premiership #7

It’s international season and there couldn’t really be a better time to play Saracens, one would have thought. No less than five of Mark McCall’s players will be in the England team on Saturday and so unavailable to play in Barnet on Sunday.

Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton, Billy and Mako Vunipola and debutant Joel Tomkins are all in Stuart Lancaster’s team to take on Australia at Twickenham, alongside former Falcons scrum-half Lee Dickson. David Wilson is on the bench with Toby Flood.

Tomkins is the left-field selection after less than two years in rugby union, indeed his Sarries debut only came last January, when he scored two tries against Worcester in the LV= Cup. Since then the former Wigan Warrior, who scored in the 2011 Challenge Cup final, has made 40 appearances for the men in black (and red).

His brother, Sam, is in the England Rugby League World Cup squad ahead of a move to New Zealand in the new year, and scored a try for the Barbarians in union in 2011.

There are however many England-capped Saracens players not in the squad of course, including locks Mouritz Botha and Steve Borthwick, backs Alex Goode and Charlie Hodgson, winger David Strettle and controversial prop Matt Stevens. Not forgetting former Sale scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth. In addition, there are several other internationals that will probably all be noticed once Sarries name what will no doubt be a very strong team. Not least, South African Schalk Brits, probably the best hooker I’ve seen play in this country.

The 2011 champions were the last team to lose a match in this season’s Premiership and their 41-20 reverse at Northampton last Saturday was the Londoners’ worst defeat in several years, Ben Foden scoring two of the Saints’ six tries. Before that however, it was five victories in a run that began with a 42-20 downing of London Irish at Twickenham on the opening day. Following that, Saracens again scored over 40 in pounding Gloucester at Allianz Park, and then they scored a 31-17 home victory over Bath 31-17.

A crunch London derby at the end of September ended with Saracens running out 12-22 winners against Harlequins at the Stoop and then Wasps became their next victims, losing 19-12 at Copthall despite outscoring their hosts by two tries to one and Chris Ashton suffering a yellow card.

Although Saracens remain top of the Premiership on 23, the big loss to Northampton leaves the Saints just a point behind, with Bath a further four adrift in third.

In the Heineken Cup, Saracens trundled to a 17-23 win over Connacht in Galway in their first group match and then lost out 16-17 to Toulouse at Wembley in a tense Friday night match that saw Owen Farrell miss a last-gasp drop-goal attempt.

This fixture dates back to the early 1980s but our club has only won twice at Saracens in 21 previous competitive visits, in the Decembers of 2001 and 2007. The latter was one of only two away Premiership games we won under the leadership of John Fletcher, who was relieved of his duties as Director of Rugby less than three months later. All of our England stars of the time were on the scoresheet – Mathew Tait, Jamie Noon and Toby Flood scoring tries and Jonny Wilkinson kicking two conversions and a penalty in front of 17,223 on a dark winter’s afternoon.

Perhaps worth having a look at that team:

M Tait, May (Phillips), Noon, Flood, Rudd (Visser), Wilkinson, Grindal (Charlton), Golding (Ward), Long (Thompson), Hayman, Perry, Sorenson, Parling, Woods (Williamson), B Wilson.

I count nine players in there who were internationals or would later play for their countries in that side, and but for injuries, Jonny Golding would surely have made it ten.

Falcons at Saracens:

27/09/1980             Bramley Road            Club Match                W15-3

09/04/1982             Bramley Road            Club Match                W25-6

26/01/1985             Bramley Road            Cup R3                        L13-16

12/12/1987             Bramley Road            Division 2                   D7-7

15/04/1995             Bramley Road            Division 2                   D16-16

19/04/1998             Vicarage Road            Premiership 1           L10-12

20/05/1999             Vicarage Road            Premiership 1           L26-40

17/10/1999             Vicarage Road            Premiership 1           L6-55

15/04/2001             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L29-34

09/12/2001             Vicarage Road            Premiership               W24-19

24/11/2002             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L13-17

13/01/2003             Vicarage Road            Challenge Cup QFL1 L10-31

22/02/2004             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L27-32

19/12/2004             Vicarage Road            Cup R6                       L20-22

28/01/2005             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L13-32

20/11/2005             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L18-27

17/09/2006             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L20-44

30/12/2007             Vicarage Road            Premiership               W22-19

21/09/2008             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L14-44

12/04/2009             Vicarage Road            Challenge Cup QF     L13-32

28/03/2010             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L15-58

27/03/2011             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L9-24

09/10/2011             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L5-25

It’s a shame the Supporters Club haven’t been able to put on a bus to this game, since it is our first visit to Allianz Park (not the Allianz Arena as I keep calling it by mistake – that’s somewhat bigger and in Germany! Though Saracens are probably English rugby’s equivalent of FC Hollywood) and promises to be a lot nicer than Vicarage Road was. We don’t often get new grounds in the Premiership but this year there’s two – Salford and Allianz Park, so it’s not just for the game that I’m quite looking forward to Sunday.

Also a weekend in back London beforehand, even if I will be back on the camp bed in Hampstead just a few months after I thought those days were behind me.

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 13-11 London Irish

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Sunday 27 October 2013 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #6

 

Loathe as I am to quote Manchester City fans, that was a “massive” result today. The league table here shows it – eighth position now, eleven points ahead of Worcester. We should probably still look down instead of up at the moment, but fourth-placed Exeter are only four points ahead of us.

 

This game was a battle and London Irish had the same opportunity as us, to put some real daylight between themselves and the bottom places. They brought a small but boisterous group of supporters, and for much of the game kept the atmosphere a little eerie inside of Kingston Park.

 

I think our forwards played a clever game for the most part, edging Irish in the scrum and defending tightly while not over-committing to rucks. The backs were not quite as good perhaps – whatever prompted the horrendous bout of aimless kicking in the middle period of the match seemed to be arrested without too much damage being done, but I can’t remember too many try-scoring opportunities bar the two actual scores we saw.

 

I had wondered whether I would get over to Newcastle at all for this match with some weather forecasters predicting storms of biblical proportions. Unsurprisingly they didn’t quite materialise, at least not in the North, and the worst I encountered was poor visibility on the M6. Indeed, KP was relatively warm and bright this afternoon but no doubt the wet ball led to both sides deciding on a forwards’ slog.

 

The drive home was a bit easier despite the early evening darkness. I guess it’ll be a few months now until we get to finish a match in daylight but that’s OK, the atmosphere at the end of a tight game always seems just a bit more intense in the dark.

 

Back to the game, my adopted Cumbrian brother (well, I’m the adopted one) Mark Wilson played another fantastic game and was a deserved man of the match, getting absolutely everywhere and putting in some big tackles. Carlo del Fava and Dom Barrow were also big players all around the game. None of the backs really stood out for me, except maybe Ryan Shortland who had a few good runs, but Rory Clegg didn’t have the greatest game, especially kicking from hand, and the backline never really got going.

 

It hasn’t all season of course, but a couple more wins perhaps and then we might be able to relax a bit and let the backs loose. Once safety seems secure, there will then be the opportunity to try to attract some quality for next season.

 

Just having another look at the table, only four teams have a better defence than us, only five have conceded fewer tries. The defence is solid and as long as it remains so, we have a chance of grinding out wins. The tries for column does not read so well – with three, the next-lowest scorers (Worcester) still have more than twice as many. Clegg’s off-day with the boot today almost cost us, so I’d say getting over the line more often must be the priority.

 

My last thought goes to the last kick of the game. I wonder whether, after the match, Shane Geraghty was sitting in the dressing room wishing he hadn’t delayed taking that last penalty so long that he had to rush it.

 

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v London Irish

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Sunday 27 October 2013 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #6

 

The eyes of most of North East’s sports fans will be focused on the Stadium of Light on Sunday for the Sunderland v Newcastle United derby, but in the oval ball game, the Falcons have a crucial league match at Kingston Park against relegation rivals London Irish.

 

I say relegation rivals, but in fact going into this weekend’s games, the two teams head the group of four on nine points, with Irish in eighth, the Falcons in ninth and Gloucester and Wasps below them, all four sitting seven points above bottom-placed Worcester. But realistically, Gloucester and Wasps should improve with their squads, while we and the Exiles were both tipped in pre-season to struggle.

 

Like ourselves, Irish have won two of their opening five games, but they have scored ten tries, five times as many as the Falcons, and have a notable home win over Harlequins on their record from three weeks ago. Alex Lewington and Scotland’s Blair Cowan were the try-scorers in an 18-13 victory at the Madejski Stadium, which followed an 18-20 triumph at Worcester back in September.

 

Elsewhere in the Premiership this season, Irish lost their first game to Saracens at Twickenham, and in September were also downed at Bath and against Exeter in Reading, though gaining a bonus point in the latter game.

 

Brian Smith will be without star player Marland Yarde, whose father is fantastically named Scotland, at KP as the youngster, who impressed on England’s summer tour to Argentina, has been retained by Stuart Lancaster ahead of the Autumn Friendlies. Two forgotten men of English rugby, Topsy Ojo and Shane Geraghty, were in the side that beat Quins and they are joined in the backline by Irish international scrum-half Tomás O’Leary and destructive Samoan winger Sailosi Tagicakibau.

 

The most recognisable name to Falcons fans in the Irish forwards roster will be Michael Mayhew, who some seemed to consider the best hooker to come out of New Zealand since Sean Fitzpatrick. I can’t say I ever thought he was any better than Thompson or Vickers. Another former Falcon is Andrew Fenby, a winger who scored two tries for us in a short first team spell back in 2009. After impressing with Blaydon and a couple of appearances, Fenby joined Scarlets in the summer of 2009 and went on to score 27 tries for the Welsh side. This season, in four starts and one replacement appearance, he has one try, against Cavalieri Prato in the Challenge Cup.

 

Speaking of which, the Craicers last two games have obviously been in Europe, like ourselves. In round one, Prato were hammered 60-11 at the MadStad, before a trip to Lisbon produced a 6-67 win over Lusitanos. The latter game, in which Yarde crossed twice, was controversial in that Irish had been originally scheduled to travel to Spain to take on Olympus Rugby, but the latter pulled out of the tournament for financial reasons.

 

I am told that ERC refunded Irish fans who had booked to travel to Spain. Very nice gesture.

 

After Bath, Irish have probably one of the best records of any away team at KP down the years. Our win over the Exiles in our last meeting in February 2012, aided by a Ryan Shortland interception try on the halfway line, was our first home victory against them since April 2005, though there were two away triumphs in that time. Going further back, in our ill-fated six-game Gateshead experiment in 1998, Irish were the only away team to leave the International Stadium with a win.

 

Irish in Newcastle:

20/02/1988 North Road                Division 2                   L14-22

18/11/1989 Percy Park                 Division 2                   L6-27

20/11/1993 Kingston Park            Division 1                   L9-13

05/11/1994 Kingston Park            Division 2                   L9-15

04/11/1995 Kingston Park            Division 2                   L19-23

11/01/1998 Kingston Park            Premiership 1           W46-13

27/09/1998 Gateshead                  Premiership 1           L21-23

18/04/2000 Kingston Park            Premiership 1           W28-23

10/12/2000 Kingston Park            Cup QF                       W33-20

01/04/2001 Kingston Park            Premiership               W42-35

08/05/2002 Kingston Park            Premiership               W33-28

03/11/2002 Kingston Park            Premiership               L16-24

22/12/2002 Kingston Park            Cup 6th round           L16-17

28/02/2004 Kingston Park            Cup QF                       W24-12

02/05/2004 Kingston Park            Premiership               L15-16

30/05/2005 Kingston Park            Premiership               W23-16

11/11/2005 Kingston Park            Premiership               L20-23

22/09/2006 Kingston Park            Premiership               L21-26

13/04/2008 Kingston Park            Premiership               L8-13

16/11/2008 Kingston Park            Premiership               L8-24

20/02/2010 Kingston Park            Premiership               D12-12

25/09/2010 Kingston Park            Premiership               L12-46

18/02/2012 Kingston Park            Premiership               W19-10

 

 

Dean Richards has sprung a selection surprise on the Falcons’ return to league action by leaving Will Welch on the bench, going with a back row of Dom Barrow, Mark Wilson and Ally Hogg. Alex Tait, Tom Catterick, Rory Clegg, Mike Blair and Carlo del Fava return, and Danny Barnes is in the team for the first time since Sale in September. Oliver Tomaszczyk also gets a start, with Grant Shiells remaining among the replacements.

 

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Tom Catterick, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Carlo del Fava, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 6 Dom Barrow, 7 Mark Wilson, 8 Ally Hogg (c).

 

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Grant Shiells, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Scott MacLeod, 20 Will Welch, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Phil Godman, 23 James Fitzpatrick.

 

 

London Irish include the younger Mayhew on the bench, which he warms with Geraghty, but we will face another pacy backline on Sunday that will test our defence. However, while recent 64-cap recruit Ian Gough from Wales lends massive experience to the Irish pack, we will not have to consider rumoured temporary signing James O’Connor this weekend.

 

London Irish: 15 Topsy Ojo, 14. Alex Lewington, 13.Fergus Mulchrone, 12. Eamonn Sheridan, 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10. Ian Humphreys, 9. Tomás O’Leary, 1 John Yapp, 2 David Paice, 3. Leo Halavatau, 4 George Skivington (c), 5 Ian Gough, 6 Blair Cowan, 7 Ofisa Treviranus, 8. Chris Hala’ufia.

 

Replacements: 16 Mike Mayhew, 17 Matt Parr, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Bryn Evans, 20 Jebb Sinclair, 21 Guy Armitage, 22 Shane Geraghty, 23 Darren Allinson.

 

 

Facing Exeter away, Harlequins away and Leicester at home respectively, we might expect Worcester, Sale and perhaps Wasps too to lose this weekend, so a win over Irish would be a real boost to our chances of staying up if these results came off too. More than that, a first home win of the season would be a morale boost around the place too, and no team better to get it against than a relegation rival.

 

 

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

 

Brive 2013

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Well, I’ve just about got the ringing out of me ears after last night’s game. Honestly, in 17 years of watching the Falcons I don’t think I’ve ever heard a crowd as loud as Brive’s for this match. Whipped up by a band and several drummers, they were quite mad.

 

For away players, I imagine it is quite intimidating, and for the officials too no doubt. Certainly I’ve never seen such heckling for a decision against a home team. It was probably one notch below ‘violent’ and made the Shed look like a Kindergarten.

 

It is to the Falcons’ great credit that they came away from this exciting match with a losing bonus point, helping to keep the group wide open after two games. For a third-string side (so we were told), Brive had out a fantastic set of backs with pace that we struggled to contain at times.

 

Yet we could, perhaps should, have won. We had plenty of chances and missed a few points from the tee (as did Brive like). If Sean ‘Le Monster’ Tomes had been able to get his scoring pass to Chris York backward rather than forward, who knows? What if we had been able to make our extra man count in the second half instead of Oliver Tomaszczyk’s mist descending?

 

We could go through “What ifs” all day. Even if the result was disappointing, we away fans had a good time as always. Wor lass and I flew over to Limoges last Sunday and spent the week driving round some small villages and towns in the Corrèze and Dordogne regions, overcoming questionable hotels, closed cafes and enough ham, eggs, cheese, bread and chips to make me want a salad like never before in my life. Our most notable destination was the aptly-named Beaulieu, a rugby-loving village of 1,000 people where we had a few chats with the owner of the local rugby bar.

 

Oradour, near Limoges, is a humbling and haunting place that anyone with an interest in history should visit. We met a café owner there who explained that he was a fan of lots of sports – mostly handball, as he had a photo on the wall of himself with a Graham Kitchener lookalike who is apparently the world’s best handball player. Discussing his framed football shirts, I mentioned that we were over for the Brive-Falcons game – he then showed us a framed t-shirt with the names of Brive’s 1997 Heineken Cup-winning team on. His wife is a Brive native and a big fan.

 

This gentleman spoke little English, less than we could speak French, but this encounter reminded me that sport truly is an international language.

 

In Brive, Café Post has been done out but still offers a good feed and a nice environment for a few beers. On Saturday lunchtime, a French TV presenter came over and asked us to embellish his notes on the Falcons team. “Alex Tait, is he Mathew’s brother?” “Why is a hooker wearing number one?”

 

“Tomes et Barrow, deux metre?” Yes, Tomes is a “beast”. He didn’t understand. “Monster?” “Ah, merci.” Our new friend then wrote “Monster” beside Tomes, I wonder if he mentioned it in commentary?

 

Semi-official count of away fans was 11, although there may have been more locals we didn’t meet. Apparently we made enough noise high up in the stands to be heard among the Brive band, drums, cheering, howling and whistling. Fraser McKenzie heard us anyway.

 

Apart from Jersey last season, this was my first overseas trip to watch the Falcons since Montauban in 2006, and I remembered what I have been missing, apart from the obvious benefit of a holiday – the chance to meet new friends among both travelling and home friends, and also to get to know existing friends better, over a few beers in a new place and of course watch a game. It’s a bit more relaxed than a normal Premiership game where we tend to go, watch the game, chew the fat then go home. It looks unlikely I will be able to make Calvisano but going to look into it.

 

For now, with the Falcons still just a point behind Brive, it looks possible that we could yet qualify for the quarters despite last night’s result. Just win the rest of our games and get a couple of bonus points, that should do it and it’s doable.

 

Thanks to everyone we enjoyed Brive with, and for those we hadn’t met before, looking forward to seeing you at another game soon.

 

 

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

Match reaction: Bucharest Wolves 12-13 Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 12 October 2013 – 3.00pm

Stadium Arcul de Triumf, Bucharest

Amlin Challenge Cup Pool 3 #1

 

Just a quick one, as I’m waiting for wor lass’s brother-in-law to come round and help me put a curtain pole up, then we’re off to their gaff for tea.

 

So the first game of the season in Europe was a bit more of a slog than we had probably expected, and it was only thanks to Tom Catterick’s injury time penalty that the Falcons avoided a big upset over in Romania.

 

Following the game on Twitter thanks to Smithy Jr and the Falcons, it seems that the Wolves played quite well and certainly we would have hoped for a bonus point, but it didn’t happen. Never mind, the win is the most important thing and we’ve only lost one point. Well, we’ve gained four really, we had none at the start of the day.

 

We’ll see what the reports are like, and the opinions of travelling fans, but Brive will be a tough nut next week so we will need to play well there. Presumably a few more first team regulars will be around in France, not just with that game in mind but to get people going for London Irish in the Premiership the following week.

 

But Bucharest might well give Brive a decent challenge too in December, their team today had 700 caps-plus apparently, and they did beat Agen last season, so they are no mugs, despite some fans apparently feeling a defeat would have been quite embarrassing today.

 

Well, we got a win and that’s enough for now I reckon, and hopefully no bad injuries.

 

Off to do some DIY now – it’s Saturday after all – but tomorrow it’s a flight to France and a week in the Dordogne before Brive next weekend! Can’t wait.

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

Match preview: Bucharest Wolves v Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 12 October 2013 – 3.00pm (1pm UK time)

Stadium Arcul de Triumf

Amlin Challenge Cup Pool 3 #1

 

The opening game of the Falcons’ return to the Challenge Cup sees our first trip behind the old Iron Curtain to Romania, the land of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu and football legend Gheorghe Hagi.

 

After years of waiting, I was chuffed when the Falcons and Bucharest Wolves came out of the hat together in this competition, but circumstances dictate that I’ll not be over in Romania tomorrow, but going to France on Sunday ahead of next week’s game in Brive. Not a bad alternative.

 

Although Romania and indeed Romanians do not always enjoy the best reputation with foreigners, not least due to the idea that it is citizens of that country that can often be found begging at tourist attractions or stealing from cashpoints, the crime rate is quite low in Bucharest in comparison to many other capital cities. London could only dream about having 11 murders in a year, as Bucharest did in 2007. Reviews talk about a beautiful and vibrant city that is growing out of Communism and into the future.

 

The Wolves’ ground is the Stadium Arcul de Triumf, home of the national side and an arena that opened way back in 1914, though it was renovated and expanded just recently and now has a capacity of 5,500. Alongside rugby games, it has hosted concerts by the like of Limp Bizkit, The Cranberries and Eric Clapton.

 

Bucharest are coached by Romania national manager and former Wales caretaker boss Lynn Howells. Last season saw the select side win two matches in Pool 4 of this tournament, the same as they managed in 2011/12 when Banca Monte Crociati of Italy were downed twice by the eastern Europeans. Indeed going back through tables of previous seasons in this competition, I cannot find a time when a Romanian side has lost all six pool games, so the Falcons (and probably especially Calvisano) had better beware.

 

A year ago, Bucharest were downed 17-40 by Bath at the Arcul de Triumf, before a 42-27 home win over Calvisano, ironically. Our hosts play both of their October games at home to avoid extreme weather in eastern Europe in January, when they will play two away games. Of course is the other way round for the Falcons.

 

In a stunning upset in round three last season, Agen lost in Bucharest 25-22, though they got their revenge in France a week later with a 39-9 romp. January saw the campaign wrap up with a 34-20 defeat at Calvisano and a pounding at Bath, who took top spot in the group by winning 53-8.

 

As I said, the Wolves are a select side made up of players from across Romania’s top clubs, and will apparently be replaced by an actual club, not sure who but it may be champions Timisoara. They don’t really have any big names in this year’s squad, although Sosene Anesi one cap All Black does play for Timisoara.

 

The ERC site lists several internationals in the squad including number eight Razvan Ailenei, 54-cap centre Csaba Gal and wings Ionut Dumitru and Stephan Hihetah, as well as full-back Florin Vlaicu, who has played in two World Cups. Johan Van Heerden, not really a Romanian name, has ambitions to play for the national side according to this interview published in March.

 

 

Alex Crockett captains the Falcons on his first start of the season, in a team that includes debutants Sean Brown and Harrison Collins. George McGuigan gets a first start in a Falcons shirt and Fraser McKenzie and Sean Tomes are drafted into the second row. Chris Pilgrim and Joel Hodgson are the half-back pairing.

 

Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Ryan Shortland, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Alex Crockett (c), 11 Sean Brown, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Chris Pilgrim, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 5 Sean Tomes, 6 Chris York, 7 Mark Wilson, 8 Harrison Collins.

 

Replacements: 16 Kieran Brookes, 17 Gary Strain, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Dom Barrow, 20 James Fitzpatrick, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Noah Cato.

 

 

So it seems that Dean Richards has picked a team that is aimed at winning while giving some younger and fringe players a run-out – a sensible policy. Hopefully the job will get done with no injuries and we can then look forward to Brive.

 

Oh, and remember tomorrow’s game is at 1pm UK time, if you’re intending listening on the radio.

 

 

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

Match reaction: Worcester Warriors 11-16 Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 5 October 2013 – 3.00pm

Sixways, Worcester

Aviva Premiership #5

 

Since losing to Worcester on our last visit to Sixways in March 2012, the Falcons have lost only one away league game in sixteen, incredibly. Admittedly, eleven of them were in the Championship, but four wins in five away Premiership matches going back to the Miracle of Kingsholm last April is not a bad record, considering our history with away games.

 

Yesterday’s game was the second of three that the Falcons will have surely targeted as wins, following last week’s bonus point defeat at home to Gloucester and the visit of London Irish at the end of October, and if we can win that one to then nine (or even ten) points from these three games will be a decent return.

 

As it is, we now have five more points from our first five fixtures this season than we achieved in the same games in 2011/12, and sit a healthy ninth in the table, or joint-seventh some might say, though Exeter could overtake us this afternoon.  We have by far the worst attack in the league, but the joint-sixth best defence. Most importantly of all, the win over Worcester yesterday gives us a seven-point gap above the Warriors at the bottom of the table.

 

The game mirrored the flow of the Gloucester match in some ways – a good start and an early try, but then we took our foot off the gas (‘fizz’ was the missing key, according to several away fans far away in the corner of Sixways’ East Stand). Then in the second half, we held out better than last week and managed to put on some more pressure late on, and finally snuck a precious victory against one of our main relegation rivals.

 

One Falcons fan said after the game that we had seen “two poor teams”, and in terms of our status within the Premiership, I’d have to agree. So far we’ve been outplayed, certainly quality-wise, by Bath and Leicester, been unable to hold on to a lead against mid-table Gloucester, and just snuck wins over Sale and Worcester, two teams considered to be in our ‘mini-league’ at the bottom. There was plenty of endeavor, and maybe we will shock a couple of the higher teams this season, but I can’t see us finishing any higher than ninth or tenth on what we’ve seen so far.

 

That would be enough, mind. Stay up and then build from there.

 

The surprise selection for this game was Rob Vickers, starting a senior game at loosehead for the first time. He was up against former Falcon and Lion Euan Murray, but I felt neither really had the upper hand in that battle so Vickers acquitted himself well. The scrum did become more dominant when Franck Montanella came on though.

 

Dom Barrow continued his fine start to his Falcons career with a powerful performance in the second row and though Alex Tait dropped probably his first high ball of the season, he was otherwise solid with some immense tackling at the back. Matt Thompson had a superb game in the scrum and around the field before surprisingly going off on the hour. My man of the match however was James Fitzpatrick, who was used to good his strengths to make gaps in the Worcester defence and slow down their attacks with some effective tackling.

 

Worcester will no doubt be concerned at the crowd, only 7,100 according to the Premiership site. Higher than we get, certainly, so I’m not criticising them. However, apart from our visit in the LV= Cup in…2009…I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sixways so empty. Normally, when we go down there, the crowd gets over 10,000. Apparently the tickets for this game were more expensive than for London Irish last month, as we are in the higher category of Worcester’s visitors. Flattering perhaps, but not really comprehensible.

 

There is a lot of unrest among Warriors supporters, and their other crowds this season, also around the 7,000 mark, are probably the consequence of that. Shame, because it’s a lovely ground (driving to it is a lot easier than going on public transport, I now know!) and a lovely club. Hopefully we will both be in the Premiership still next year.

 

One thing I do not want to see in the Premiership next season, or the rest of this season, or any season, is diving. One home player, in my opinion and that of many others, dived to try to get a penalty or penalty try in front of the line yesterday. I don’t think anyone wants to see that kind of thing from any player on any team.

 

Back to the Falcons though, it’s Europe now and with respect to Bucharest, we should have an opportunity to rack up the points over in Romania on Saturday before a tough test at Brive the following week. It will be interesting to see how Dean Richards approaches the Challenge Cup, with the Premiership obviously being the priority.

 

We haven’t made a terrible start in the league, and it needs to be maintained.

 

 

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