Saturday 5 October 2013 – 3.00pm
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)