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.
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