Sunday 1 December 2013 – 2.30pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
Aviva Premiership #9
The big games are coming fast now. After Saracens, Northampton and Gloucester away in three of our last four games, it’s Harlequins at home, the Londoners’ first visit since Taiasina Tu’ifua temporarily became even more hated in the Borough of Richmond upon Thames than a tax evasion inspector.
It was a violent night at KP in March 2012 with Chris Pilgrim and Rob Vickers sent off in front of the live TV cameras and Nick Evans salvaging a 9-9 draw for top-of-the-table Harlequins in the final seconds with a controversial penalty from a scrum. 7,292 piled into the ground, buoyed by cheap tickets, and watched a blood-and-thunder encounter that showed why the Premiership needs relegation.
Harlequins went on to win the title, the Falcons went down, but it was one of the games of the season.
Since then, Conor O’Shea’s side have faltered slightly, sitting fifth this season after a third-placed finish last season. Not exactly terrible of course, and they did win the LV= Cup last season with a 32-14 win in the final against Sale. Our own Rory Clegg and another former Falcon Pete Browne, now with Tom May at London Welsh, came off the bench in the final at Sixways.
In the Premiership this season, Quins have an excellent away record with wins against Wasps (at Twickenham), Worcester and Leicester away from the Stoop and a bonus-point defeat at London Irish at the start of October. The 16-23 victory at Welford Road just under a month ago was a particularly notable result, Matt Hopper’s converted score the difference between the two teams. Away in the cups they have been less successful, losing at Clermont Auvergne in Europe and Exeter in the LV=.
In south London in the league, Northampton and Saracens were successful away to Quins in September, but since then Sale and Gloucester have been downed at the Stoop, the Cherry and Whites losing 27-19 last Saturday while we were pointless on TV at Franklin’s Gardens. Nick Easter, Danny Care and Luke Wallace were the jesters’ try-scorers and Nick Evans converted all three while adding two penalties, his boot the difference between the two teams as Billy Twelvetrees (twice) and Jonny May crossed for the visitors.
The victory was a special one for Quins, who were celebrating the 50th anniversary of their first match at the Stoop. England captain Chris Robshaw missed out on a return to his club, but Mike Brown and Joe Marler flew the red rose flag.
Easter’s England career would seem to be over at the age of 35 after 48 caps, a shame because for me he was often underrated in the white shirt. Clearly not at Harlequins though with just over 200 starts since 2004. Paul Doran-Jones and Danny Care probably face challenges to get back into the England team, as does Nick Kennedy, and Ugo Monye has also not played for the national team for a while.
The aforementioned Nick Evans would surely have many, many more than his 16 test caps for New Zealand had he not been unlucky enough to be in the same generation as Dan Carter, but he is sure of legendary status at Harlequins with 1,526 points in 134 competitive starts and a single replacement appearance in the EDF Energy Cup in his first season, 2008/09.
Evans’ next penalty in the Premiership will be his 250th.
Harlequins are looking for their first win at Kingston Park since November 2006 when Gavin Beasley was the Falcons’ fly-half in a dismal performance by our team in front of the TV cameras. Since then we’ve had exciting victories in March 2009 (the last in a run of six successive Premiership wins) and March 2011. The latter was a week before Tane Tu’ipulotu scored a last-second try to win the LV= Cup semi-final at the Stoop, our second most glorious win over Harlequins after winning the Premiership title in Twickenham in May 1998.
Harlequins away in Newcastle:
11/09/1954 County Ground Club Match L9-35
03/09/1955 County Ground Club Match L5-18
01/09/1956 North Road Club Match L0-9
09/09/1963 North Road Club Match W5-3
24/02/1979 North Road Cup 2nd round W9-3
14/11/1987 North Road Club Match L4-33
02/10/1993 Kingston Park Division 1 L3-22
10/02/1996 Kingston Park Cup 5th round L22-44
15/02/1998 Kingston Park Premiership 1 W43-15
11/05/1999 Kingston Park Premiership 1 W33-23
05/12/1999 Kingston Park Premiership 1 L15-16
06/03/2001 Kingston Park Premiership L22-24
16/09/2001 Kingston Park Premiership D6-6
01/02/2003 Kingston Park Premiership W32-17
04/01/2004 Kingston Park Premiership L25-29
19/09/2004 Kingston Park Premiership W22-21
10/11/2006 Kingston Park Premiership L3-14
02/12/2006 Kingston Park Cup W21-18
29/09/2007 Kingston Park Premiership W19-12
15/03/2009 Kingston Park Premiership W24-16
25/09/2009 Kingston Park Premiership D17-17
15/11/2009 Kingston Park Cup L8-19
04/03/2011 Kingston Park Premiership W33-18
02/03/2012 Kingston Park Premiership D9-9
Of course, Sunday will be the first time that Dean Richards has crossed swords with Harlequins since his Bloodgate ban for events at the Stoop in April 2009 – I’d like to be a fly on the wall if he and Tom Williams run into each other somewhere in KP.
Kieran Brookes for Oliver Tomaszczyk is the only change to the Falcons’ starting lineup from Northampton last week, as Phil Godman, Fraser McKenzie and Richard Mayhew continue their runs in the team. Tomaszczyk is out of the squad completely, the only other change to the squad being Sean Tomes on the bench instead of Scott MacLeod:
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Carlo del Fava, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg.
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Grant Shiells, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Sean Tomes, 20 Chris York, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 James Fitzpatrick
Harlequins have their international half-back pairing of Nick Evans and Danny Care in the starting XV for Sunday, with Mike Brown at full-back. With Chris Robshaw missing, Nick Easter captains from the second row and Ollie Lindsay-Hague on the bench is a name that catches my eye – he sold an outrageous dummy in front of the South Stand a few years ago to score. I’m not normally one for applauding the opposition but that was quite a bit of play.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Matt Hopper, 12 Tom Casson, 11 Sam Smith, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 1 Joe Marler, 2 Dave Ward, 3 Will Collier, 4 Nick Easter (c), 5 George Robson, 6 Joe Trayfoot, 7 Luke Wallace, 8 Tom Guest.
Replacements: 16 Harry Allen, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Paul Doran-Jones, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 James Chisholm, 21 Sam Stuart, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Ollie Lindsay-Hague.
Best crowd of the season expected on Sunday, and with those teams I fancy four points.
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)