Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 12-17 London Wasps

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Friday 27 December 2013 – 7.45pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #11

There seems to be a lot of negativity going around about last night’s match. There were certainly some parts that were frustrating, and with a bit more nous we could well have won, but I don’t agree with some comments that it was a “terrible” performance. It was far better than the game at Exeter, and certainly a big improvement on Harlequins.

I’d also disagree on the performances of some players – I thought Chris Pilgrim had a good game, his passing was a lot quicker and sharper than Warren Fury has shown. His box kicks often weren’t the correct option but Phil Godman standing so deep often didn’t help.

The two Wasps tries came about from our own mistakes, the first by playing in our own five-metre zone and bringing the ball in front of goal to allow Wasps to use the posts to their advantage, and the second from a botched dribble by Noah Cato. To be fair to Cato, we were two on three so the dribble might have worked, and other than two errant attempts to knock the ball through the defence he did little wrong all night.

I’d have given Scott Lawson the man of the match award, the lineout functioned well (not all down to the hooker I know but the throw is a big part of it), he was everywhere around the pitch and made some good carries and tackles. I noticed this because I’d been thinking Lawson has not done much since making his debut in October, and perhaps George McGuigan was worth a start.

Jamie Helleur looked probably the most dangerous back on his return from injury and James Fitzpatrick was used to decent effect.

My major beef with last night was that for the first ten minutes the Falcons built a platform with the ball in hand and made some good progress. Then we allowed Wasps back into the game, and with a heavy wind on our backs sent some wild kicks forward but rarely put pressure on the Wasps backs. Later in the second half, I guess the wind made a kicking game too dangerous so we kept the ball for the most part and, although it took a long time, amazingly we finally got into the 22 and it yielded a try to give us a bonus point.

The defensive kicking game has not worked this season (as we say so often), finally we tried something different and it resulted in two tries and a bonus point. If we hadn’t made the mistakes that ended up in conceding two tries, who knows what might have happened? So there is definitely cause for encouragement – if we learn from this game.

It seemed after the game that opinion was split on the performance between those that have seen games like Exeter and Gloucester away, and therefore know the depths we have been to this season, and those who didn’t, although most of us will have seen Harlequins and last night was far better than that game.

This season we’ve seen some crazy use of the TMO at games, most notably Brive, but last night was something else. There appeared to most people to be a clear knock-on just before Wasps’ first try – the TV replays showed it – yet between them the referee and TMO gave the score. Then late in the second half one of our players was deliberately knocked over chasing a kick into the 22. It appears to have been a linesman that saw it as Wayne Barnes didn’t give any signal at the time. To miss it in real time is fair enough, but for it to go to the TMO and no penalty to be given was unbelievable. The worst decision I’ve seen in a long time.

Still, we can’t blame the referee for letting Wasps take the game to us for a long period when we had the wind.

I don’t think there is any reason to celebrate a losing bonus point in itself, but the manner of our recovery late in the game gives optimism if we learn from it and realise what has worked and what has not. We have another winnable game against Sale next week so no reason not to go out and try to take the game to the Sharks.

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v London Wasps

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Friday 27 December 2013 – 7.45pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #11

 

Tonight is the first of two crucial home games in the Premiership for the Falcons. Next Friday night Sale come to KP, but before that it’s Wasps in front of the BT Sport cameras in our final outing of 2013.

 

After four league matches without a point or a try, and just 15 points in total (as if you didn’t know), this is a fantastic chance for Dean Richards and his side to show that they really aren’t content just to survive in the top division this season but are serious about mixing it with the big boys.

 

We’re ten points clear of bottom-placed Worcester who could only manage a losing bonus point at a below-bar Gloucester on Sunday, with a supposedly hungry squad that we are told will eventually play attractive and winning rugby. Lets go for it tonight and show the fight that was lacking against Harlequins.

 

We have a mixed record at home to Wasps since their first trip north in March 1980 that saw a 12-0 win for Gosforth. Overall, meetings between the two sides in Newcastle (plus one in Gateshead in 1998) have seen eleven Falcons wins, thirteen victories for Wasps and two draws.

 

The Falcons have won the last two games against Wasps at KP however, in September 2010 and October 2011. In the latter, Jimmy Gopperth’s five penalties secured our first win of the season, the visitors’ Christian Wade scoring the only try of the day. Gopperth also scored five penalties in the 2010/11 match, alongside converting Tim Swinson and Redford Pennycook’s tries.

 

I doubt many of the 500-odd Falcons fans who were at our last meeting with Wasps have forgotten it, or will forget it any time soon. It was of course the final match of the 2011/12 season and a straight relegation shootout between the two teams in High Wycombe. The Falcons needed four tries or a big win with penalties to overhaul Wasps and stay up, but Wade’s first-half try, converted by Nicky Robinson, who added a penalty, left us 10-0 down at the break.

 

Backed by a vociferous and jovial away following, the Falcons rallied after half-time and James Fitzpatrick and Peter Stringer’s tries gave us a 10-14 win. It was not enough to avoid a season in the Championship, but it was a fantastic afternoon. One of the best atmospheres I’ve ever known at a rugby match.

 

Falcons v Wasps:

29/03/1980             North Road                Club Match    W12-0

11/02/1984             North Road                Cup R3           D12-12

31/03/1984             North Road                Club Match    L6-44

29/10/1988             North Road                Club Match    L15-19

29/09/1990             Kingston Park            Club Match    L13-19

12/09/1992             Kingston Park            Club Match    D3-3

29/01/1994             Kingston Park            Division 1       L16-18

17/12/1994             Kingston Park            Cup R4           L12-58

07/04/1998             Kingston Park            Premiership 1W20-13

11/10/1998             Gateshead                  Premiership 1W27-19

12/03/2000             Kingston Park            Premiership 1L8-34

23/09/2000             Kingston Park            Premiership   W59-21

16/12/2001             Kingston Park            Cup R6           W24-22

27/01/2002             Kingston Park            Premiership   L22-23

01/09/2002             Kingston Park            Premiership   W24-17

29/11/2003             Kingston Park            Premiership   L20-23

06/02/2005             Kingston Park            Premiership   W29-28

27/11/2005             Kingston Park            Premiership   W17-15

23/02/2007             Kingston Park            Premiership   W37-11

07/05/2008             Kingston Park            Premiership   L12-23

24/10/2008             Kingston Park            Cup                 L13-26

28/11/2008             Kingston Park            Premiership   L17-23

08/05/2010             Kingston Park            Premiership   L21-25

10/09/2010             Kingston Park            Premiership   W29-17

02/10/2011             Kingston Park            Premiership   W15-10

 

 

Wasps currently lie at the bottom of the top eight mini-league in the Premiership on 23 points, six ahead of Gloucester and looking to kick on and get into the playoffs. Although they lost at home to Northampton last Saturday, Dai Young’s team did manage to get a bonus point in the 15-17 reverse. Wasps’ last away outing in the league was in Reading in November, where a penalty try and Andy Goode’s boot gave the Insects a 12-19 victory.

 

They have also beaten Gloucester away in the Premiership this season, but lost at Exeter, Sale and Saracens in the early weeks of the campaign. Grenoble (7-47) and Viadana (17-90) have posed little trouble in Europe though.

 

 

 

The Falcons are without Mike Blair tonight, though Jamie Helleur is fully back from injury and starts alongside James Fitzpatrick. Will Welch is back in the starting lineup too and Franck Montanella and Mark Wilson make welcome returns from injury on the bench.

 

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Warren Fury, 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 Franck Montanella, 18 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 19 Sean Tomes, 20 Mark Wilson, 21 Chris Pilgrim, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Danny Barnes.

 

 

Wasps: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Will Helu, 13 Chris Bell (c), 12 Charlie Hayter, 11 Tom Varndell, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Charlie Davies, 1 Matt Mullan, 2 Carlo Festuccia, 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 4 Tom Palmer, 5 Joe Launchbury, 6 Ashley Johnson, 7 James Haskell, 8 Sam Jones.

 

Replacements: 16 Tom Lindsay, 17 Taione Vea, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 James Cannon, 20 Ed Jackson, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Joe Carlisle, 23 Andrew Suniula.

 

 

Obviously we all want a win tonight, but more than that, since we have a big crowd turning out, I hope we see a performance that will persuade people to come back next week and for the European games in January. What a happy new year all of that would make!

 

 

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

Match reaction: Exeter Chiefs 16-3 Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 21 December 2013 – 3.00pm

Sandy Park, Exeter

Aviva Premiership #10

 

I think I’m running out of new things to say. I suppose a positive from yesterday’s game was that when the Falcons got into the Exeter half they went for the corner rather than taking shots at goal, so there is some variation there.

 

Not all away fans were happy with this approach but my thought was that kicking hasn’t worked so far and it might be a long time before we get back into the opposition 22, so we might as well go for seven points. The problem was some butchered lineouts and handling errors that led to attacks breaking down.

 

Not enough quality, too predictable movement in the backs. Silly penalties conceded by languishing in the breakdown despite repeated whistles. Exeter are a good side but yesterday they didn’t need to be very good, they had to be competent in defence and wait for us to run out of ideas or make a mistake, then break quickly upfield. The difference in speed between the two three-quarter lines was stark.

 

It is a blessing that our defence continues to be very strong and the excellent Haydn Thomas only scored because a lapse in our concentration left a little gap beside the posts. It was enough though to ensure the Chiefs’ victory and they probably knew that.

 

That’s now four league games without a try. Interestingly, for all of our lauding of our forwards, of the sixteen tries the Falcons have scored in all competitions this season, only three have come from the pack – Scott Lawson at Brive, Richard Mayhew in the cup against London Irish and Chris York at home to Calvisano. There was a penalty try against Calvisano too but down to just single players, only three scores have been finished off by forwards.

 

That is fifteen points scored in the last four Premiership games, and 109 conceded. An average of 27-4, if we round up and down. There are two home games coming up that should be winnable but we need to approach them with the mindset that we can win and we want to win, rather than being content with defending and trying to break, which hasn’t worked.

 

Fair enough we created a few chances yesterday but we weren’t good enough to finish them. That isn’t going to be solved in a week but if we create more chances then the odds of scoring one increase.

 

We really need to give the fans a show on Friday night though if there is to be any hope of a repeated high attendance against Sale, and the two hard-sell Thursday nights coming up in Europe. The natives are restless.

 

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

Match reaction: Rugby Calvisano 10-25 Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 14 December 2013 – 1.30pm (UK time)

Peroni Stadium, Calvisano

Amlin Challenge Cup Pool 3 #4

 

It’s all a bit tight at the top of Pool 3 now, with both ourselves and Brive having 14 points but the French side ahead after their win over the Falcons in October. Realistically it looks like the winner of the game at KP next month will go through, with the potential for a home tie against a big club dropping down from the Heineken Cup.

 

That’d be quite exciting. It would also be our first European quarter-final since 2010, when Cardiff Blues came to Newcastle and gave us a rugby lesson. Just looking at our team that day – some rarely-head names in the squad, like Josh Afu, Alex Walker and Chris Micklewood. Cardiff had Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts and Martyn Williams in the starting line-up, and a 21-year-old Sam Warburton on the bench.

 

I managed to miss the whole game on the radio yet again yesterday, getting home about 3.15pm when it was probably about full-time. It seems to have been fairly comfortable after Zach Kibirige’s early try. It’s good to see him running in the scores still at Challenge Cup level after a good record in the Championship, and surely we’ll see Kibby get at least one outing in the league later this season.

 

It’s a shame the Falcons couldn’t get the fourth try and bonus point, which would have put us in proper command of the group, but we should be capable of two victories at home next month. Then the only thing I personally need to worry about is that the quarter-final is at home and on the Sunday (or Thursday) of the first weekend in April – family wedding on the Saturday and in turn, that probably means the pub on the Friday night.

 

Not a great deal to say about the game then, I guess we’ll find out more when Smithy’s reports go up. But after a difficult little spell in the Premiership and mixed a LV= Cup campaign so far, it’s good to see Europe going well and to get a couple of wins, with eight tries in all. Now it’s off to Exeter, a very difficult game but a win there would really help kick-start our season.

 

 

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

Match preview: Rugby Calvisano v Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 14 December 2013 – 1.30pm (UK time)

Peroni Stadium, Calvisano

Amlin Challenge Cup Pool 3 #4

The Falcons are heading to Italy this weekend looking to keep alive hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup, and also to avoid becoming only the second English side to lose away to Calvisano.

The dubious honour of being the Italian side’s only English conquest at home belongs to Leeds, who lost 27-26 in the 2007/08 Challenge Cup. Bristol and Bath have both won away to Calvisano in this competition, while our hosts have lost all eight Heineken Cup home games against English sides. Unluckily, in their first four seasons in the elite the Lombardians were drawn against Wasps twice and Leicester thrice.

English sides at Calvisano:

1999/00 Bristol L9-26 (Challenge Cup)

2001/02 Leicester L3-37 (Heineken Cup)

2002/03 Leicester L22-40 (Heineken Cup)

2003/04 Wasps L33-52 (Heineken Cup)

2004/05 Wasps L22-31 (Heineken Cup)

2004/05 Leicester L10-62 (Heineken Cup)

2005/06 Leeds L0-20 (Heineken Cup)

2006/07 Sale L11-29 (Heineken Cup)

2007/08 Leeds W27-26 (Challenge Cup)

2008/09 Gloucester L7-40 (Heineken Cup)

2012/13 Bath L5-39 (Challenge Cup)

That 33-52 against Wasps must have been a heck of a game.

The Falcons have done rather better in booted country, losing twice at Treviso back in the early noughties but winning every visit since then.

 

Newcastle in Italy (all Challenge Cup):

2000/01 Treviso L15-28

2002/03 Treviso L8-27

2005/06 L’Aquila W86-0

2006/07 Petrarca Padova W50-6

2008/09 Overmach Parma W20-14

2009/10 Petrarca Padova W29-27

2011/12 Petrarca Padova W34-3

 

Adam Powell, Scott Lawson and Richard Mayhew are back in the team with captain Will Welch for tomorrow. Welch is teamed up with Andy Saull for the first time, and Rob Vickers and Alex Tait also return to the starting team. No sign of Joel Hodgson though:

Falcons: 15 Noah Cato, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Zach Kibirige,10 Phil Godman,9 Warren Fury, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Scott Wilson, 4 Sean Tomes, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 6 Will Welch (c), 7 Andy Saull, 8 Richard Mayhew.

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Grant Shiells, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Carlo del Fava, 20 James Fitzpatrick, 21 Chris Pilgrim, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Ryan Shortland.

 

With Brive taking on Bucharest at home and things all square at the moment at the top of Pool 3 with we and the Frenchies on ten points apiece, it’s all to play for. However, Brive could only manage a draw at the Peroni Stadium to tomorrow will not be an easy task for the Falcons. Hopefully last week’s 37-15 win over Calvisano at Kingston Park will be a boost to the confidence. A similar result away would be quite welcome.

 

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

Under the Clock Chronicles: Going on the attack

2011-12-07-attack

I’m not against a good defence. Back when we were teenagers, my mate Billy and I had a bit of a fascination with defensive football. He even got a Norway shirt for his birthday one year, while I still maintain that Roy Keane was the best footballer in the world back around the turn of the century.

 

I remembered this last night, somewhere between the office in the City and the Deptford Travelodge.

 

No good rugby team achieved anything while letting in three tries every game, and if gets regular results then I’m all for it. It seems to be accepted in professional rugby, at least among coaches and the media, that a team that goes out to attack will be relegated (or finish in the top half, presumably), and so those of us who support teams at the wrong end of the Premiership are doomed to witness a turgid, forward-dominated style of play.

 

I’d add ‘wasteful’ to the adjectives in that sentence. “We could build a platform from here, but because we’re only forty metres from our own goal we’d better kick it to their full-back and let him run back at us. Even if that full-back is Mike Brown or Ben Foden.”

 

Smithy reckons that Dean Richards has publicly stated that the Falcons will kick everything in their own half. I didn’t see that quote but no reason to doubt Smithy, so it’s quite disappointing that we have this philosophy. Not only does it mean that we fans have to watch an unattractive style of play normally, I just don’t think it works.

 

A negative style of play didn’t work against Harlequins, and for all of the plaudits our team got at Northampton, a 0-18 defeat suggests it didn’t work there either. My eyes told me it didn’t work.

 

The league table suggests we are doing OK, but I think we (and Gloucester and London Irish) have to remember that Worcester are having an extraordinarily poor season and but for that things would be a tighter.

 

I remember a few years ago reading an article by a fan of (I think) Worcester, which claimed that relegation didn’t cause negative rugby – rather, s/he argued, negative rugby caused relegation. Their back-up for this view was a table of tries scored per team in the Premiership that season. Of course the top teams will always score more tries than those at the bottom, but the gap was so big that it suggested there was something more at work. A difference in philosophy.

 

I’ve said it before that if relegation causes teams to play negatively because of the need to win, and playing negatively is the best way to win, then logically the possibility of missing out on a Heineken Cup place or the league title would cause negative play too. They don’t, not as a rule anyway.

 

Lets also look at possibly the two most exciting periods to be a Falcons fan in the past five years. First, back in the early months of 2009, we went on a run of seven wins from eight Premiership games.

 

The key to that? In my mind, it was a combination of Tom May moving to fly-half in the first game of the run, at home to Gloucester, and a switch to a more attacking style of play. We had been in the bottom places in the league all season playing a horrible style, and then when we began to attack with purpose, we won a few games and climbed away from trouble. In the final games of the season, we went negative again, and lost four games in a row.

 

The second period was when Gary Gold was manager in the second half of 2011/12. Again, he employed a more expansive game plan than Alan Tait had with pretty much the same squad, and the result was we won four games in the last eight games, compared to two in the first fourteen.

 

As my final exhibit, I present the penultimate game of that season against Saracens at KP. For some reason, the attacking philosophy that had beaten Sale and Gloucester was abandoned until the final twenty minutes, which we then dominated but were unable to score. Would we have if we had given ourselves an extra sixty minutes of opportunity?

 

The correlations between these two periods are that we played attacking rugby and went on good runs, probably our best runs of the last decade.

 

Richards obviously believes that a negative style of play through the forwards works best, and that must surely be behind the continued lack of significant game time for Joel Hodgson. For further evidence, look at Chris Pilgrim.

 

I’m not suggesting that Pilgrim should be first choice, Mike Blair is supremely talented and plays an intelligent game. But Warren Fury is too slow for me, he is not the type of player who is going to help get the backs running. Pilgrim on the other hand is capable of a turn of pace that we can build on in attack, but like Hodgson he’s not getting the chance. Jordi Pasqualin, also an attacking scrum-half, was frozen out last season.

 

Alongside scrum-half and fly-half, we are crying for a truly creative centre in the mould of Mathew Tait. Adam Powell is the only midfielder this season who has looked like making breaks, and he does, but he doesn’t have quite enough pace. Maybe Jamie Helleur could make a difference once he’s fit again.

 

I wonder if Richards doesn’t back himself and the coaches to run an attacking team after his exile, as he set the stage for Harlequins to become a fantastic team to watch. Certainly, he must believe that the squad isn’t capable of playing such a style.

 

But we are already at the wrong end of the table, we were dire against Gloucester in the Cup and Harlequins last week, and I think people who look in their heart of hearts will admit that Northampton away wasn’t quite as brilliant as has been suggested.

 

The next three league games are Exeter away and then at home to Wasps and Sale. All are winnable. Why not let the team off the leash and see if results improve? We have scored twelve points and conceded ninety-three in our past three league games – it’s not like things are going to get worse.

 

 

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

 

 

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 37-15 Rugby Calvisano

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Sunday 8 December 2013 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Amlin Challenge Cup Pool 3 #3

With Thursday’s fifteen-hour power cut behind us (though not the pain in my back from chopping logs that afternoon on a very short stump), and the wi-fi signal holding out, I was all set yesterday afternoon to listen to the rugby while doing some serious typing.

The BBC commentary page seemed to be working OK, only there was no sound. Some seemed to get it working, but I was not the only one who didn’t. Never mind, and with one side of the screen filled with Twitter I spent the game flicking my eyes between there, Microsoft Word and my notepad.

I was a little disappointed to see that the first score was a penalty kick – with respect to Calvisano, they weren’t a team expected to offer much resistance – but the tries came and hopefully those backs out there will have got some confidence.

Not that I expect to see Alex Crockett playing in the Premiership any time soon.

I guess that, after all the condemnation the team got last week, these Amlin games are a no-win situation for the Falcons – win convincingly and that’s what is expected, struggle and the critics pile in again. We can only do what’s needed though and a bonus point victory takes us to the top of the pool after Brive, like ourselves in October, had a slim victory over Bucharest in Romania.

The front row seem to have played well from various comments, and Zach Kibirige too, getting more ball than against London Irish in the LV= Cup. Rory Clegg not so much though, and Joel Hodgson will no doubt be kicking himself for getting a yellow card on a rare outing, though opinion is split over how deserved the card was.

On that subject – EIGHT yellow cards? The referee will have been up all night reporting on them.

Before the game, the crowd was described as “sparse” on Twitter. An attendance of under 3,000, even for a European game on a horrible December day, is not great, and some fans weren’t too impressed with the atmosphere. I guess the weather, the opposition, full-price (mostly) and the lack of tries this season may have all come together to put people off.

Writing this by hand on the train home from the office today, I wrote a couple of paragraphs about why I didn’t go to the game yesterday but most of it was quite negative so actually I’m going to leave it out. One positive reason is that I have something on and spent a few hours on it yesterday, but I could physically have got there.

Next season will be better!

Last comment on yesterday’s result – great to see Noah Cato among the tries. For me, he has had a lot of unwarranted criticism this season that is a hangover from our indifferent start in the Championship. I’ve found that if Falcons players do not hit the ground running, it tends to take a long time for some fans to be won over, however well they do. It’s not like the rest of the team are running in the tries. Maybe this will be a turning point for Cato.

More importantly, with any luck it might be a turning point for the whole team too!

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