Friday 31 January 2014 – 7.45pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
LV= Cup Pools 1 and 4 #4
After our Challenge Cup hopes ended in a bit of a squib a couple of weeks ago, it’s time tomorrow night to fulfill a fixture and perhaps not much else for the immediate present, as our LV= Cup campaign comes to a close.
Neither the Falcons not our visitors from south Wales have anything but pride to play for as Northampton and Saracens have romped to semi-final places through our respective pools. But it would be nice not to finish bottom, and we could conceivably even finish second in Pool 4 with a bonus point victory, providing Scarlets get nothing in their game and Wasps also don’t win.
But the most important thing surely must be to put on a good performance, show some passion and zip, and get the KP faithful back onside for the rest of the season, in which we will have only Premiership points to play for.
After an opening weekend defeat to compatriots the Scarlets in Llanelli back in November, the Dragons got themselves on the board in this cup in round two with a 20-8 victory over Wasps at Rodney Parade. However, any faint hopes of qualifying ahead of rampant Saracens were ended last Saturday when the Welshmen were well beaten 16-34 at home by Northampton, who have easily won our section.
Scrum-half Luc Jones scored the only try for the fourth Welsh region against the Saints, to which Jason Tovey added a conversion and three penalties, and the home side actually led at the break thanks to the try late in the first 40. However the Saints came back in the second half with the help of a penalty try, one of five scores the Midlanders got despite being without a number of star players.
In the Robot League (RaboDirect Pro 12), Newport are actually placed second among the Welsh sides and sit sixth in the overall standings with five wins and seven defeats from their twelve matches so far this season.
On the road, as we’re interested in, Newport have only won once in the league this season. That away victory was at Glasgow in November by a score of 8-23.
More recently, the Dragons were successful away to Mogliano in the Challenge Cup on the same night that we were beating Bucharest at KP. The Amlin Challenge Cup saw the Dragons sneak into second place over Bordeaux-Begles, both sides having fourteen points (yet the Welsh side scored fewer tries in the group, had a worse overall points difference and a worse aggregate score in the games between the sides), in a pool dominated by unbeaten Bath on twenty-eight.
The Falcons have plenty of history with Newport Gwent Dragons and their housemates Newport RFC. Just last season we were drawn with the amateur side in the British & Irish Cup and after a tricky win at Rodney Parade in December 2012, pounded the Welshmen 93-0 at KP a week later. That made up (kind of) for two Heineken Cup defeats to Newport RFC in 2001/02.
Our other Heineken campaign also saw a visit to Gwent, and another sneaky away win before we secured qualification for the quarter-finals in glorious fashion at KP back in January 2005. Matthew Burke, Colin Charvis and Tom May were our try-scorers against Percy Montgomery’s Dragons. Matt Thompson is the only member of our twenty-two that day to still be in the Falcons’ playing squad.
More recently, in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, Newport came north in November 2007 and the Falcons won an entertaining match 29-24 in front of 7,406 fans (rather more than will be there tomorrow night I expect). The aforementioned Charvis was the visiting captain but tries from Ollie Phillips, Steve Jones, John Rudd (there’s three names a lot of us won’t have thought of in a while) and Brent Wilson secured a home win.
A year later the Dragons got their revenge at Rodney Parade in a game best remembered as Will Welch’s Falcons debut. Rory Clegg converted a try from Phillips and a penalty try, but Charvis’s Newport side won 25-14. Our centre partnership that Friday evening shows another two oft-forgotten names – Tom Dillon and Spencer Davey.
The Newport squad shows few familiar names, to me anyway, though Lions tourist Toby Faletau will not be involved at KP tomorrow night as he starts for Wales in their Six Nations opener tomorrow. 34-year-old second-rower and captain Rob Sidoli has not played for the national team since but has 42 caps and has played over 100 games for the Men of Gwent, and scrum-half Richie Rees has got stuck on nine caps after debuting in 2010.
Gonzalo Tiesi finally makes his Falcons debut tomorrow night alongside Sinoti Sinoti, who makes a second appearance. Phil Godman and Warren Fury are back in the starting lineup and there are long-awaited returns from injury for Matt Thompson and Dom Barrow in the pack. Mark Wilson makes his 100th Falcons appearance, and wears number eight. Jamie Helleur is on the bench along with two looseheads with Scott Wilson and Kieran Brookes on Saxons duty.
Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Dom Barrow, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 6 Will Welch (c), 7 Andy Saull, 8 Mark Wilson.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Franck Montanella, 18 Gary Strain, 19 Scott MacLeod, 20 Chris York, 21 Chris Pilgrim, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Jamie Helleur.
Dragons side: D Evans, W Harries, A Hughes, L Robling, H Amos, K Burton, J Evans, N Williams, H Gustafson, F Chaparro, M Screech, R Sidoli (captain), J Groves, D Waters, I Jones.
Replacements: R Thomas, A Coundley, D Way, C Hill, N Cudd, W Evans, D Jones, A Smith.
Tomorrow will be the first Falcons first team match I’ve been to this year, so looking forward to it. A win of any kind is just desperately needed for a morale boost. Come on!
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)