Thursday 9 January 2014 – 7.45pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
Amlin Challenge Cup Pool 3 #5
After three disappointing league outings, it’s back to Europe anda four-week opportunity for the Falcons to get some form together before an incredibly hard run of Premiership fixtures in February. We have a decent chance of making the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup for the first time since 2010, and that could result in a glamour home tie against a big team coming down from the Heineken Cup.
All we have to do is beat Brive tomorrow night and Bucharest next week, quite doable I’d have thought. Our French visitors are without an away win in the Top 14 all season and Saturday’s 15-9 home victory over Montpellier followed four league games without success. Following a 20-20 draw at Calvisano on the opening weekend of this season’s European calendar, they did sneak a 13-18 win in Bucharest last month, but the lack of bonus points in two victories over the Romanians leaves Brive and the Falcons tied on 14 points apiece at the top of Pool 3.
Logically, the winner tomorrow night should go through.
Of course, our two teams have a lot of previous, having been drawn in the same group in four successive seasons back in the noughties. Brive’s last visit to KP was in January 2009, and despite three Tom May penalties putting us 9-0 up at half-time, Andy Goode’s boot and Norman Ligairi’s try gave the Frenchmen victory by a single point. It was our first home defeat in this competition.
Previously, we had won thrice at home to Brive: 25-19 in November 2007, 24-17 in January 2007 and 51-19 in October 2005. I remember that last game as it was the weekend before I started my first full-time job (:-S). 6,080 saw captain Colin Charvis lead the battering of Brive with two tries. Matthew Burke, Tom May and Jamie Noon also scored, while Jonny Wilkinson converted four of the scores and added six penalties. Some oft-forgotten names of yesteryear were in that team I see: Anthony Elliott, Robbie Morris, Luke Gross, Cory Harris. Tino Paoletti and Owen Finegan were on the bench – two internationals who certainly never lived up to their billing at KP.
We all know that Premiership survival is what really matters this season, but a decent cup run is always good for the morale and although at the moment the three best non-qualifying runners-up in the Heineken are Cardiff Blues, Gloucester and Harlequins, if someone like Leinster, Toulouse or (less likely) Toulon were to implode in their final two games, we could get a bumper crowd and a nice exciting game in the quarters.
Hopefully we’d be more competitive than in the rugby lesson handed out by Cardiff in 2010.
Tom Catterick returns from injury in what looks to be a more attacking backline for the Falcons, as Zach Kibirige and Joel Hodgson also in from the start. Much of the pack is the same though Sean Tomes gets a start and Will Welch is back at number seven. Noah Cato drops to the bench where he sits alongside a quite young replacement front row:
Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Adam Powell, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Sean Tomes, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg.
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 James Hallam, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Andy Saull, 20 Mark Wilson, 21 Chris Pilgrim, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Noah Cato.
Brive team and ERC preview here.
Don’t forget that if, like me, you can’t get to KP tomorrow night, the game is live on Sky. This will be my first attempt at finding a licensed establishment to watch rugby since moving to the Village of the Damned, hopefully the new gastropub in the nearby town will oblige. Brown Ale in the fridge will be a welcome bonus.
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @southstandchoir)