Saturday 8 February 2014 – 3.00pm
The Recreation Ground, Bath
Aviva Premiership #13
I’m not sure all of our last four cup games could be considered ‘fun’, but the last one against Newport at KP a week ago was and that should put us in a good frame of mind to go into an incredibly hard run of Premiership games.
The first is away to Bath tomorrow, at one of the most picturesque sporting arenas I’ve ever been to, although since Jonny Wilkinson kicked a World Cup-winning drop-goal we have only beaten the Bathplugs twice. I remember the more recent of those successes very well – it was October 2009 and I watched it from the media box above the old main stand at the Rec, jumping up and down and shouting as Micky Young steamed from his own half to score one of our four tries.
Young is one of several former Falcons in the Bath squad, now led by our former defence coach Mike Ford after the south-westerners inexplicably dispensed with the services of Gary Gold earlier this season.
Others formerly of the KP parish are England international prop David Wilson, who went to the 2011 World Cup but who has not made the current Six Nations squad, and hooker Ross Batty, who made a couple of replacement appearances for us between 2006 and 2008 before leaving for Rotherham. Tom Biggs joined back in 2010 after just one season in black that was characterised by frustration among Falcons fans that the Saxons winger’s undoubted try-scoring abilities were not utilised to nearly full effect by Steve Bates’ side. At Bath, Biggs has been a big success but will shortly join Hull FC for the new Super League season.
The other former Falcon at the Rec is Peter Stringer, the legendary Irish scrum-half who needs no introduction to any rugby fan. Interestingly though, Stringer appears to have been at fault for a couple of tries scored against Bath recently.
The most controversial character in Ford’s squad is Gavin Henson, who joined last summer. While his talent is not in question, it remains to be seen whether Bath will be the club with which Henson finally gets his rugby career back on track and perhaps forces his way back into the Wales team. One imagines he is a long way behind Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies at the moment though.
On the England side, Bath will be without Dave Attwood tomorrow as he will be at Murrayfield, on the bench for the national side after coming on in the second half in Paris last week. Anthony Watson, Kyle Eastmond and George Ford have all been released by Stuart Lancaster though, and that may not be to our advantage.
Bath had a good first month in the Premiership season after beating the Falcons 0-21 at Kingston Park in the first match of the new season. Two second-half tries by prop Anthony Perenise sealed the away side’s win after George Ford had already kicked Bath into the lead, on a disappointing night for our team.
After that came home wins over Leicester and London Irish, around a defeat to Saracens. Gloucester, Exeter and Harlequins have also lost at the Rec in the league this season – indeed, no English side has won in BA2 since Saracens just before Christmas 2012.
Eight wins, a draw (at Leicester in an epic game early last month) and just three defeats from twelve matches have put Bath third in the table, at the head of a four-way battle for the final two play-off places. Harlequins and Leicester on 32 points apiece and Wasps on 31 stand ready to pounce if Bath slip up. However, with Saracens and Northampton having 50 and 47 points respectively, it looks like the home spots are wrapped up already.
In the cups, Bath are through in both competitions and will host Exeter in the LV= semis next month, before meeting Brive at the Rec at the start of April.
As I said, the last time the Falcons defeated Bath was in October 2009. As well as being on the radio, the other thing I remember about that day was that I made lasagne when I got home. Bizarre. We were 8-7 down at half-time, but recovered to get a glorious 16-27 victory. As well as Micky Young, James Hudson and Charlie Amesbury (two) scored tries, while Matt Carraro and Michael Claassens crossed for the Blue, Black and Whites, who brought Michael Stephenson on in the second half as well as Wilson and another former Falcon David Barnes.
Other than that, our only other successes at the Rec were in August 1997, our first ever Premiership game when debutant Stuart Legg sealed the win and set us on the way to the championship, and in September 2004, when the altogether more memorable Matthew Burke made his Geordie bow. That, like 2009, was a bonus-point victory. Tom May (two), Mike McCarthy and Stephenson were the scorers, while Phil Dowson was shown a red card later on.
Falcons in Bath:
13/11/1993 Division 1 L3-46
23/08/1997 Premiership 1 W20-13
16/01/1999 Premiership 1 L11-16
13/11/1999 Premiership 1 L12-45
16/09/2000 Premiership L12-19
28/04/2001 Championship QF L9-18
25/11/2001 Premiership L9-24
10/05/2003 Premiership L12-24
20/12/2003 Premiership L10-20
11/09/2004 Premiership W33-18
11/03/2006 Premiership L18-20
25/11/2006 Premiership L14-20
08/03/2008 Premiership L11-22
21/03/2009 Premiership L25-36
24/10/2009 Premiership W27-16
29/01/2011 Cup L6-11
07/05/2011 Premiership L12-42
11/02/2012 Premiership L24-30
The Falcons have been dealt a big blow by the news that Dom Barrow has gotten injured again, hopefully his dislocated ankle won’t keep him out for too long. Mike Blair is also still absent. Jamie Helleur gets a start alongside Gonzalo Tiesi in the midfield, and Warren Fury and Phil Godman keep their half-back partnership going. Kieran Brookes and Ally Hogg are back from A internationals on the bench.
Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 6 Will Welch (c), 7 Andy Saull, 8 Mark Wilson.
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Franck Montanella, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Sean Tomes, 20 Ally Hogg, 21 Chris Pilgrim, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Adam Powell.
Bath team: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Ollie Devoto, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9 Peter Stringer, 1 Nathan Catt, 2 Rob Webber, 3 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 4 Stuart Hooper (c), 5 Dominic Day, 6 Matt Garvey, 7 Francois Louw, 8 Carl Fearns.
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Anthony Perenise, 18 Kane Palma-Newport, 19 Alafoti Fa’osiliva, 20 Leroy Houston, 21 Micky Young, 22 Gavin Henson, 23 Horacio Agulla.
Barrow said in the paper this week that we have nothing to lose tomorrow and in the coming league games, and that’s true, we are expected to take some beatings and if we don’t then the teams that fail to hand them out will be disappointed. But our side contains some good players and, with the pressure off, hopefully we can play with some freedom and if the defence holds firm, who knows what might happen?
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