Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Northampton Saints

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Sunday 23 February 2014 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #15

This Sunday was so nearly a glorious homecoming for the Falcons, if only we could have held out for a win at Harlequins last Saturday. As it is, that game must be a massive morale-booster ahead of two immensely hard home games against Northampton and Leicester.

The table-topping Saints are first up this weekend, fresh off doing us a big favour by denying Worcester a losing bonus point at Franklin’s Gardens. That game was a tenth successive victory for Jim Mallinder’s side, who haven’t lost since their 7-40 home humiliation by Leinster in the Heineken Cup at the start of December.

Revenge the following week in Dublin and two European wins last month weren’t enough to get the Saints into the last eight of the Heineken, but the Saints are still very much on for a treble this season. They dropped into the Amlin Cup for a quarter-final at Sale in April, meet Saracens at the Gardens in the LV= Cup next month, and are one point ahead of the Fez Boyz in the race for the Premiership playoff home ties.

That is a two-horse race really, with Saracens a further ten points ahead of Bath in third.

Only one side has so far beaten Northampton in the league this season, and that was in highly-controversial fashion when Gloucester’s Billy Twelvetrees kicked a late penalty at Kingsholm way back in September to give the Shedheads a 26-24 win. Two weeks later, an epic game at Welford Road ended Leicester 19 Northampton 19, but since then it has all been up for the Saints as they look to go one better than last year’s final defeat to the Tigers.

Apart from Gloucester and Leinster, the only other team to get the better of Northampton this season were Castres in France on the opening weekend of European combat.

Our task is made a little easier on Sunday by the absence of Luther Burrell, Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood and Lee Dickson, who are all in the England 23 to take on Ireland at Twickenham tomorrow. The talismanic George North is also in the Wales midfield for their game at home to France tonight. I guess that’s tonight’s viewing sorted then.

In fact, both teams will be missing international hookers, as Scott Lawson packs down for Scotland in Rome tomorrow.

It’s so long since the Falcons have beaten Northampton that since then Tom May has left us, spent two years at Toulon, two years at Franklin’s Gardens and then moved to London Welsh. That game in February 2009 was perhaps his finest hour in a Newcastle shirt however. Jonny Golding and Danny Williams scored early tries before May broke from the halfway line, adding the conversion himself to put us 0-19 up after ten minutes and eventually the win came by a scoreline of 13-19.

That completed our second double over Northampton in the professional era, the Saints having been beaten 32-22 in the North East the previous September on Jonny Wilkinson’s penultimate appearance in Newcastle. The Jimmies do not have a terrible record at KP and have won on all of their previous three trips north, stretching back to November 2009. Perhaps the most entertaining encounter on Brunton Road came in November 1998.

It was the Falcons’ first game back at our true home after a few games in Gateshead and it was points galore with Rob Andrew’s champions winning 45-35. Va’aiga Tuigamala, Gary Armstrong, Richard Arnold and Peter Walton scored four of our tries with Wilkinson crossing for the other two. Jonny converted all six and added a penalty. The Saints scored four tries of their own, one of which came from former Falcon Richard Metcalfe. Garry Pagel scored twice and Dominic Malone crossed for the other. Northampton stalwart Ali Hepher, who played one friendly for Gosforth in the mid-nineties, kicked three conversions and two penalties for a green, black and gold side captained by Pat Lam that featured Andy Blyth as a third ex-Falcon in the starting line-up.

Northampton in Newcastle:

03/12/1961      North Road                 Club Match     W9-6

01/02/1986      North Road                 Cup R3           D6-6

31/03/1990      Percy Park                  Division 2       L15-22

01/09/1991      Kingston Park             Club Match     W32-12

11/12/1993      Kingston Park             Division 1       L8-28

21/10/1995      Kingston Park             Division 2       L9-52

08/10/1997      Kingston Park             Premiership 1  W37-12

15/11/1998      Kingston Park             Premiership 1  W45-35

21/05/2000      Kingston Park             Premiership 1  L23-32

20/08/2000      Kingston Park             Premiership     W27-21

02/12/2001      Kingston Park             Premiership     L13-28

20/04/2003      Kingston Park             Premiership     W22-20

28/12/2003      Kingston Park             Premiership     W23-19

28/11/2004      Kingston Park             Premiership     W27-16

26/03/2006      Kingston Park             Premiership     L13-32

06/04/2007      Kingston Park             Premiership     W16-7

14/09/2008      Kingston Park             Premiership     W32-22

27/11/2009      Kingston Park             Premiership     L8-28

15/04/2011      Kingston Park             Premiership     L15-22

31/12/2011      Kingston Park             Premiership     L14-32

Two of the changes to the Falcons’ side from the Stoop last week are forced, with Matt Thompson in for Lawson and Ally Hogg returning to the starting lineup as Andy Saull is injured. Oliver Tomaszczyk starts in place of Kieran Brookes and Alex Tait and Noah Cato swap shirt numbers again.

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Gary Strain, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Sean Tomes, 20 Chris York, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Adam Powell

Phil Dowson captains the Saints:

Northampton: 15 James Wilson, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Tom Stephenson, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 1 Alex Waller, 2 Mike Haywood, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 4 Samu Manoa, 5 Christian Day, 6 Calum Clark, 7 Phil Dowson (c), 8 Sam Dickinson.

Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 GJ van Velze, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Alex Day, 22 Glenn Dickson, 23 Ben Foden.

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

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