Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 12-17 Worcester Warriors

Homer-Simpson-Doh

Sunday 30 March 2014 – 2.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #17

 

I thought it would be a good idea to write this now, before I drive back to Cumbria. Firstly, I’m still temporarily enraged by today’s game, and secondly, maybe I will calm down by typing it all out.

 

You go away to Gloucester, bring on a few replacements at 60 minutes, change the players’ mindset from negativity to positivity, and you score four tries. What is the logical next step?

 

Clearly, in Falconsland, it is to keep faith with a setup and way of playing that has brought eleven successive defeats, despite the fact you are playing against a team that has not won a league game in a few days short of thirteen months.

 

Did NOBODY among the coaching staff think that perhaps we should go out and attack Worcester today? Did nobody think: “This is a team that has not won a league game in over a year, we scored five tries last week, so maybe we should take the game to them with a fast style and try to rack up the points”?

 

No. They seem to have thought: “Right, you can score tries and get close to wins by playing attacking rugby, now go out and do it by kicking the ball away at every opportunity.”

 

Honestly, that first half was absolute rubbish. Neither team seemed interested in even looking for a try, just kicking the ball away and letting the other side come back at them. They seemed to be saving themselves for the second half – perhaps I’ve missed a new rule where points scored in the second half count extra.

 

Then in the second half, the Falcons put together a lot of possession, but were slow and ponderous. We were driven back in possession again and again.

 

Worcester were even worse as they couldn’t even get the ball. Their try was completely against the run of play and probably their only real attack of the second half.

 

When Joel Hodgson came on the predictable happened – we perked up, played with more pace and looked more likely to make breakthroughs. But it was too late. Why not try and play for the whole eighty minutes than just the last twenty minutes? We saw last week that in some cases the game is already lost at sixty minutes – no lessons learned, just the same stubborn rubbish.

 

Maybe the weather didn’t help – the paradigm for teams in danger of relegation seems to be just play negative rugby every time. Especially if the weather isn’t like the Costa del Sol in peak season. Here’s an idea: negative rugby has brought us twelve successive defeats, and has just seen us beaten by a team who hadn’t won a Premiership game in more than a year. Try something different! If it doesn’t work, then at least we’ll know. If it does, then you’ll get praise for trying something different. Nobody ever got credit for being stubborn when their ideas have not worked for far too long.

 

I suppose in some ways it is good that we didn’t have a decent crowd in attendance today, as some would probably have been put off rugby and at least the Falcons for life. A big win with attractive rugby, or just an attractive game, could have put a couple of hundred on the Saracens gate, as it is today’s rubbish probably put a few hundred off.

 

Right, I feel better now after that disjointed rant. See you at London Irish!

 

 

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

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The Big One: Newcastle Falcons v Worcester Warriors

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Sunday 30 March 2014 – 2.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #18

 

Last weekend’s double bonus points at Gloucester should see the Falcons safe in the Premiership for another season. However, just to make our top flight status even more all-but certain, we could do with beating relegation rivals Worcester on Sunday.

 

The gap at the bottom of the table is now twelve points, and fifteen, sixteen or seventeen would really be too much for a side that has not won in the league since 1 March 2013 to make up from just four games.

 

However, were we to lose and the Warriors got their first win away in the league since a defeat of Wasps at Adams Park on New Year’s Day 2012 (more than two years ago), then things might get a little bit hairy at the bottom, as the Midlanders approach their final four games with renewed confidence.

 

However, one would imagine that Dean Ryan’s side’s morale must be almost shot after last Friday’s last-gasp defeat at home to Wasps, the last side they beat in the Premiership twelve months ago. Former Sixways star Andy Goode’s conversion of Jake Cooper-Woolley’s try with the last play of the match may have been greeted with celebration on Tyneside, but it has caused derision among Warriors fans, who must have thought that a run of twenty successive league losses was at an end.

 

As it is, our visitors have just six bonus points to show from their efforts this season. Two came early in the season when London Irish and of course the Falcons (courtesy of a Mike Blair try and eleven points from fly-halves Rory Clegg and Phil Godman) won at Sixways, before a six-point loss at Kingsholm and defeat in a topsy-turvy home game by Leicester in February. Then, like ourselves, Worcester suffered heartbreak at Harlequins, losing 21-20 after leading 3-13, and finally there was the traumatic Wasps defeat.

 

All that said, Worcester have won two games this season, away to Cardiff in the LV= Cup 16-21 and at home to Oyonnax 20-13 in the Amlin Challenge Cup, so we cannot be complacent.

 

One boost for the Falcons is that we are not the only side missing a decent tighthead this Sunday – Kieran Brookes suspension continues but Worcester will have to do without the services of Euan Murray, the only former Geordie in the visiting squad, who of course does not play on Sundays for religious reasons.

 

However, our overall form against the Warriors is not fantastic. Before October’s win at Sixways, the Falcons had only one win in nine games against Worcester, a pretty boring 14-3 win at KP in November 2009. Ironically, that game was played a week after the last time we got a try bonus point in the league before Gloucester six days ago.

 

We have not lost at home to Cecil Duckworth’s club since their first visit to KP though, with four wins and two draws since then. The last meeting in NE13 was in November 2011. 6-13 down at half-time, the Falcons fought back with a Michael Mayhew try to claim a 16-16 draw. Jimmy Gopperth also scored three penalties and a conversion of the world’s greatest hooker’s try.

 

The Falcons’ team that night was: Goosen (Manning), A Tait, Uys, Helleur (Eves), Sheriffe, Gopperth, Pasqualin (Pilgrim), Shiells (Wells), Graham (M Mayhew), Murray, Hudson, van der Heijden (Swinson), M Wilson, W Welch (Pennycook), Hogg. Adam Balding, Oliver Tomaszczyk and Matt Kvesic were all unused substitutes for Worcester, though Andy Goode did come on to score a penalty.

 

Worcester at KP:

10/04/2005 Premiership               L16-21

01/01/2006 Premiership               W21-15

08/09/2006 Premiership               W20-19

06/01/2008 Premiership               W15-12

27/12/2008 Premiership               D16-16

01/11/2009 Premiership               W14-3

04/11/2011 Premiership               D16-16

 

People with good memories, or maybe just nerds like me, will remember that the 20-19 September 2006 victory was secured by a last-minute try by debutant Tim Visser.

 

After playing a huge part in our Kingsholm comeback last weekend, Joel Hodgson continues to await a first Premiership start and in a further half-back shock, Warren Fury wears nine and Mike Blair begins on the bench. Sinoti Sinoti and Mark Wilson are fit again to slot in for injury victims Zach Kibirige and Will Welch. Gonzalo Tiesi celebrates his new contract by wearing the metaphorical armband.

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi (c), 12 Danny Barnes, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Andy Saull, 8 Chris York.

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Gary Strain, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Sean Tomes, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Mike Blair, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 James Fitzpatrick.

 

One interesting name in the Worcester squad is Semisi Taulava on the replacements’ bench. Speculation continues to link the Tongan with a move to KP next season, despite heavy warnings from Warriors fans.

Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Josh Drauniniu, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Ravai Fatiaki, 11 David Lemi, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Jonny Arr, 1 Ofa Fainga’anuku, 2 Agustin Creevy, 3 Rob O’Donnell, 4 James Percival, 5 Mariano Galarza, 6 Mike Williams, 7 Sam Betty, 8 Jonathan Thomas (C).

Replacements: 16 Ed Shervington, 17 Paul Andrew, 18 Jerome Schuster, 19 Semisi Taulava, 20 Richard de Carpentier, 21 Paul Hodgson, 22 Ignacio Mieres, 23 Andy Symons.

 

So this is it, the biggest game of the season, with hopefully a good crowd at KP to roar the Falcons to a big victory. Not that I accept uncertainty over league status as an excuse for a lack of signings, a poor pre-season or a poor next season, or indeed negative rugby, but if anyone at the club is using it, then that would then end. Winning on Sunday will put an end to that and we should be able to kick on with some attacking play and more wins before the end of this term.

 

It could be a massive occasion, with a tense atmosphere but potentially one of jubilation by the end. It’s the kind of big match you watch a team for. It’s why we need to keep relegation in place. It is one game not to settle for live TV coverage for.

 

 

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

Match reaction: Gloucester Rugby 40-33 Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 22 March 2014 – 3.00pm

Kingsholm, Gloucester

Aviva Premiership #17

 

All the pre-match excitement might have been about Zach Kibirige, but in the end if was another flying Falcon who was the talk of the Shed after yesterday’s match.

 

An hour in, the score read Gloucester 37-7 Newcastle – cue the introduction of Joel Hodgson. The Falcons then scored four tries and at least one home supporter feared that had the match gone on for ten more minutes, we may well have won.

 

Of course Joel didn’t get us four tries on his own, it was a team effort. George McGuigan and Scott Wilson galvanised the pack and must surely be in contention for Premiership starts sooner rather than later.

 

But Hodgson provided a spark, a turn of pace, a bit of unpredictability that the midfield hadn’t had previously. He broke tackles, made metres and set people away like hadn’t happened in the first hour and Gloucester just couldn’t handle him. If there is any chance that all that Joel will be at KP, then surely he MUST be in the starting line-up against Worcester.

 

Deano has put his faith in Godman but it has not worked. While a mark of greatness is perseverance, the truly great know when to change too.

 

Zach deserves a mention for a lively performance and carving a couple of try-scoring chances before he was injured in an innocuous first-half tackle. His tackling wasn’t perfect (nobody’s is) but when Zach got the ball, he looked dangerous and as I say was close to scoring a first Premiership try. Injury permitting, I think we’ll be seeing him in the starting XV again before too long.

 

The game itself wasn’t great in the middle 40 minutes, from a Newcastle point of view when Gloucester were pulling away. Then the introduction of Hodgson, Wilson and McGuigan coincided with Gloucester seemingly taking their foot off the gas. Actually, they practically went into neutral.

 

You perhaps can’t blame them for that. Realistically, the Cherry ‘n’ Whites aren’t going to get into the Heineken Cup, or the Champions-and-lots-of-other-teams-too Cup, through the league and will not go down, so once their bonus point was secure, thoughts may have turned to next month’s Amlin quarter-final at Wasps.

 

But our team still needed a lot of courage to keep going at thirty points down, and get four tries in those last twenty minutes. Maybe our replacements wanted to prove they could do better than those they came on for. Maybe Deano challenged them to do better. Whatever, they stepped up, and it made my five-and-three-quarter-hour train and bus journey back to the Village of the Damned last night a little less daunting.

 

So now we have a twelve-point lead over Worcester heading into next week. The most optimistic Warrior and defeatist Falcon will struggle to argue successfully that after 400 days without a league win, Worcester will suddenly turn it on and gain thirteen more points than we do in the final five games of the season.

 

But I want us to absolutely smash Worcester, send them crashing into the Championship with the Blaydon Races and at least forty points ringing in their ears.

 

I want us to make a statement, that we deserve to stay ourselves. We should go out there and play like we desperately need to win. Why? Because, with it being season tickets and signings season, we do.

 

 

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

Match preview: Gloucester Rugby v Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 22 March 2014 – 3.00pm

Kingsholm, Gloucester

Aviva Premiership #17

After the distractions of the Six Nations and a controversial fans’ forum this week, it’s back to the important stuff tomorrow and a trip to Gloucester in the Premiership. I don’t think anybody can think about this game and not recall that unforgettable afternoon at Kingsholm 23 months ago when the Falcons won in front of the Shed for the first time in 14 years.

I can still see Mark Wilson’s try now, taking the ball at the back of a lineout and running in to score when the other 29 players on the pitch were stood still, but the referee was playing on. Then the Shed rapidly emptying to the roars of Geordie voices.

The beer flowed in Teague’s and the Kingsholm afterwards – the offy had almost run out of Brown Ale but I managed to nab the last bottle. On the train, I got chatting to a man about rugby and we then speculated about the origin of jeans. A girl who clearly wanted us to shut up, changed her tune when I explained to her how to get to Westcombe Park quickly back in London, so she wouldn’t be too late for a party.

This is the great thing about watching the Falcons – the bad days are worth it to experience times like that glorious win at Kingsholm, and on away trips there are always interesting stories to tell. I find them interesting anyway.

I write that as I look at the desktop background on my computer, which is a photo of myself and the missus outside the Cross Keys clubhouse last year.

I wonder what joys tomorrow will throw up?

We are really approaching do-or-die time in the Premiership this season, kind-of for us, but especially for Worcester. The gap at the bottom of the table is eleven points with six games to go. The Warriors visit KP a week on Sunday for this year’s Big One, and if they beat Wasps at Sixways tonight and we get nothing at Kingsholm tomorrow, things could get just a touch jittery.

Worcester don’t actually have a terrible record against the High Wycombe side, winning six of their seventeen Premiership encounters to Wasps’ nine. However, it is over a year since Dean Ryan’s team won in the league, and I just can’t see them suddenly turning it on and getting twelve more points than we do in the final six games of the season.

It would be nice if we could put things beyond doubt ourselves though, starting tomorrow. Nigel Davies’ team, which boasts former Falcons Rupert Harden and James Hudson, will be disappointed with their season so far. They sit in ninth place in the league on 27 points, one ahead of London Irish but seven behind Exeter, meaning they face a struggle to avoid finishing in the bottom third of the table.

Usually such a formidable side in front of their own raucous supporters, the Cherry and Whites only have three home wins in the Premiership this season, and the first of them was in highly-controversial fashion over Northampton in September when a last-minute penalty gave them a 26-24 win. Worcester were then downed in front of the Shed just before Christmas, and Harlequins lost 25-20 at Kingsholm a month ago. Interestingly, all three of those losing teams got bonus points, which should give the Falcons hope for tomorrow.

Other than those, Gloucester’s only other league wins in 2013/14 have been at Kingston Park in September of course, and London Irish in December. Even in the Heineken Cup, Munster and Edinburgh left Kingsholm with most points.

Newcastle have of course already visited GL1 this season. Mike Tindall and Rob Cook were the try-scorers in a 20-3 win for Gloucester in the LV= Cup back in November, following a disappointing performance for the Falcons. Even more unhappily, Shed legend James Simpson-Daniel suffered a serious leg injury during that match, one that some thought could be career-threatening, but a new contract fortunately suggests the Teessider is on the mend.

Although April 2012 was our first win at Gloucester since 1998, there have been some close calls, none closer than a cup visit in October 2007 when a last-gasp try gave the home side an 18-18 draw. In April 2003, bottom-of-the-league Newcastle went 0-20 up against the table-topping and cup-winning hosts before a heart-breaking try by Thinus Delport and Ludovic Mercier’s conversion defeated us.

In February 2008, 21-20 down going into the final seconds, Tom May attempted a long-range drop-goal but the kick was unsuccessful and Gloucester broke to deny us even a bonus point. So while Kingsholm has not been the happiest hunting ground for us in the past, there is certainly cause for hope. Compared to some away grounds, we certainly haven’t taken too many hammerings there over the years.

 

Falcons at Gloucester:

25/02/1978  Cup 2nd round  L10-19

15/01/1994  Division 1  L9-15

11/04/1998  Premiership 1  W29-27

17/10/1998  Premiership 1  L32-41

11/09/1999  Premiership 1  L16-31

23/12/2000  Premiership  L13-28

29/12/2001  Premiership  L25-29

18/05/2002  Championship QF  L9-60

12/04/2003  Premiership  L23-25

07/02/2004  Premiership  L12-36

25/09/2004  Premiership  L17-31

08/05/2005  Wildcard SF  L16-23

05/11/2005  Premiership  L20-27

24/03/2007  Premiership  L18-24

27/10/2007  Cup   D18-18

23/02/2008  Premiership  L20-28

01/10/2008  Premiership  L23-39

05/12/2009  Premiership  L13-25

02/04/2011  Premiership  L9-34

14/04/2012  Premiership  W29-20

16/11/2013  Cup   L3-20

 

Zach Kibirige is unleashed for his Premiership debut tomorrow, replacing Lee Smith on the left wing. Chris York also gets a rare league start in Mark Wilson’s absence.

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Danny Barnes, 11 Zach Kibirige, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 6 Will Welch (c), 7 Andy Saull, 8 Chris York.

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Gary Strain, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Sean Tomes, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Lee Smith

 

James Hudson plays against the Falcons for the first time since leaving in the summer, in a Gloucester side captained by Mike Tindall and featuring a quite talented replacements’ bench:

Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Mike Tindall (c), 11 Martyn Thomas, 10 Ryan Mills, 9 Dan Robson, 1 Nick Wood, 2 Darren Dawidiuk, 3 Shaun Knight, 4 Elliott Stooke, 5 James Hudson, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Matt Kvesic, 8 Gareth Evans.

Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Will James, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Jimmy Cowan, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Jonny May.

 

It seems ages since our last game – three weeks is a long time in the middle of the season. Hopefully the break has been well-used and after Wasps do a number on Worcester tonight, we can begin to pull away with another Kingsholm miracle tomorrow.

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 18-41 Leicester Tigers

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Sunday 2 March 2014 – 2.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #16

 

Aargh! After two great second-half performances playing catch-up, today the Falcons were the better team in the first forty but couldn’t quite hold onto the lead to half-time, and then Leicester pulled away in the second half.

 

Worcester lost again and their bonus point at Harlequins yesterday doesn’t do them much good. There isn’t much pressure for us to get the eighty-minute performance that will surely deliver a first league win in over four months (it’ll be nearly five come Gloucester) but it’d be nice to get another victory this season. Worcester at home would be the ideal one, and I’m sure we will win that.

 

At least Leicester had to work for their win, like Northampton did last week and Harlequins before that. Too often this season teams have just strolled over us with little resistance, but that’s not been the case recently and not before time.

 

I suppose it’s disappointing that we’re playing better and still losing but remember that Harlequins, Northampton and the Tiggers are all top teams that would expect, nine times out of ten, to have no trouble beating the Falcons. So that’s got to be encouraging.

 

Lee Smith seemed to have a good debut, nailing a difficult kick early on to probably give him some confidence. He looks a well-built bloke, it’ll be interesting to see whether he is a similar weight next season, but didn’t do anything wrong today that I saw.

 

I also thought Cato, Wilson and Blair had good games. Why oh why Blair was taken off for Fury I have no idea (maybe the computer said Blair was just about to cross into tiredness), although I won’t condemn Fury for knocking on with a quick penalty. Good idea, but the execution was lacking. Every player makes such mistakes. Execution is usually correct for most players – bad decision-making is harder to improve.

 

Hodgson was quite lively again in his ten minutes. I wonder if, as the BT Sport commentators suggested, he will start to get more game time once we have (hopefully) beaten Worcester and are safe, or become mathematically safe. It might be a bit late then if indeed no contract offer is on the table now, because as far as I know other clubs can now take an interest and Rotherham at least want to sign Joel.

 

I’d let him and Kibirige loose on Gloucester, but that’s just me.

 

Watching on TV, I could get a better perspective on a lot of refereeing decisions. The yellow cards for Youngs and Tuilagi looked correct, but Flood will probably consider himself harshly treated, it looked like he was genuinely trying to catch the ball. Overall, I don’t think Greg Garner had a massive influence on the result; the Falcons gave away silly penalties at crucial times, most notably after going 3-0 up and at the start of the second half, and Leicester just kicked themselves out of our reach.

 

One lineout, however, was about as straight as John Prescott’s walk home after a night on the Guinness. (Little Hull reference there – boy have I been paying for last night all day today!)

 

So there’s still a fair bit to be optimistic about. We are starting to score tries finally. The win will come, probably against Worcester but who knows, we won at Gloucester two years ago and they are suffering too. It’s possible. We have two weeks to work out how to do it.

 

 

 

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