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)