Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 18-23 Saracens

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Sunday 20 April 2014 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #20

 

Today may have been a fourteenth consecutive Premiership defeat for the Falcons, and at home to a second-string Saracens team, but compared to the previous two matches against Worcester and London Irish this was quite different.

 

The post-match mood at Kingston Park was one of optimism and pride, after our team took on an international-packed team with aggression and confidence, and almost pulled off an unlikely win.

 

Indeed, if it hadn’t been for an extraordinary piece of bad luck when Sinoti Sinoti’s loose pass found a Saracens winger who had only a prop to beat to get a free run to the tryline, we may have got more than just one point.

 

After the condemnation heaped the team’s way after the last two games, huge credit is surely deserved for today’s performance. Saracens may have only put out a B team, but that team included England’s second-choice full-back, the top points-scorer in Premiership history and two other England internationals. It was hardly Stockton’s fourth team we were up against and better sides than the Falcons would’ve lost to Saracens today.

 

But from the off, indeed in the warm-up, there was a focus and intent about the Newcastle side that we have not seen too often this season. The first try was a thing of beauty, with a lovely offload from Adam Powell and a perfect line from Alex Tait, before Sinoti’s barnstorming run to the line.

 

Sinoti continues to look dangerous far more often than not when he gets the ball, but he was one of many good performers today. Adam Powell played one of his best games in a black shirt, making several good breaks and tackling well. Joel Hodgson roamed promisingly, kicked well and tackled above his weight. He and Mike Blair combined very well.

 

In the forwards, Richard Mayhew and Scott MacLeod were everywhere in attack and defence, George McGuigan will be satisfied with a lively first Premiership start, and Dom Barrow made metres whenever he got on the ball.

 

Discipline, particularly in the scrum, was concerning and as so often has happened this season (indeed for years) we gifted Saracens a couple of penalties, even disregarding Ben Ransom’s second try. I guess that’s something a lot of worse teams like ourselves struggle with, as we are put under a lot of pressure by our higher-quality opponents, and also referees seem to take a harsh line, rightly or wrongly, when they perceive a team to be under pressure.

 

No argument with Sarries’ first try though, our defence was sucked into the middle by a lightning away attack and Alex Goode exploited the space. You just have to applaud that kind of quality really.

 

One more quick word on the referee – two very, very clear yellow cards today, the first being Jack Wilson taking Alex Tait out in the air and rightly being given ten minutes off. The second was by the same player, a high tackle on Sinoti, and one wonders whether a second yellow meaning a red was what kept Andrew Small’s hand out of his pocket. Whatever, Wilson was almost immediately replaced, perhaps being taken off before he was sent off.

 

Ironically, try-scorer Ransom was Wilson’s replacement.

 

But there are so many more positives out of today, if we disregard the result. The Falcons put some pride back into the shirt and played the correct way, by which I mean the way that gave us the best chance of winning, and nearly did beat a very, very good team. We almost completely dominated the second half, but just couldn’t get enough points.

 

If we take this style of play and this level of application into the Wasps and Exeter games, there is no reason why we cannot win at least one of them. Hopefully that will happen and we will see a new philosophy next season, especially if we join Saracens in having a plastic pitch.

 

Hope springs again. If you wait long enough, it always does!

 

 

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

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Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Saracens

crusaders

Sunday 20 April 2014 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #20

 

Sunday is the third meeting this season between two teams who have had vastly different seasons. Saracens could well end their first full season at Allianz Park with a league and European double, since they need just two points to be certain of a home semi-final in the Premiership and face Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham in last four of the Heineken Cup a week tomorrow.

 

The Falcons meanwhile are still not mathematically certain of being in the top division next season after Worcester’s mini-resurgence recently and a record run of thirteen successive Premiership defeats, the latest a disappointing 40-12 reverse at London Irish on Sunday.

 

The Fez Heads are currently on a run of seven wins in eight games, the exception being a 26-7 loss at Northampton in the LV= Cup semis in March. Since then, they have beaten Harlequins well at Wembley, come away from Wasps in the league and Ulster in the Heineken Cup with victories, and last Sunday downed the Saints 28-24 in a top-of-the-table Premiership clash in Barnet. The two sides scored three tries apiece, Saracens’ coming through David Strettle, Kelly Brown and Marcelo Bosch, but three penalties and a conversion from the boots of Bosch and Owen Farrell to three conversions and a penalty for Stephen Myler gave the league leaders the win.

 

That result extended Mark McCall’s side’s lead at the top of the table to ten points over Northampton, who now have Leicester breathing down their neck for second place.

 

Overall, Saracens have won seventeen and lost just two of their nineteen matches in the Premiership this season. Those only losses were at Franklin’s Gardens in October and, more unlikely, at home to London Irish in early February, when a quick look at Sarries’ 23 suggests they could not really blame Six Nations call-ups for the shock reverse.

 

Other than that, their away record is exceptional with comfortable-looking wins at places like Kingsholm, the Rec and the Stoop. Saracens did lose to Toulouse in Europe both home and away, but big doubles over Connacht and Zebre allowed them to quality for the quarter-finals.

 

 

The Falcons have visited Allianz Park twice in 2013/14 of course, both times conceding in the forty-point range. In November in the league, a promising start and Phil Godman’s early penalty were blown away by five home tries from Charlie Hodgson, David Strettle (two), Jamie George and Alex Goode before fireworks off the pitch celebrated the upcoming Guy Fawkes’ Night.

 

Then in January, in the LV= Cup, Saracens followed up the previous day’s friendly victory over South Africans the Sharks with a 41-8 victory over a Falcons side featuring debutants Simon Hammersley, Glen Young, Ben Morris and Dan Temm as well as five more on the bench. Again, a quick look at Sarries’ squad for that game proves the incredible strength in depth that the Barnet side has, and that few other sides can match, let alone us.

 

After having a tricky time on Tyneside in the early years of professionalism, Saracens have won their last three at KP. Indeed, you have to go back to February 2009 and the third of seven wins out of eight under Steve Bates for our last victory over the Men in Black and Red. John Rudd was our unlikely try-scorer that night, while Tom May converted and kicked two penalties. Glen Jackson scored three tries for Sarries, who featured Adam Powell and Andy Saull in the starting fifteen.

 

On Sunday it will be two years to the day since Saracens last came north on a night of bitter disappointment for the in-form Falcons. Reverting to type against a below-par visiting team, we were sluggish and kick-a-lot for sixty minutes and then spent the last twenty pummeling Sarries, but it was too late and the 3-9 victory all-but cost us our Premiership place. Hopefully Dean Richards and co will not make the same mistake this Sunday.

 

Saracens in Newcastle:

22/04/1989             North Road                Division 2                   L9-47

22/10/1994             Kingston Park            Division 2                   L11-17

25/03/1998             Kingston Park            Premiership 1           W30-25

31/10/1998             Gateshead                  Premiership 1           W43-12

28/02/1999             Kingston Park            Cup QF                       W15-0

26/03/2000             Kingston Park            Premiership 1           W15-6

26/11/2900             Kingston Park            Premiership               W32-27

05/05/2002             Kingston Park            Premiership               W47-18

19/01/2003             Kingston Park            Challenge Cup QFL2 W31-29

04/05/2003             Kingston Park            Premiership               W26-22

14/09/2003             Kingston Park            Premiership               L20-25

17/10/2004             Kingston Park            Premiership               D17-17

28/01/2006             Kingston Park            Premiership               W21-16

09/03/2007             Kingston Park            Premiership               W20-14

17/02/2008             Kingston Park            Premiership               W16-14

20/02/2009             Kingston Park            Premiership               W13-9

04/10/2009             Kingston Park            Premiership               L15-22

22/10/2010             Kingston Park            Premiership               L13-15

20/04/2012             Kingston Park            Premiership               L3-9

 

 

By the time kick-off arrives on Sunday we will know the result of Bath v Worcester. If Worcester lose, then a win would make us mathematically safe, so if we aren’t going to go for this game, then when will we?

 

With Saracens no doubt having half an eye on Clermont, this might just be a great day. See you at KP!

 

 

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

Match reaction: London Irish 40-12 Newcastle Falcons

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Sunday 13 April 2014 – 3.00pm
Madejski Stadium, Reading
Aviva Premiership #19

I was philosophical on the train back north last night. No anger, like after the Worcester game. In the end, in the first half London Irish were just far better than the Falcons and we couldn’t live with them. They took their chances, and in the second half we didn’t, despite dominating the game.

The promise of a change in tactics, with a very different backline started and bright sunshine covering most of the pitch in Reading, didn’t really materialise but to be fair I think that cannot be judged too harshly itself because in the first half we just couldn’t get any decent ball. One would hope that if we had, we might have used it properly, as in the second half, but we couldn’t.

There are some positives – the back three of Noah Cato, Ryan Shortland and Sinoti Sinoti looked lively and hungry but didn’t get enough decent ball to work with really. The scrum was solid, Grant Shiells showing no signs of rustiness in his seventy minutes on the pitch. When they came on, Mike Blair and Joel Hodgson showed a marked improvement on those they replaced unfortunately, moving the ball at speed and probing in a way we hadn’t done in the first half. Irish’s defence was strong though.

I don’t really have much to say about the game, we were outplayed and sometimes that just happens. The worrying this is that the longer our losing run goes on – now thirteen successive league defeats – the harder it is to keep morale up in the team and the harder it will be to break the habit. Saracens at home this weekend is hardly ideal, although perhaps we will play to the level of the opposition as happened against Worcester.

What a boost a win against the Heineken Cup semi-finalists would be. However, if we struggle for possession, as in the first half yesterday, and waste whatever we do have, as against Worcester, then Sarries could run rampant really and the downward spiral will continue.

You’d have thought that the Warriors have left it too late to overhaul us at the bottom of the table, and if so then we’ll live to fight again next season, but at the moment there is little sign that any change in tactics or mentality will be tried. In that case, it could be a long 2014/15.

Some good news today with the signing of Rob Hawkins, in a position we are already reasonably strong in but some more strength in depth is always welcome.

We have three games left now, we surely just have to go for it. None of this messing about, ‘trying not to lose’ – that doesn’t seem to be working. As has been said, lets throw everything at Saracens and at least if it doesn’t work we’ll have had a good go and be able to feel proud after the game.

That’s about all I can think of right now. Goodnight.

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

Match preview: London Irish v Newcastle Falcons

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Sunday 13 April 2014 – 3.00pm

Madejski Stadium, Reading

Aviva Premiership #19

 

We’re at the final bend of this Premiership season and, following our defeat to Worcester last time out, stuff’s getting real.

 

The gap at the bottom of the table is still a useful nine points but since Worcester have just won their first league match in over a year, it would be crazy to take anything for granted and I’m sure the Falcons won’t.

 

By the time our lads run out in Beijing on Sunday afternoon, we will know the outcome of Worcester’s home clash with Exeter tomorrow. If the Warriors can get a win, then the pressure will be cranked up, though of course you would hope the motivation would be too.

 

London Irish are the only English side to lose at Kingston Park this season, returning south with defeats in both the Premiership and LV= Cup in the autumn, so that’s a half-decent cause for optimism. The league encounter, our last Premiership victory, was settled by Phil Godman’s conversion of Adam Powell’s try, and Shane Geraghty running out of time to kick over a last-gasp penalty under pressure from the wind and the referee.

 

The Falcons also have a better record at the Madejski Stadium than some Premiership grounds. Our last win there was in November 2009, following victories there in September 2001, November 2003 and February 2006 too. Jimmy Gopperth was the 2009 hero on James Hudson’s first return to Reading, kicking five penalties in our 11-15 success.

 

Va’aiga Tuigamala also inspired a 3-20 victory over then-Readingers Richmond in the 1999 Tetley’s Bitter Cup semi-final.

 

Falcons at London Irish:

04/12/1982 Sunbury                     Club Match                D13-13

19/11/1988 Sunbury                     Division 2                   L7-35

20/04/1991 Sunbury                     Division 2                   L16-24

09/04/1994 Sunbury                     Division 1                   W19-17

29/04/1995 Sunbury                     Division 2                   L22-32

27/04/1996 Sunbury                     Division 2                   L28-29

01/11/1997 Sunbury                     Premiership 1           W35-19

02/01/1999 Sunbury                     Premiership 1           L14-16

03/10/1999 The Stoop                   Premiership 1           L8-56

05/12/2000 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L17-19

23/09/2001 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               W22-18

29/12/2002 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L0-20

23/11/2003 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               W19-15

21/11/2004 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L15-21

12/02/2006 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               W9-6

03/03/2007 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L12-38

23/09/2007 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L0-19

03/01/2009 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L8-48

22/11/2009 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               W15-11

12/02/2011 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L14-23

24/09/2011 Madejski Stadium     Premiership               L29-46

23/10/2011 Madejski Stadium     Cup                             L23-39

 

 

Our dismal downing by Dean Ryan and co. two weeks ago stretched the Falcons’ losing run in the Premiership to a record twelve games. Irish meanwhile are on a disappointing run of four consecutive defeats themselves following losses at home to Bath and Leicester and away to Exeter and Harlequins.

 

In the league this season, Irish have amazingly only won two games at the Madejski Stadium – against Harlequins in October and Worcester in January. Even in their ‘home’ opening game, at Twickenham in September, Saracens ran out 20-42 winners.

 

Away from home they only have three triumphs, leaving the Exiles isolated in tenth place nine points behind Exeter and seven ahead of ourselves. Irish are one of only two Premiership sides not to have a try bonus point in the league this season, along with Worcester.

 

Cavalieri Prato, Stade Francais and Lusitanos were all sent home with no points in the Amlin Challenge Cup, though a defeat in Paris put paid to Irish’s hopes of qualification for last weekend’s quarter-finals, and in the LV= Cup at home Irish beat Scarlets 29-10 in February but had already lost heavily to Northampton in November, ruining hopes of progress there too.

 

Dan Leo from Wasps and Sean Cox from Edinburgh have already been signed with the aim of strengthening the pack next season, when Brian Smith will have to do without England winger Marland Yarde and talismanic Aussie James O’Connor, both of whom will be on their way.

 

 

Dean Richards has sprung a few selection surprises for this game, notably a centre pairing of Lee Smith and Jamie Helleur outside Rory Clegg in the ten shirt, while Warren Fury continues at scrum-half. Will Welch, Matt Thompson and Ryan Shortland are back from injury and Sunday will be, I think, Grant Shiells’ first Premiership start of the season. Dom Barrow is a welcome name on the bench.
Falcons: 15 Noah Cato, 14 Ryan Shortland, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 Lee Smith, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Grant Shiells, 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 Gary Strain, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Dom Barrow, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Mike Blair, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 James Fitzpatrick.

 

Former Falcons Andrew Fenby and Mike Mayhew start for the Exiles, who boast a tonne of international experience with O’Connor, Tomás O’Leary and replacement Ian Gough.

Irish: 15 James O’Connor, 14. Topsy Ojo, 13 Fergus Mulchrone, 12 Eamonn Sheridan, 11 Andrew Fenby, 10 Shane Geraghty, 9 Tomás O’Leary, 1 Matt Parr, 2 Mike Mayhew, 3 Leo Halavatau, 4 George Skivington (c), 5 Nic Rouse, 6 Blair Cowan, 7 Gerard Ellis, 8 Ofisa Treviranus.

Replacements: 16 Jimmy Stevens, 17 John Yapp, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Ian Gough, 20. Bryn Evans, 21 Alex Lewington, 22 Myles Dorrian, 23 Darren Allinson.

 

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