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)