Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 13-23 Exeter Chiefs

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Saturday 10 May 2014 – 3.15pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #22

 

Oh dear me. For ten or twenty minutes yesterday, the Falcons took the game to Exeter by playing the same fast, attacking rugby that has brought an idea of progress recently. We were 6-0 up.

 

Then it all went a bit downhill. At half-time, I can only assume that the team were told to go out and play in a negative way, giving the ball back to the opposition and letting them come at us. That hasn’t worked all season, there was no reason to believe that it would work yesterday. It blew the final opportunity we had for an exciting win that may have shifted another few season tickets.

 

I just don’t understand it and you’ll be glad to know I’m not going to rant about it yet again. Lets just hope that the likes of Tipuna, Socino and Alex Tuilagi can help bring out a more attacking game, along with the retention of Joel Hodgson who had another promising game yesterday, including a try-saving chase and tackle that not every Premiership player would have attempted, never mind been able to make up the yards.

 

The Chiefs’ other ‘open goal’ was an interesting one. Phil Godman chipped into Sam Hill’s hands on the away tryline and Hill legged it to over halfway, before suddenly slowing down and allowing us to scramble back. I’d have been livid if a Falcons player had dallied like that but at that time you could only be grateful.

 

In the second half we never looked likely to get back into the game, I thought, until at the end we began playing with the ball in hand and magically scored a try. It was a typical rampaging run by Mark Wilson, and I’m glad that a player who has been superb all season got the last try and the man of the match award. I’d be surprised if Mark isn’t in the Saxons squad next season.

 

Continuing on positives, after the match yesterday there was some criticism of young referee Craig Maxwell-Keys, making his Premiership debut, but I don’t think he was any worse than seasoned top flight officials, and he consulted the TMO for a potential Exeter try that I would have given, but it seems like the ‘scorer’ lost control of the ball while touching down.

 

What we can praise the referee for, and both sets of forwards, is the lack of scrum resets yesterday. I can only remember two, at the same scrum. None of the usual nonsense that so blights the sport.

 

 

So what of the season as a whole? Well, disappointing. We stayed up, so on the surface it’s job done, but I think there were hopes for some demonstration that we are likely to move further on in 2014/15. On the evidence of this season alone, we probably won’t challenge for a Champions Cup place, and worryingly, it is unlikely that another side will be as poor as Worcester have been this year. On the other hand though, surely we can only improve too.

 

We did finish on our lowest-ever points total in the Premiership (22), one below 2010/11’s accumulation. That one win and ten defeats in eleven home games is just not good enough, goes without saying. A win could have been such a morale-booster yesterday but instead we have three months with sixteen successive defeats hanging over us.

 

I believe it could have been so much better had the Falcons used some intelligence earlier in the season, and more consistently in the past couple of months. But that’s now in the past, we can only hope that the management have a good think over the summer and develop a gameplan that will actually work. With Alex Tuilagi on one wing and Sinoti ‘The Tsunami’ Sinoti on the other, it would be a huge shame if we wasted those talents.

 

Oh, and sort out whatever discipline issue Lee Smith mentioned in his interview on the BBC website this week.

 

For now, we live to fight on in the Premiership next year, so lets be grateful for that. I wouldn’t want to be in Worcester’s position right now, or going through the Championship playoffs again.

 

Things can only get better! See you in September.

 

 

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Exeter Chiefs

indian-chief-western

Saturday 10 May 2014 – 3.15pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #22

After a week that has seen the Falcons secure Premiership safety and sign two Tuilagi brothers, we have the opportunity to avoid our lowest-ever points total in a Premiership season tomorrow, and will do so with a first league win over Exeter in the final game of the campaign, or equal it with a bonus point.

We currently have 22 points, one fewer than in 2010/11 when only points difference prevented relegation and sent Leeds down instead.

The Falcons are going for only a second final-day win since 2006 tomorrow, and only a sixth successful Premiership sign-off in sixteen attempts. Even in the Championship last season, in the last game of the regular season Bristol left Kingston Park with a win, our only defeat of the league season. We rarely have anything but pride to play for on the last day, indeed only in 2010/11 and 2011/12 have we still been in danger of relegation with one game left, and we often seem to see our season just peter out.

Last-day since 1998:

1997/98 Harlequins (A)               W44-20

1998/99 Saracens (A)                 L26-40

1999/00 Northampton (H)            L23-32

2000/01 Saracens (A)                 L29-34

2001/02 Northampton (A)            L19-24

2002/03 Bath (A)                        L12-24

2003/04 Rotherham (A)               W26-20

2004/05 London Irish (H)             W23-16

2005/06 Leeds (H)                      W54-19

2006/07 Bath (H)                        L12-20

2007/08 Worcester (A)                L10-51

2008/09 Harlequins (A)               L12-31

2009/10 Wasps (H)                     L21-25

2010/11 Bath (A)                        L12-42

2011/12 Wasps (A)                     W14-10

2012/13 Bristol (H) (Champ)        L14-19

The stand-out one there is obviously the first one – clinching the title with something to spare at the Stoop back in 1998. Good days.

This will be Exeter’s first trip to the North East since that unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) day in January 2012, an afternoon that has been talked about a lot in recent months. A 10-16 defeat by the Chiefs in front of just 3,445 spectators at a desolate, despondent KP proved to be the last straw in the difficult Alan Tait era and saw the manager replaced with Gary Gold for the rest of the season.

Haydn Thomas had put Exeter in front with an early try before Ignacio Mieres made the score 0-10 at half-time with a 39th-minute penalty. I still remember Jimmy Gopperth kicking off after that penalty, sending the ball deep and Exeter kicking for touch under no pressure to take half-time. In one move, it summed up everything that was wrong with the Falcons at the time. Gopperth and Mieres exchanged penalties after the break, and in the last five minutes an Exeter drop-goal was cancelled out by Tim Swinson’s converted try that gave us a bonus point. There was little celebration of that try – just worries about where on Earth we were headed.

I think that, however bad things have got this season, we will hopefully never sink to those depths of despair again.

That was Exeter’s second win at KP since their promotion, and they have also won all three Premiership meetings between the sides at Sandy Park as well as a European game in December 2010. Our only victories over the Chiefs this century have came in 2010/11, at KP in the LV= Cup and up in Galashiels snow in the Challenge Cup. The Falcons starting scrum-half at Netherdale? Joel Hodgson.

This season Exeter will finish either eighth or ninth, sitting on 41 points at the moment just one behind fellow south-westerners Gloucester. No doubt such a league placing will be disappointing to Rob Baxter and co, following sixth last season and an incredible fifth in 2011/12, only the Chiefs’ second top flight season. Even their debut year saw the Devon side end in eighth spot. To have performed so strongly in their Premiership time is to Exeter’s huge credit.

It was all capped off with an LV= Cup win on their home ground in March, with Northampton vanquished 15-8 at Sandy Park through tries from Chris Whitehead and captain Dean Mumm, and five points from Henry Slade.

Exeter arrive in Newcastle on the back of two successive home defeats, 29-30 to Harlequins on Sunday and a massive 12-55, eight-try drubbing by Sale in April – the Sandy Park side’s record Premiership loss. In fact, in their five games since the cup triumph, Exeter have only one win, that being a 33-38 success at Worcester a month ago.

Away from home this season Exeter have beaten London Irish, Gloucester, Sale and Worcester in the Premiership, as well as Cardiff Blues in the final round of Heineken Cup matches and the Warriors by a massive 3-42 at Sixways in the LV= Cup group stage. The 19-22 victory at Bath in the LV= semi-final was a first victory at the Rec for the Chiefs in 36 years.

Gary Strain and Ian Nagle make what could be their only Newcastle starts tomorrow, both presumably playing for contracts, while Oliver Tomaszczyk also comes into the starting lineup. James Fitzpatrick starts on his final matchday as a Falcon and Joel Hodgson continues his so-far promising half-back partnership with Mike Blair.

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Gary Strain, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Ian Nagle, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Mark Wilson

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Kieran Brookes, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Scott MacLeod, 20 Andy Saull, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Phil Godman, 23 Lee Smith

Exeter team:

15 Phil Dollman, 14 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Dave Lewis, 1 Ben Moon, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3 Hoani Tui, 4 Dean Mumm (c), 5 Damian Welch, 6 Ben White, 7 James Scaysbrook, 8 Kai Horstmann.

Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Alex Brown, 19 James Phillips, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Tom James.

After a tense, frustrating and sometimes quite annoying season, the pressure is now off and even though the BBC is predicting rain for Saturday afternoon, it should be mild so hopefully we can get a good game and that badly-needed win to give fans some optimism for 2014/15.

Come on!

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

Match reaction: London Wasps 44-38 Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 3 May 2014 – 3.00pm

Adams Park, High Wycombe

Aviva Premiership #21

 

Well, we’re finally scoring tries! Another haul of five at Adams Park yesterday but it wasn’t quite enough to get that elusive Premiership win.

 

A roaring 0-17 start in the first thirteen minutes and all was going well until either the Falcons switched off or Wasps switched on, and the hosts scored 29 points without reply. We then scored another fourteen, Wasps scored fifteen, and the finally the late fifth try got us a second bonus point.

 

 

It sounded a fantastic game on the radio – fortunately, the internet held up despite having been slow for over a week now and BT dragging their heels in sorting it out. On the back of Gloucester and Saracens, surely we now know that attack is the way to go and if we can go out and take the game to Exeter next week, then a victory is possible and season ticket sales will go up.

 

We could ask where this has been all season but there’s no point doing that, hopefully the change in mentality is permanent. If we can get the plastic pitch laid over the summer, then one more excuse for negative rugby will be removed.

 

As Dai Young said post-match though, both defence coaches will be concerned after yesterday’s game. Although we have conceded big totals before this season, that was with far less of the ball, and not always in spells like yesterday. Perhaps the players did just switch off a couple of times.

 

That said, Wasps are a good team and are going for a Champions Cup place through a play-off, so a six-point losing margin is not an absolute disaster. If our defence had held out a bit better yesterday and at Kingsholm, we’d have won those two games. In many other games, including Wasps and Gloucester at home, a better attack and we’d have won. So if we’d put everything together in these four games we could have had four wins.

 

No use talking about what-ifs though. Hopefully things are starting to come together. Joel Hodgson apparently had a cracking game yesterday and the commentators were encouraging Dean Richards to get the lad signed up. Another good display against Exeter will surely seal a new contract for Joel. He isn’t perfect, no player is, but he is by far the most creative of our fly-halves and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’ve got our first Premiership try bonus points in years when he’s been on the field.

 

Other than that, it has been suggested that we struggled a bit after Gonzalo Tiesi went off, which perhaps shows he has been valuable as a defender in recent months despite only playing a few games. Regardless of who comes in this summer, I think in Tiesi and Sinoti we have a couple of gems.

 

So now it’s Exeter at home on the final day of the season, with no worries about relegation, hopefully the team will go out and continue to play with the freedom they have more often recently, and if our losing run extends to sixteen games, at least it’ll be entertaining and there will be more signs that we might be moving in the right direction.

 

 

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

Match preview: London Wasps v Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 3 May 2014 – 3.00pm

Adams Park, High Wycombe

Aviva Premiership #21

Two years ago almost to the day, the Falcons were only a couple of tries away from retaining Premiership status at Adams Park. In the end, a 10-14 victory over Wasps was not enough to overhaul the Pests at the bottom of the table, but if it had been, then we wouldn’t have had Jersey, Cross Keys and Penzance last season, so every negative has a positive.

This time, Wasps are safe in mid-table but with two games to go our place in the top division for next season is still uncertain. It would be an extraordinary upset if Worcester were to win at Saracens tomorrow afternoon, but if they do, especially with a bonus point, and we get nothing in High Wycombe, then it will be squeaky time on the final day next week.

Wasps, who this week announced the signing of Samoan international back Alapati Leiua from the Hurricanes for 2014/15, are currently looking to hang on to seventh place in the Premiership and the chance of a playoff against a French team for the final Champions Cup place next season. They sit on 44 points, four ahead of Exeter, but a top-half finish is beyond them with sixth-placed Sale having 56.

In their most recent outing, Dai Young’s team lost at home to Bath in the semi-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup, following two high-scoring home wins over Gloucester in Europe and the Premiership, the latter in front of over 38,000 at Twickenham in ‘The Stinger’ two weeks ago. The game in south London ended 38-30 to Wasps, who claimed a bonus point thanks to tries from Elliot Daly, Tom Varndell, Ashley Johnson and James Haskell (2).

Those games followed three successive home defeats in the league in February and March, with London Irish, Sale and Saracens all leaving High Wycombe with victories. Indeed, in their last six league games at Adams Park, Wasps have only won one, against Exeter in the new year. Other than the Chiefs, only Worcester and Leicester back in the autumn have lost at Adams Park in the Premiership this season, although the Pests were the designated home team against Harlequins in the Twickenham double-header in September, Wasps winning 16-15.

Apart from the final day of 2011/12, we have only won on one more of our eleven visits to Adams Park. That was just a couple of days into 2010, four Jimmy Gopperth penalties giving us a 6-12 win, reversing the scoreline from the previous season when Danny Cipriani kicked a drop-goal I will never forget, straight from a Falcons restart.

But who could forget that amazing day two years ago? 10-0 down at half-time in front of a sold-out Adams Park including 500 boisterous Geordies, the Falcons played with a wonderful freedom in the second half and got the win, with tries from James Fitzpatrick and Peter Stringer. It wasn’t enough to avoid relegation, but it was a great memory and we went down fighting.

Falcons at Wasps:

31/03/1979             Sudbury                     Club Match                W24-6

30/01/1982             Sudbury                     Club Match                W23-12

29/01/1983             Sudbury                     Club Match                D6-6

30/03/1985             Sudbury                     Club Match                L0-32

29/11/1986             Sudbury                     Club Match                L13-22

07/04/1990             Sudbury                     Club Match                L0-38

28/09/1991             Sudbury                     Club Match                L6-23

25/09/1993             Sudbury                     Division 1                   L21-38

16/12/1995             Sudbury                     Club Match                L5-13

22/04/1998             Loftus Road               Premiership 1            L17-18

18/04/1999             Loftus Road               Premiership 1            L33-34

30/10/1999             Loftus Road               Premiership 1            D19-19

30/01/2000             Loftus Road               Cup R5                      L30-36

28/03/2001             Loftus Road               Premiership               L7-44

11/11/2001             Loftus Road               Premiership               W33-30

01/03/2003             Adams Park               Premiership               L12-13

02/11/2003             Adams Park               Premiership               L26-30

10/10/2004             Adams Park               Premiership               L29-43

08/01/2006             Adams Park               Premiership               L6-21

15/10/2006             Adams Park               Premiership               L15-35

25/11/2007             Adams Park               Premiership               L12-35

01/12/2007             Adams Park               Cup                            L6-24

05/04/2009             Adams Park               Premiership               L6-12

03/01/2010             Adams Park               Premiership               W12-6

02/01/2011             Adams Park               Premiership               L16-33

05/05/2012             Adams Park               Premiership               W14-10

The Falcons continue with Joel Hodgson at fly-half tomorrow, though he has a new midfield to work with in Gonzalo Tiesi and the outgoing James Fitzpatrick. Kieran Brookes returns from suspension alongside Rob Vickers and Scott Lawson in an all-new front row and Harry Spencer could make a debut from the bench.

Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Mark Wilson.

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Scott Wilson, 18 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 19 Harry Spencer, 20 Andy Saull, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Lee Smith.

Wasps team:

15. Andrea Masi, 14. Will Helu, 13. Elliot Daly, 12. Charlie Hayter, 11. Tom Varndell, 10. Andy Goode, 9. Joe Simpson, 1. Matt Mullan, 2. Carlo Festuccia, 3. Phil Swainston, 4. Joe Launchbury, 5. Tom Palmer, 6. Ashley Johnson, 7. James Haskell, 8. Nathan Hughes.

Replacements: 16. Tom Lindsay, 17. Simon McIntyre, 18. Taione Vea, 19. James Cannon, 20. Sam Jones, 21. Charlie Davies, 22. Joe Carlisle, 23. Tommy Bell.

If the Falcons’ forwards perform well then we could have a chance at nicking this one. However, if it comes down to a kicking contest, then Wasps will fancy their chances with Andy Goode at fly-half. He may be the subject of ridicule from some opposition supporters, but there is no doubt that he can kick points and, had he not left Sixways for Adams Park last summer, one wonders if Worcester might not have had a better season.

However, with Worcester unlikely (I am sure) to win at Saracens tomorrow, we should still be able to play with a bit of freedom and then who knows what might happen?

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