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)

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