Saturday 1 November 2014 – 4.00pm
Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton
LV= Cup #1
This could be an interesting game – the rejuvenated Falcons against the champions in a cup game. Our record away to Franklin’s Gardens isn’t that good (like most away grounds) but our players will be full of confidence and hunger to impress ahead of the Premiership restarting in a few weeks’ time, and Northampton will probably not be at full strength, so I think we have every reason to be positive.
The Saints obviously have quite a strong squad and whatever team they put out will be difficult to beat, no doubt about that. The other day I tried to make two XVs out of their squad, and the second one would probably give our first team a pretty decent game if not beat us half the time if you marry the players’ quality with Northampton’s coaching and culture. But right now I’d probably be a bit more optimistic about tomorrow’s game than our league visit to the Gardens in the league in January.
Unsurprisingly, if the Falcons were to triumph tomorrow, we’d be the first team to win away to the champions this season. Indeed, only Leicester and Leinster won on Weedon Road last term. Jim Mallinder’s side began 2014/15 with a 53-6 destruction of Gloucester at the Gardens, and since then they have defeated Bath, Sale and Ospreys at home. Their only defeats have been at Wasps in September in the league, and against Racing Metro in Paris last month, a 20-11 defeat in which the Saints conceded a late converted try to lose out on even a bonus point.
Just this past Saturday, the talismanic George North was the Midlanders’ star turn in a 34-6 defeat of Ospreys in the Champions Cup. The Welsh winger scored all four of his team’s tries against his compatriots, England squad fly-half Stephen Myler converting three and adding two penalties as Northampton got back on track in Europe.
Our last visit to Franklin’s Gardens was just under a year ago, in a televised Premiership game. Despite what many Falcons fans at the time considered our best performance of the season so far (an idea I found strange, since we had hardly any ball or territory all day), Northampton won 18-0 with tries from centres Luther Burrell and James Wilson. Fair enough, it wasn’t the trouncing many people might have expected, but great it was not.
Northampton have been finalists in this competition three times in the past five seasons, winning the 2010 final 30-24 against Gloucester at Sixways with tries from Soane Tonga’uiha, James Downey and Lee Dickson. Seven months ago the Midlanders made the long trip to Sandy Park to take on Exeter in the season’s first final, but were unable to deny the Chiefs a first senior trophy, losing 15-8.
Although it is more than a decade since we last met the Saints at home or away in a cup competition, we did of course play in the 2011 LV= Cup final at Franklin’s Gardens. Gloucester went one better than a year earlier by defeating the Falcons 34-7, as we were defeated soundly on the pitch but not off it – several hundred travelling Falcons fans had a barmy old time in the stands and by full-time someone who had just entered the ground might have been surprised were they told that Gloucester had won comfortably. Good times.
As I said, wins for us in Northampton have been in short supply over the years but surely nobody who was there will ever forget our last victory at the Gardens – in February 2009, buoyed by three wins in a row, the Falcons made the trip to the newly-promoted Saints and raced into a 0-19 lead with tries from Danny Williams, Jonny Golding and a storming run by fly-half Tom May (I can still see it now). Paul Diggin’s try led Northampton’s fightback, but we held on for a 13-19 victory that caused anger among some home fans but was celebrated madly by the travelling Geordies.
Falcons in NN5:
15/02/1958 Club Match L6-33
28/12/1974 Cup R1 W7-4
08/04/1989 Division 2 L12-13
23/01/1993 Cup R4 L3-33
30/04/1994 Division 1 L23-43
12/11/1994 Club Match L0-12
06/04/1996 Division 2 L5-26
31/01/1998 Premiership 1 W21-17
28/02/1998 Cup QF L7-17
27/03/1999 Premiership 1 L16-57
26/12/1999 Premiership 1 L5-37
18/11/2000 Premiership L18-26
09/03/2002 Cup SF L7-38
12/05/2002 Premiership L19-24
07/09/2002 Premiership L13-31
18/10/2003 Premiership L20-33
15/04/2005 Premiership L22-23
17/09/2005 Premiership W16-9
03/09/2006 Premiership L23-25
28/02/2009 Premiership W19-13
13/02/2010 Premiership L13-25
30/10/2010 Premiership L13-34
20/03/2011 Cup Final (v Gloucester) L7-34
29/10/2011 Premiership L15-44
23/11/2013 Premiership L0-18
Lets remember that the Saints went from promotion to Heineken Cup finalists in three years and champions in six (via two Challenge Cups, including last season’s, and the aforementioned LV= Cup win) – what an inspiration they are and I’m sure Dean Richards knows it.
While both Richards and Northampton counterpart Jim Mallinder have named several fringe and young players in their lineups for tomorrow, both teams look strong so it should be a competitive game. On paper, the Saints should probably come out on top, but for Falcons fans it is a chance to hopefully see what Alesana Tuilagi and Uili Kolo’ofai can do when fit. Joel Hodgson starting at scrum-half for the home side (who are captained by Phil Dowson) will add a bit more spice to the occasion, in front of what might well be a sell-out crowd.
Falcons: 15 Lee Smith, 14 Tom Catterick, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Rob Hawkins, 3 Scott Wilson, 4 Calum Green, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Dan Temm, 7 Andy Saull (c), Uili Kolo’ofai.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 19 Sean Robinson, 20 Dom Barrow, 21 Andy Davies, 22 Juan Pablo Socino, 23 Simon Hammersley.
Northampton: 15 Tom Collins, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 Tom Stephenson, 12 Dom Waldouck, 11 Howard Packman, 10 Will Hooley, 9 Joel Hodgson, 1 Ethan Waller, 2 Mike Haywood, 3 Gareth Denman, 4 James Craig, 5 Christian Day, 6 Phil Dowson (c), 7 Teimana Harrison, 8 Jon Fisher.
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Alex Woolford, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Kahn Fotuali’I, 22 Harry Mallinder, 23 Josh Skelcey.
Quite looking forward to this one.
(Follow The South Stand Choir: @SouthStandChoir)