Friday 24 October 2014 – 7.30pm
Rodney Parade, Newport
European Rugby Challenge Cup Pool 3 #2
The Falcons will be looking for a fourth win in a row tomorrow night, a long way from home down in southern Wales as we visit Newport Gwent Dragons in the European Challenge Cup. This might have been the day when Pool 3 split into two halves, with the Falcons and Stade Francais taking the driving seats in the group, but it hasn’t worked out that way so far.
Last week’s 22-38 upset of Stade in Paris got the Dragons’ European campaign off to the best possible start, the Welshmen returning home with a full five points thanks to Nic Cudd’s late try.
That was however only the second win of the season for Lyn Jones’ team, following on from a 33-15 defeat of Treviso in the Pro12 last month. Ospreys and Glasgow have already left Newport with victories this season, while the Dragons have also lost at Connacht, Scarlets and Edinburgh in the league.
That said, in August the Dragons played three friendlies against English opposition and won all – the most impressive being a 27-25 comeback win over Premiership champions Northampton at Ebbw Vale. Bonus points and points difference mean that the Dragons, though languishing in ninth place in the Pro12, are slightly ahead of Cardiff Blues in the race for a Champions Cup spot.
Generally considered the poor relation among the four Welsh regions, the Dragons do have a number of big names in their squad, perhaps their most prominent current player being Taulupe Faletau, the Tongan-born Wales back-rower who played in the third Lions test in Australia last summer.
Director of Rugby Jones bolstered his squad in the summer by signing Lee Byrne from Clermont Auvergne, still a top full-back in the twilight of his career having lost his Wales place to Leigh Halfpenny, and Aled Brew from Biarritz.
Brew is now in his fourth spell in Gwent having had a spell on loan at Rodney Parade from Ospreys in 2006/07, and then moving permanently in 2009 following a spell at Cardiff Blues, which also included a second loan period in Newport. The winger was a member of Wales’ 2009 World Cup Sevens-winning side in Dubai and went to the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. He has scored over forty tries for the Dragons in his previous spells.
60+cap lock Ian Gough is also back at Rodney Parade after spells with Ospreys and London Irish, and at almost 38 years of age offers huge experience in the Dragons engine room, replacing the departed Rob Sidoli.
The other easily-recognisable name in the Dragons squad is Boris Stankovich, a New Zealand-born former England youth prop who played over a hundred games for Leicester over the past seven years, winning three league titles, before moving to Wales this summer.
So it seems the Dragons mean business in 2014/15!!
Since the reorganisation of the professional game in Wales in 2003, the Falcons have met Newport Gwent Dragons more often than any other region (five times, compared to one competitive game against Ospreys, three against Cardiff Blues and two against Scarlets). The last meeting was just over eight months ago in the last round of 2013/14’s LV= Cup group stage, when the Falcons won 29-0 at Kingston Park.
Mark Wilson scored two tries, while Fraser McKenzie and Phil Godman also crossed, Godman adding two conversions and a penalty.
Although our most recent visit to Rodney Parade was to meet Newport RFC in the British & Irish Cup in December 2012, we do have far more famous and glorious previous at tomorrow’s destination. It was unforgettable day for anyone who was there for a Saturday lunchtime kick-off in October 2004 – the opening round of the Heineken Cup, hoying doon with rain, and a 6-10 victory for the Falcons thanks to Mike McCarthy’s try, a conversion and penalty by Matthew Burke, and a hand-kicking masterclass by Dave Walder. All while overcoming a red card for Luke Gross.
The Falcons’ team that day was: Matthew Burke, Tom May, Jamie Noon, Mathew Tait, Michael Stephenson, Dave Walder, James Grindal (Hall Charlton), Ian Peel (c) (Marius Hurter), James Isaacson (Matt Thompson), Micky Ward, Luke Gross, Stuart Grimes, Mike McCarthy, Colin Charvis, Phil Dowson.
Falcons in NP19:
11/01/2001 Heineken Cup (v Newport RFC) L17-53
23/10/2004 Heineken Cup (v Dragons) W10-6
03/10/2008 EDF Energy Cup (v Dragons) L14-25
08/12/2012 British & Irish Cup (v Newport RFC) W26-10
Simon ‘The Hammer’ Hammersley is back in the Falcons starting lineup for tomorrow night, with Lee Smith moving onto the wing along with Alex Tait. Rob Vickers starts for the first time since the opening day of the season, and Scott MacLeod and Sean Robinson form the second row.
Falcons team: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Tom Penny, 12 Chris Harris, 11 Lee Smith, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Ruki Tipuna, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Rob Hawkins, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Will Welch (c), 7 Andy Saull, 8 Mark Wilson.
Replacements: 16 Alex Rogers, 17 Eric Fry, 18 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 19 Will Witty, 20 Dan Temm, 21 Andy Davies, 22 Craig Willis, 23 Tom Catterick.
Dragons team: Lee Byrne (c), Matthew Pewtner, Tom Prydie, Ashley Smith, Hallam Amos, Angus O’Brien, Richie Rees; Boris Stankovich, Elliot Dee, Dan Way, James Thomas, Rynard Landman, Lewis Evans, Nic Cudd, Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: T. Rhys Thomas, Phil Price, Lloyd Fairbrother, Andrew Coombs, Andy Powell, Jonathan Evans, Dorian Jones, Aled Brew.
I realised today that today is exactly ten years since our glorious Heineken Cup win in Newport. No better time to repeat it!
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