Match reaction: Northampton Saints 37-23 Newcastle Falcons

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Hotel internet not working, so at 10.20pm I find myself in The Mail Coach, a gaff that is definitely a ‘bar’ as opposed to a ‘pub’, despite what it looks like outside. £3.45 for a pint of Foster’s is not entirely unreasonable, what is more concerning is the group of people in front of me… a bloke dancing (badly, and he knows it), a couple of girls and two men who look like they’ve spent pretty much the last twenty years in pubs.

Kind of remind me of the bloke standing behind me at the match today, who was from Northampton but supports Liverpool FC. My neighbour gave one of our players minor abuse of “up the bum” at one point (because a Saint dived on top of him), which was ironic since he spent almost the entire game talking out of his.

 

Got to love away games.

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Saturday 1 November 2014 – 4.00pm

Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton

LV= Cup Pools 2 and 3 #1

 

Ah, so near yet so far! The Falcons remain competitive but couldn’t carry on a buoyant first half performance after the break, allowing Northampton to get a cushion and then close the game out.

 

It’s annoying, but though both teams had reserve sides out for the most part, the Saints’ squad is clearly better than ours and quality shone through in the end. We gave a big effort and played some nice rugby, and perhaps deserved a losing bonus point, but Northampton were clinical in finishing off their chances, certainly taking full advantage of Alesana Tuilagi’s ten minutes in the sin bin.

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I thought that yellow card was harsh personally, I thought it was a good tackle, but the referee saw it differently. We were however lucky not to go down to fourteen again in the second half when Scott Lawson ran ten metres to exact some retribution on an opponent for a late tackle on Rory Clegg.

 

Onto Clegg now – a decent game I thought, the tactic of kicking long didn’t work too well but I think that’s a team thing. He tackled well and made some good runs and creative passes, as well as doing what he had to from the kicking tee. All good.

 

Another player under scrutiny was of course Tuilagi. I think he looked fitter than in September, certainly he seems to have found an extra bit of pace. Alex made a fair few metres I reckon and broke through a lot of tackles, and would have had a try had he not dropped a pass on the line in the second half. Encouraging.

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Probably the biggest worry for me was some slack tackling for at least three of the tries, I think the first and third, and then Simon Hammersley racing out too quickly for the fifth. That may just be inexperience. The fourth try was made easy by Danny Barnes slipping and allowing the scorer a clear run – no biggie, it happens.

 

One interesting (maybe) thought I had during the game was prompted by Uili Kolo’ofai (or Willy Cauliflower if you can’t spell foreign) going off injured in the first half. Is it just me, or have there been a lot of first-half replacements in our games this season, by ourselves and opponents? It was a shame for Big Willy, as he had done well in the first quarter, including making metres in the build-up to Tom Catterick’s cracking early try.

 

A big concern from today has to be our scrum, I can only remember twice (and in one Mike Haywood stood straight up) when the Saints pack didn’t either send ours backwards or massively disrupt our structure. Thinking of our personnel, that is definitely a worry, as we could well play that starting front five in the Premiership, and we will come up against a stronger pack probably in January in the league game at the Gardens, never mind in other games.

 

My verdict after the game was that our lads had put in a big effort, but not quite had the quality to get that fifth successive win. But of course we were playing away to the champions. There will be things to work on and things to continue doing, but overall I think we shouldn’t be surprised if our run becomes five wins from six on Friday against Cardiff Blues.

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On the Saints side, most attention from Falcons fans will have been on Joel Hodgson, facing us for the first time since his controversial departure from KP in the summer. I always fancied Joel as a scrum-half after seeing him play that position in Galashiels a few years ago, and indeed he had a very good game today, passing crisply and making some searching runs that really tested our defence. He also looked quite hefty – if he hasn’t bulked up since leaving the Falcons, perhaps he never had to in the first place.

 

Another player I thought did very well for Saints was prop Ethan Waller, that guy can really carry very well and looked to be playing a good part in the scrum, which Northampton dominated almost all day. Tom Collins also had a blinder at full-back and deserved his two tries.

 

 

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

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