Sunday 30 November 2014 – 3.15pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
Aviva Premiership #9
After our victory over Gloucester a week ago, the Falcons are looking to make it three Premiership home wins in a row and four in five league games on Sunday against Sale. It’s a winnable game, but Sale showed their quality last week by beating Harlequins in south London, so it certainly won’t be easy.
Despite an inconsistent start to the season, Sale have had two impressive wins in the last couple of weeks, firstly hammering London Irish 36-8 in Salford before that win at the Stoop. Dan Braid was the Sharks’ hero against Quins with the winning try, while Danny Cipriani kicked eleven points to give the Mancs a 12-16 win.
It was Steve Diamond’s side’s first away win of the season, having previously been downed at Gloucester, Saracens and Northampton in the league and Clermont Auvergne and Leicester in cup combat.
Home form has been better, with only Bath leaving the AJ Bell Stadium with a league win so far this season, and Sale sit a respectable seventh in the table with twenty points, behind Wasps on points difference.
One Shark who has caught the eye recently has been Josh Beaumont, son of England legend Bill and a former Falcons academy man who left us in 2012 without playing a first team game. A lock of a number eight, Beaumont has started the last four games for Sale and will be one to watch on Sunday. He is joined by two other former Newcastle youngsters in winger Charlie Ingall and prop Darren Fearn, the latter moving north from Bedford in the summer.
Steve Diamond’s star signings of this year’s close season were Scottish internationals Chris Cusiter, who replaced Bristol-bound fellow Lion Dwayne Peel, and Nathan Hines.
Now in his third season in the North West after a spell in Australia, the revitalised Danny Cipriani appears to be finally knuckling down and letting his rugby do the talking for him, so much so that he returned to the England side in New Zealand in the summer, and some consider him unlucky to have missed out on the autumn friendlies.
A cursory glance at Sale’s squad shows few star names, but the appearance stats tell a story of a squad that has been built through evolution rather than revolution, contrary to Diamond’s reputation for impulse. Will Cliff, Nick Macleod, David Seymour and Marc Jones are all centurions, as are Magnus Lund and Eifion ‘the big fella’ Lewis-Roberts, both now in their second spell at Sale. Tom Brady, on 96, will likely hit one hundred before the season is out, but Mark Cueto leads the way with 255 appearances and almost a hundred tries – including a record 75 in the Premiership.
Six-cap All Black Dan Braid provides not only leadership from the back row, but with his abrasive style of play alongside the evergreen Seymour, the battle of the loose forwards will be key on Sunday.
Time was that Sale had gone almost two decades without winning a game at KP, but the days when we could almost take a home win against them for granted are long gone.
Two victories in Gary Gold’s era as gaffer were our only wins in six at home to the Sharks, and last year’s 8-16 loss in January sounded pretty dire on the radio. But the 22-19 win in the 2012 relegation battle was an absolute epic.
Rob Miller inspired the Sharks to a 12-19 half-time lead, scoring one of the their tries, and in the early stages of the second half the visitors remained in control. However, with half an hour to go, Gold threw on James Hudson and loan signing Adam Balding as the Falcons prepared to take a lineout in front of the South Stand. From the lineout, Tim Swinson was driven over for a try that sent KP wild.
Jimmy Gopperth’s conversion leveled the scores before the Kiwi added a late penalty, securing four priceless points from a second half that had seen a massive show of defiance from Falcons players and fans. It was surely one of the best atmospheres ever at Kingston Park.
Another game of note was in September 2007. Toby Flood had been left out of the England squad for the World Cup but just two days before the Premiership season-opener, Jamie Noon had been injured in England’s trouncing by South Africa, a game that will perhaps be remembered only for the identity of England’s fly-half: Andy Farrell. Rumour has it that as soon as he heard of the severity of Noon’s injury, our then-manager John Fletcher switched his phone off until after the Sale game.
Flood duly played a blinder in our bonus-point win and the next anyone saw of him was with Brian Ashton’s England squad in France.
Sale at KP:
22/09/1990 Division 2 W7-6
26/09/1992 Division 2 W7-3
03/12/1994 Club Match W40-7
10/03/1998 Premiership 1 W23-18
20/12/1998 Premiership 1 W30-15
29/12/1999 Premiership 1 W12-6
06/01/2001 Cup SF W37-25
11/03/2001 Premiership W48-24
31/03/2002 Premiership W30-10
27/10/2002 Premiership W31-20
21/09/2003 Premiership W9-8
02/01/2005 Premiership W30-29
02/10/2005 Cup W34-9
16/04/2006 Premiership W32-21
26/12/2006 Premiership W40-25
16/09/2007 Premiership W33-12
07/09/2008 Premiership L9-14
13/09/2009 Premiership D16-16
07/01/2011 Premiership D19-19
29/01/2012 Cup W37-7
30/03/2012 Premiership W22-19
03/01/2014 Premiership L8-16
Scott Lawson’s injury means that George McGuigan starts and with no hooker on the bench, either he or Rob Vickers will presumably have to play the full eighty minutes. The rest of the starting XV that beat Gloucester get their reward of a go at Sale. Kane Thompson could make his long-awaited Falcons debut from the bench, while Josh Furno and Eric Fry are back among the replacements too.
Falcons team: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Calum Green, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Andy Saull, 8 Ally Hogg (c).
Replacements: 16 Alex Rogers, 17 Eric Fry, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Kane Thompson, 20 Josh Furno, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Adam Powell, 23 Simon Hammersley.
Sale welcome back a number of internationals on Sunday, and have a big Antipodean centre partnership in Jonny Leota and Sam Tuitupou who will surely test Gonzalo Tiesi and Juan Pablo Socino. Josh Beaumont starts in the pack.
Sale team: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Luke McLean, 13 Jonny Leota, 12 Sammy Tuitupou, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Chris Cusiter, 1 Eifion Lewis Roberts, 2 Marc Jones, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 4 Jonathan Mills, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 6 Dan Braid (c), 7 Magnus Lund, 8 Josh Beaumont.
Replacements: 16 Shalva Mamukashvili, 17 Alberto de Marchi, 18 Ross Harrison, 19 Mark Easter, 20 Viliami Fihaki, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Nick Macleod, 23 Mark Jennings.
There’s surely no reason we can’t get a third successive home league win on Sunday if we play to our potential, and this could be quite a good game. Can’t wait to watch it.
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)