Saturday 27 December – 3.00pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
Aviva Premiership #11
I knew it. “Better teams than us will get pounded by Sarries this season… they probably already have been!”
I was right – on 12th September, Saracens went to the Stoop and beat Harlequins 0-39.
Yesterday, our Falcons went toe-to-toe with the best squad in this country, a club that left out/were missing at least four players who would get into our starting lineup, and we were just one missed kick away from a draw.
Obviously a defeat is never a good result, and I’m not going to say that yesterday was a good result, even with the bonus point. I would hope that Dean Richards et al have the same attitude, indeed one coach was heard after the game lamenting one that got away.
But Saracens are a team that, on their day, would give South Africa a decent game and probably not be too far away from New Zealand either. We are a developing team still, we have some good players and we have some journeymen, with a sprinkling of top players and some promising youngsters. And we matched them through most of the game. Would a draw have been a fair result yesterday? I think it would have.
My overall thought yesterday, walking away from Kingston Park, was quite positive, and not just because I’d eeked out an extra hour in the West Stand. I, and 8,000 others, had paid our money and been entertained, and more, we have been in almost every home game this season.
I can’t think of many good home performances by the Falcons in 2013/14 – Saracens at home is the one that immediately springs to mind, perhaps Newport in the LV= Cup. But this year has been different, we have still been competitive in ten-and-a-half of eleven league games.
Just yapping with Mrs Choir on the drive home across the snowy A69 last night, we were discussing the Falcons’ targets this season. For me, the immediate targets are to be competitive (though obviously win if we can!) at Northampton, and then a comprehensive win against London Welsh (hammer them if we can, but at least win with something to spare).
After that, we need to remain competitive throughout the rest of the season as we have in the first half, picking up at least two or three wins. The ones that appear most winnable would be Wasps at home and Sale away I’d have thought, though we should now be going into every home game looking to win, and yesterday suggested that we are.
Moving further back in time, sitting in my Dad’s living room on Friday looking at the Saracens team on my phone, I wasn’t particularly worried. Obviously I thought “That’s quite a team!”, but mainly I thought that we would see an exciting game.
It didn’t disappoint. We had two teams going all out to win the game, three tries apiece, some great attacking play and but for two strong defences we’d have had more tries. Yes, the Falcons, could have won, but had our attack been as wasteful as at Harlequins last week, we might have taken a pounding.
Alex Tuilagi’s disallowed try in the early stages was a kicker, but people closer than me say that he was actually in touch several times before I saw the touch judge put his flag up midway in the 22.
We had some really good performances today I thought, in the forwards Mark Wilson and Kane Thompson really gave us some good go-forward. Kieran Brookes put in a very big shift in the front row – we matched Saracens in the scrum all day after the first one probably, and he got around plenty in the loose too. If Brookes is looking to move, he at least seems to want to earn a transfer.
Sinoti Sinoti worried Saracens all say with some searing runs. Tom Catterick had some good moments of inspiration, but some where he (and, to be fair, the rest of the team) seemed to run out of ideas all too quickly and kick deep, no chase meaning that the world-class away backline were invited to run back at us. Only good tackling prevented more damage resulting from these negative plays.
So we’re back down to 11th after London Irish’s victory over London Welsh yesterday, but on fifteen points we are one better off than at this stage last season. Mrs Choir doesn’t think that’s such a great stat, but then, especially when you’re a team like the Falcons, if you’re not sprinting then you’re going backwards.
Tries, however, now that’s an interesting figure. In the first half of the 2013/14 Premiership, we scored a measly five tries, two of them against Wasps a year ago yesterday. Our total for the entire season was just 23. Chris Harris’s brace yesterday makes our haul for the first half of 2014/15 a tidy 22. Hopefully these stats are correct as I wasn’t 100% with it when I worked them out, but we all know that things are better this year, don’t we? So…
…we’ve got to be positive after yesterday! Positive, but not satisfied. Not happy, but optimistic. Things are looking up. Northampton? Well, we’ve got to give it our best and see what happens. Welsh? Win and win well. After that, we do the same thing that has been working and see how we go.
Thanks for your company in 2014 readers, and Happy New Year. I have a feeling that, for once, it might just be.
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)