Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 23-25 Saracens

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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)


Match reaction: Harlequins 15-7 Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 20 December 2014 – 3.00pm

Twickenham Stoop, London

Aviva Premiership #10


Aargh! Now that really was one that got away. The Falcons dominated the first half and but for handling errors, a lapse in judgement by Calum Green to give away a penalty, and dogged Harlequina defence we’d have had a bonus point secured before the break.


As it was, we had a slim 3-7 lead at half-time through a controversial try by Alex Tuilagi, and then in the second forty our discipline went to pot, allowing Tim Sweil to score four penalties and deny us a losing bonus point. Very frustrating, as players and manager readily admitted afterwards.


These things happen when you are an up and coming team, you play well and it just doesn’t go for you. No need to panic, we created lots of opportunities and Quins wouldn’t have scored a try had we played until Christmas.


I used to believe that you win first and the performances will come, now I’m of the opposite mindset – attack well and defend well, and the wins will come. Yesterday we did both, but lacked the final ball. A bit better execution and we’d have got four points rather than none.


So we can definitely be very positive, we are getting closer to winning at places like Harlequins and Bath. I’m not going to say we were unlucky, because the game is about scoring points and if you don’t take chances then you don’t deserve to win, and the execution meeds working on.


But we are not far away and I think we will beat a top team at least once this season.


We have still, in my opinion, been outclassed for eighty minutes by only one team this season and that was Northampton in the LV= Cup. Who’d have expected that a year ago or even in the summer?


Some outstanding performances yesterday, particularly Sinoti and Tuilagi who were a menace on the wings, Adam Powell was involved a lot in the centre, and all of the front row put in good shifts driving forwards. Noah Cato was also dangerous in attack after replacing Simon Hammersley.


So lots to be happy about.


Just to finish on a negative note, unfortunately I believe I saw a Falcons player dive while chasing a kick yesterday, quite theatrically and the referee rightly didn’t give a penalty. It’s only the second time I’ve ever seen it happen, and the first time for a couple of years, but please, let’s not be doing things like that. Hopefully Dean Richards has the same attitude and took the relevant player to task.


Actually, I’ll finish positively – Merry Christmas everyone, and see you on the 27th!

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

Match preview: Harlequins v Newcastle Falcons


Saturday 20 December 2014 – 3.00pm

Twickenham Stoop, London

Aviva Premiership #10


It’s the most wonderful time of the year, or the most stressful time depending on how you look at it. Or maybe it’s both. But before we get to Saracens at home, we have to visit their fellow Cockneys Harlequins down at tomorrow.


After a tricky and inconsistent start to 2014/15, Quins are currently ninth in the table with nineteen points, one place and five points ahead of ourselves, so while this game is a big test for the Falcons, it also represents a good opportunity to get a fantastic result and announce ourselves as truly back in the Premiership.


Harlequins come into this match after a huge Champions Cup double-header against Leinster, the first meetings between the two sides since the infamous Bloodgate incident that ultimately resulted in Dean Richards taking charge at Kingston Park. Quins beat the Dublin side 24-18 at before an incredibly tight 14-13 loss at the Stadium last Saturday, a game in which they came back from 11-0 down to lead at one stage.


The aristocratic Londoners remain in a great position to qualify for the new competition’s quarter-finals however, having also beaten Castres at home and Wasps away already.


Quins’ inconsistency is reflected in their home form so far this season. Conor O’Shea’s side were destroyed 0-39 by Saracens in their opening Stoop outing of the season, before beating Wasps, London Welsh and Castres as well as Newport Gwent Dragons in the LV= Cup. Their last home league game was a 12-16 loss to Sale at the same time as the Falcons were beating Gloucester at KP.


Our hosts’ most recent league game saw them as the supporting cast for the Sam Burgess Show at The Rec last month, when Bath took Quins apart in the scrum in particular and ran out 25-6 winners. That game should give our forwards encouragement tomorrow.


That said, Quins did win away to Gloucester last month, so there can be no complacency tomorrow against a side packed with quality young and experienced players.


More optimism can be garnered from our last visit to TW2. That game was in February this year, and Rory Clegg played a blinder against his former club to almost lead us to a famous win after Alex Tait’s second-half try. However, two penalties by Ben Botica in the last ten minutes broke Geordie hearts and left us with only a bonus point to take back north.


Our last win at the Stoop was arguably Alan Tait’s finest hour as Falcons manager, Tane Tu’ipulotu’s last-play try in front of the away fans winning the 2011 LV= Cup semi-final. I can still remember that night – another ecstatic Geordie jumped on my back in the bar afterwards and almost broke my glasses, so I decided I needed contact lenses.


Other than that, we haven’t won away to Harlequins since 2000, but it is unlikely we will ever get a more famous victory on Langhorn Drive than that which took place on 17 May 1998. With Saracens’ season over and Francois Pienaar’s side holding a one-point lead at the top of the table, all the Falcons had to do was defeat Quins to win the Premiership 1 title in our first season back in the big time (only our second top division season ever).


Unbelievably, there was no real tension that day. Two tries from Gary Armstrong and further scores from Rob Andrew, Nick Popplewell, Pat Lam and Richard Arnold saw our lads romp to a 20-44 victory and the league championship. Just looking at the teams that day, I see that the Harlequins tighthead was a guy by the name of Alan Yates – two years later he would have a forty-minute career at Kingston Park, being hauled off at half-time in a huge home defeat to Wasps and never to be seen again in our parish.


Falcons at the Stoop:

08/03/1980 Cup QF                       L3-9

24/01/1983 Cup R3                       L15-24

08/11/1986 Club Match                L3-9

05/03/1989 Club Match                L14-26

02/03/1991 Club Match                W18-17

12/02/1994 Division 1                   L6-12

17/05/1998 Premiership 1           W44-20

07/11/1998 Premiership 1           L20-25

22/01/2000 Premiership 1           W15-12

30/09/2000 Premiership               W20-18

16/03/2002 Premiership               L19-33

05/10/2002 Premiership               L23-47

11/10/2003 Premiership               L11-18

13/03/2004 Premiership               L23-39

01/01/2007 Premiership               L15-42

29/03/2008 Premiership               L9-15

25/04/2009 Premiership               L12-31

03/04/2010 Premiership               L14-23

02/10/2010 Premiership               L12-23

14/11/2010 Cup                             L20-28

11/03/2011 Cup SF                        W21-20

27/11/2011 Premiership               L8-39

15/02/2014 Premiership               L14-18


Tom Catterick starts a Premiership match at fly-half for the first time tomorrow, while Andy Tuilagi could make his debut from the bench. A host of stars return after the European games in Sinoti Sinoti, Alex Tuilagi, Mike Blair and Ally Hogg, with Scott Lawson and Josh Furno on the bench.

Falcons team: 15. Simon Hammersley, 14. Sinoti Sinoti, 13. Adam Powell, 12. Juan Pablo Socino, 11. Alex Tuilagi, 10. Tom Catterick, 9. Mike Blair; 1. Rob Vickers, 2. George McGuigan, 3. Scott Wilson, 4. Calum Green, 5. Dom Barrow, 6. Mark Wilson, 7. Will Welch (c), 8. Ally Hogg.

Replacements: 16. Scott Lawson, 17. Eric Fry, 18. Mark Irving, 19. Kane Thompson, 20. Josh Furno, 21. Ruki Tipuna, 22. Andy Tuilagi, 23. Noah Cato.


Harlequins team: 15. Mike Brown, 14. Marland Yarde, 13. Matt Hopper, 12. George Lowe, 11. Aseli Tikoirotuma, 10. Tim Swiel, 9. Karl Dickson, 1.Mark Lambert, 2. Joe Gray, 3. Kyle Sinckler, 4. Charlie Matthews, 5. George Robson (c), 6. Joe Trayfoot, 7. Jack Clifford, 8. James Chisholm

Replacements: 16. Dave Ward, 17.Darryl Marfo, 18. Will Collier, 19. Sam Twomey, 20. George Merrick, 21. Danny Care, 22. Ross Chisholm, 23. Ugo Monye.


Come on lads, lets get an early Christmas present and really go into the Saracens game with massive confidence!


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

Wigton 17-64 Penrith


Saturday 13 December 2014 – 2.00pm

Lowmoor Road, Wigton

North One West round 14


Penrith ran out more-than-comfortable winners in a passionate Cumbrian derby at Lowmoor Road today to go joint-fifth in North One West, while condemning Wigton to bottom spot for the Christmas break.


The visitors had a bonus point wrapped up by half-time thanks to a hat-trick from Jamie McNaughton, and went on to score nine tries in all as they posted the division’s second-highest score of the season.
The highest score so far in 2014/15 was achieved by Vale of Lune in an 81-12 victory over Wigton last month, but it will probably be little consolation for the hosts that they at least avoided that embarrassment.


I had intended to get my live rugby fix this weekend at Kendal, but after a quick (well, under two hours) half marathon this morning I discovered that the Hornets game against Wilmslow had been called off due to a frozen pitch. Oh no!


A curious glance around the web and Twitter turned up the fact that Wigton v Penrith was definitely on, so once Mrs L got back from shopping I raced up the M6 and B5305 deep into the north of Cumbria. The drive was surprisingly easy despite the weather, not to mention enchanting with snow reaching almost to the foot of the Lake District fells.


Arriving ten minutes before kick-off, I had just enough time to get a cup of coffee (in a proper china cup) and some freshly-cooked chips (on a proper china plate), and fortunately they cooled quickly on a pitchside picnic table so I could get to work scrutinising this Cumbrian derby.


Though many of the crowd were still in the warm clubhouse rather than out in the freezing cold, Penrith showed early on that they meant business with McNaughton racing for the right corner before being bundled into touch. The winger got his first try after ten minutes however, chipping down the touchline and gathering to cross for a score that Jonny Wills was unable to convert.


Things went from bad to worse as, to the dismay of the home crowd, referee Brian Mitchelhill sent Wigton scrum-half Tane Manihera to the bin for a ruck offence on halfway. A Wigton coach explained to some spectators and later the referee about the need for tacklers to roll away, until Sir finally lost patience in the second half and sent said coach behind the fence around the pitch. That shut him up.


Anyway, back to the game and Penrith increased their lead on twenty-two minutes with a penalty by Wills on the 22, and Wigton responded to being mullered at scrum after scrum by changing both props. They got going just a minute later when Penrith, ironically, didn’t release in Stephen Harris in the tackle and Johnny Charters kicked the resulting penalty.


At 3-8, Wigton might have thought they had a chance to end their seven-match losing run, but Penrith took control on the half-hour when scrum-half Ed Swale came through a ruck in the home half, stole the ball and charged upfield. The ball was fed left to Darren Lee and the tall winger sprinted around the Wigton defence for side’s second try.


McNaughton got his second try when he took a grubber on the bounce and beat a weak tackle by Ryan Clark on the right, before completing his hat-trick from close range two minutes before half-time. Wills converted all three tries to put the visitors 3-29 up at the interval, a bonus point already in the bag.


Penrith controlled much of the second half too, but had to wait until eight minutes after the restart for their next score. Wigton were penalised for holding on on their own 22 line, and Penrith went for the left corner. From the lineout the ball was spread for lock Phil Gardham to charge through a tackle and over the line. Wills’ conversion was true through the posts.


Wills made a big drive to the 22 and Penrith recycled quickly to charge further forwards, and Gardham made a beautiful hand-off to Ryan Johnson for his second row partner to score under the sticks, the two embracing afterwards.


Swale had an opportunity for a try but dropped the ball on the tryline, but the fifty-point mark was reached just before the hour mark when McNaughton took a pass just outside the 22 and cut through the high Wigton defence, running under the posts unopposed to give Wills an easy conversion.


Just two minutes later, hooker Craig Price touched down in the middle too, giving Penrith a 3-57 lead. Some away supporters talked of a century, and the way things were going you wouldn’t have bet against it.


With fifteen minutes to go, Wigton finally managed to put an attack together and Benn dropped on the line before Chris Pattinson was held up. The home team kept the pressure on though and finally Charters forced his way over on the right, before converting the score himself.


Penrith went straight back on the attack and Lee raced on to a chip to round the home defence for a ninth away try.


There was one more consolation score for Wigton through Stuart Creighton, Charters’ conversion making the final score 17-64. Powerful and pacy Penrith can now look up the table after taking five points back down the B5305, while Wigton sit six points behind Eccles at the bottom of the table. With a points difference 116 worse than the next-worst side in the division, the north Cumbrians look to have a big fight on their hands to stay in North One West for next season.


At the top of the table, Birkenhead Park took advantage of Kendal and Kirkby Lonsdale’s postponements to extend their lead to six points over the latter with a 5-31 win at Carlisle. Widnes also kept the pressure on the top three with a big home win over Warrington.


With fourteen rounds of the twenty-six-game season over (though some teams have gamed in hand), North One West now takes a break until 3 January. There are sure to be some more twists and turns in this ultra-competitive league, and I can’t wait to see what happens!



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

Match reaction: Stade Francais 31-24 Newcastle Falcons


Thursday 11 December 2014 – 8.45pm

Stade Jean Bouin, Paris

European Challenge Cup Pool 3 #4


Aargh! It was one of those games where you fear to watch, but cannot turn away. What a performance by the less-than-full-strength Falcons against a really good side. We really could have won tonight, but it just wasn’t to be.



So I was really excited about this game, I got me Carling with a code to watch Sky Sports so everything was in hand on that score. Dinner was ready. At 7.10pm I headed out to pick up Mrs L off the train, the plan being to be home by 7.35pm in plenty of time for kick-off.


Of course, Transpennine Express aren’t called Express for their incredible punctuality, so it was a race back to catch kick-off, but fortunately I only missed the first thirty seconds or so. It wasn’t long before I cheered loudly for our first try!


After a dream start for the Falcons with JP Socino’s try, Stade dominated for a while and scored a few tries. I thought the first one was in touch from first view, Idu seemed to be way too far across but the replays showed that it was a good try. Then some weak tackling allowed the second try, and for the third Stade stretched our defence with great speed.


17-7 down after 25 minutes and things looked bleak.


But the Falcons’ heads didn’t go down and we looked hungry to attack still, led by Chris Harris and Simon Hammersley. I thought we’d score more, but we definitely needed to tighten up the defence. Just before half-time, Hammers cut a brilliant line through the Stade defence and it was 17-14, we’re back in the game!


Unfortunately before half-time Stade got a penalty try, which was all-but inevitable the way they were toying with our scrum.


It wasn’t pretty for much of the first half, but even at 24-14 an interesting second half was shaping up as Stade’s power took on our pace. Bobby Vickers and Chris York’s introduction after the break showed that the forward battle was a big concern for Dean Richards, but the first scrum of the second half still went backwards.


But after a couple of minutes the Falcons got it together and put together a bit of pressure, finally getting a close-range try from Mark Wilson. Rory Clegg’s difficult conversion reduced the deficit back to three points as the Stade Jean Bouin rocked to the sound of singing Geordies.


What the Falcons were giving away in forward strength they made up for in heart throughout the whole team, and were intent on throwing everything at Stade. Andy Saull and Davit Kubriashvili (“Easy for you to say,” said Mark Lawrenson) had a bit of fisticuffs and the next penalty Jonathan Ross was sent to the bin. Rory Clegg hit the penalty and with a quarter of the game left, we were 24-24 and a man up. Come on!


Noah Cato and Saull led another attack down the flanks but a loose ball was knocked on. The commentator said that it was a time for “slow hearts and cool heads” among the Falcons – I can tell you my heart wasn’t going slow, I was getting quite animated on the sofa!


Vickers’ yellow card for collapsing the resulting scrum was a kick in the teeth, and as Stade’s seconds with fourteen men ticked down they added injury to injury with a fifth try. Predictably, it came through the forwards as we had no answer to a maul that didn’t roll as much as steamroll.


The Falcons appeared to be a bit demoralised with that. We had played with so much heart and though we really had no answer to Stade’s forward power, the team definitely deserved to come away with at least a bonus point.


It looked like Stade were going to pick and drive until the clock hit zero, but with five seconds left we got a scrum, and then attacked for another few minutes. There was plenty of tension over here in the Village of the Damned as we drove forward, but Stade got a penalty to end the game.


There were some big performances from the Falcons, particularly from the forwards away from the scrum. George McGuigan and Mark Wilson were everywhere and made a truckload of tackles. In the backs, Simon Hammersley again showed the natural flair that has already made him a favourite among Falcons fans. The lads really can be proud of themselves tonight!


As Dave Walder said afterwards, we put in a much better show tonight than the last time we were in Paris, and we were actually confident of winning. What a difference to a year ago when a demoralised side were demolished by Harlequins and then laboured to two less-than-convincing wins over Calvisano. Of course a defeat is never anything to celebrate, but it’s happened and there were a huge load of positives for us.


So the group now looks like this ahead of Newport Gwent Dragons v Bucharest Wolves tomorrow night: Falcons 15 points, Dragons 11, Stade 10, Bucharest 1. Presuming Newport get five points at Rodney Parade tomorrow, they will be a point ahead of us, but since we meet the Dragons at KP next month and then go to Bucharest, we still have qualification in our own hands. I am confident we will be at least one of the best runners-up.


Right, pretty knackered now. Goodnight!



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

Match preview: Stade Francais v Newcastle Falcons


Thursday 11 December 2014 – 8.45pm (7.45pm UK time)

Stade Jean Bouin, Paris

European Challenge Cup Pool 3 #4


It’s the second half of our double-header with Stade tomorrow night, the Falcons travelling to gay Paris with the aim of defending a 100% record in Pool 3 of the Challenge Cup and put one foot in the quarter-finals.


I was feeling extremely confident when I saw on the Sky Sports listings that they were showing Grenoble v Stade last night, but it turned out that they had the date wrong and that game is next week. Never mind.


After our 30-23 win against the Frenchmen at KP on Friday night, we have 14 points in the pool, three more than Newport Gwent Dragons who won 10-37 in Bucharest Wolves and have the return of that tie in Rodney Parade on Friday. Stade are third with just five points from their three games, and Bucharest have just the one.


Looking around the other pools at the halfway stage, the Dragons are among the leading second-placed teams at the moment, and a win tomorrow night should give us a great chance of at least progressing as one of the best runners-up.


Not much I can say about Stade that I didn’t last week, so I thought I’d compare their home record against English clubs in Europe to ours away to French sides.


Stade at home v English clubs (Heineken Cup unless stated):

1997/98 London Irish L28-29 (Challenge Cup)

1997/98 Gloucester W53-22 (Challenge Cup QF)

1999/2000 Leicester W38-16

2000/01 Wasps W40-10

2000/01 Leicester L30-34 (Final)

2001/02 Wasps W31-0

2002/03 Harlequins W29-12 (Challenge Cup R2L2)

2002/03 Wasps L12-27 (Challenge Cup QFL2)

2003/04 Leicester W26-15

2004/05 Gloucester W39-31

2004/05 Newcastle W48-8 (QF)

2005/06 Leicester W12-6

2006/07 Sale W27-16

2007/08 Harlequins W37-17

2007/08 Bristol W19-11

2008/09 Harlequins L10-15

2009/10 Bath W15-13

2010/11 Leeds W39-10 (Challenge Cup)

2011/12 Worcester W33-10 (Challenge Cup)

2011/12 Exeter W22-17 (Challenge Cup QF)

2012/13 London Welsh W39-17 (Challenge Cup)

2013/14 London Irish W32-14 (Challenge Cup)

2013/14 Harlequins L6-29 (Challenge Cup QF)


That’s a formidable record of eighteen wins and just five defeats. What’s more, it’s just four defeats at the Stade Jean Bouin against English clubs (the 2001 final was played at the Parc des Princes), and only Harlequins winning at Stade’s spiritual home over the past decade.


I was surprised to see that the Falcons’ record over the Channel isn’t really that great (Challenge Cup or equivalent unless stated):

1997/98 Perpignan W27-13

1997/98 Biarritz L28-32

1997/98 Agen L9-12 (SF)

1999/2000 Narbonne W20-19

1999/2000 Stade Aurillacois L10-17

1999/2000 Pau L20-36 (QF)

2000/01 Begles-Bordeaux W26-18

2001/02 Toulouse L13-33 (Heineken Cup)

2002/03 Grenoble W19-12 (R1L1)

2003/04 Montferrand L13-25 (R2L2)

2004/05 Perpignan L12-33 (Heineken Cup)

2004/05 Stade Francais L8-48 (Heineken Cup QF)

2005/06 Brive W24-27

2006/07 Brive L12-41

2006/07 Montauban L10-16

2006/07 Clermont Auvergne L19-24 (QF)

2007/08 Brive W19-12

2008/09 Brive L22-36

2009/10 Montauban L19-24

2009/10 Albi W16-14

2010/11 Montpellier L8-32

2010/11 Bourgoin – Not played

2011/12 Toulon L10-36

2011/12 Lyon L13-21

2012/13 Brive L16-23


I make that seven wins from 24 games in Frenchland, and only one in the last five years. So that’s a bit of a record we need to improve tomorrow night.



Starts for Juan Pablo Socino, Rory Clegg, Ruki Tipuna, Calum Green and Alex Rogers are among seven changes to the team that won the first leg at KP last week, while Mark Wilson’s rest is over. Chris Harris switches to the wing.


Falcons team: 15 Simon Hammersley 14 Chris Harris 13 Adam Powell (c) 12 Juan Pablo Socino 11 Noah Cato 10 Rory Clegg 9 Ruki Tipuna 1 Eric Fry 2 George McGuigan 3 Alex Rogers 4 Calum Green 5 Kane Thompson 6 Sean Robinson 7 Andy Saull 8 Mark Wilson.


Replacements 16 Rob Hawkins 17 Rob Vickers 18 Mark Irving 19 Dom Barrow 20 Chris York 21 Andy Davies 22 Tom Catterick 23 Tom Penny.



Stade team: 15 Paul Williams, 14 Jérémy Sinzelle, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Krisnan Inu, 11 Djibril Camara, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jerome Fillol, 1 Zak Taulafo, 2 Remi Bonfils, 3 Davit Kubriashvili, 4 Hugh Pyle, 5 Gerhard Mostert, 6 Jonathan Ross, 7 Pierre Rabadan (c), 8 Raphael Lakafia.


Replacements: 16 Zurabi Zhvania, 17 Romain Frou, 18 Sofiane Chellat, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Matthieu Ugena, 21 Julien Tomas, 22 Vincent Mallet, 23 Jonathan Danty.



If you’re going over to Paris, have a great time, I wish I could be there with you! Hopefully you’ll get to have a singsong under the Big Metal Thingy.


For those back home in Blighty, don’t forget to tune in to Sky Sports 1 for the game. If you don’t have Sky, nip to the supermarket and buy a box of Carling that has a free 24-hour Now TV code on – that’s how the game will be viewed in the Village, and I definitely can’t wait for tomorrow night!!



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

Kirkby Lonsdale 17-0 Carlisle


Saturday 6 December 2014 – 2.15pm

Underley Park, Kirkby Lonsdale

North One West #13


A lot of us will think that Kingston Park in the winter is the coldest place on Earth. After visiting the vast expanse of Underley Park in freezing temperatures this afternoon however, I can tell you that KP isn’t even the coldest rugby ground in the North of England.


With no protection from the elements – the one stand probably holds about fifty people at most – and another pitch between you and the clubhouse, it was a day for the hardiest of rural Cumbrians. And me, of course. Mercifully there was little wind.


The low temperature and greasy pitch made for an attritional but intriguing battle between Kirkby Lonsdale, still second in the league despite last week’s derby defeat at Kendal, and their county rivals from Carlisle, who sit comfortably in mid-table.


When you get to the entrance of Underley Park, you pay your money then drive (or, in my case, walk) a bit of a way to the clubhouse, past a pitch that makes Bedford’s look flat, and as I say there is another pitch before you get to the first team field, beside which the hot drinks van would have done a good trade today I expect.


I was glad of a glass of hot cider in the bar before heading out into the South Lakeland cold. (Sorry, just wanted to make sure you know it wasn’t tropical!) The poor sheep in the field behind the stand would have to just make do with their wool and hope for the best.


The match kicked off to the sound of bagpipes from the Christmas fair being held in this market town during the afternoon, and Kirkby attacked from the off by sending a penalty from the kick-off into the corner, but the maul stopped and Scottish-Northumbrian referee John Ash awarded Carlisle the ball.


Just a couple of minutes later, a break from Dave Barton on the 22 set home winger Josh Maddock away on the right, and after he was tackled close to the line his forwards were held up.


Carlisle’s first attack culminated in a penalty thirty metres out in front of goal, but Damian Armstrong pulled his shot to the left.


The visitors continued to set the pace and a (forward) pass from livewire fly-half James Rocke set Dan Holmes on a run from his own half almost to the 22, where he was hauled down. Carlisle went through the phases but Kirkby managed to steal the ball and move upfield.


With 25 minutes gone, home scrum-half Ben Walker missed a penalty from a similar position to Armstrong’s, and one sensed that this might be a very low-scoring game. It was stop-start, with a lot of handling errors, and played mostly between the 22s.


Maddock had another chance for Kirkby as the first half drew to a close, chipping to the tryline and racing through, but he was unable to gather the loose ball.


A score finally came on the stroke of the half-time whistle. Barton ran at the Carlisle defence on the 22 and sent a grubber kick in behind, and a defender appeared to think about tripping the chasing fly-half before thinking better of it. Barton caught up with the ball and touched down just to the left of the posts, allowing Walker a simple conversion that sent Kirkby Lonsdale into the half-time huddles 7-0 ahead.


Most spectators remained around the pitch during the short interval, though a few headed for the clubhouse, presumably to access the warmth as much as anything! I can say that I don’t think I saw a single person drinking a beer beside the pitch today (not even myself, it was a late one last night!), it was that cold. Mind, by the time people got to the bar it was probably time to come back.


The second half continued in much the same way as the first, with both sides looking to play attacking rugby despite the conditions (a few Premiership sides could learn from that) but handling errors and poor discipline, particularly from the hosts, continued to stem the flow.


Kirkby were probably the better team for much of the second half. A big run by David Bird from full-back towards the 22 brought about a penalty that the hosts sent to the corner. From the lineout another penalty was awarded, Kirkby tapped and spread the ball left but Dan Akrigg was just unable to gather the scoring pass on the far left.


After Carlisle cleared, Kirkby drove a maul 25 metres down the left but lost the ball in the melee.


Carlisle finally managed to break just after the hour, winger Ollie Barker chipping down the line and forcing Kirkby to take the ball into the in-goal area and touch down.


Just when you thought there would be no more scores, Kirkby attacked the Carlisle line with the forwards and backs getting their turns, and eventually referee Mr Ash decided defenders had gone off their feet at a maul and awarded the home side a penalty just metres from goal. Walker easily dispatched it to give promotion-chasing Kirkby some breathing space.


The marzipan (not really icing) was put on the cake in the dying minutes of the game, when Barton headed into the 22 and offloaded to Alan Robinson on his shoulder, but flanker Robinson knocked on. Carlisle were unable to clear from the scrum however, Kirkby turned over and Craig Galbraith cut through the defence for his side’s second try, a score celebrated enthusiastically by the home players and most of the 200-odd people in attendance. Walker knocked over the conversion, and though Carlisle went on the attack in the remaining seconds, they were destined to return north without scoring a point.


Hungry and a bit jaded still from last night, I found Mrs L parked near the entrance to the ground and we headed for Booths, where I gratefully nabbed a hot (!) steak and kidney pie for a very late lunch. Lovely it was too, plenty kidney which we all know is the best part of the pie!


It’s as-you-were at the top of North One West tonight with Kendal and Birkenhead Park also victorious today, but Broughton Park’s narrow defeat at Widnes has allowed the latter to go level with them in fourth on 41 points. The top three have a bit of a cushion for now – Birkenhead Park are on 49 points, Kirkby Lonsdale 48 and Kendal 47.


Half of the season is now gone, and this coming Saturday the mighty Kendal take on Wilmslow at Mint Bridge before the league breaks off for Christmas. Hope it’s as warm as last week was, rather than like today.



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