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!
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