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)