Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Sale Sharks

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Sunday 1 February 2015 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

LV= Cup Pools 2 and 3 #3

 

A European Challenge Cup quarter-final spot has been secured, and now attention turns to the final group rounds of this season’s LV= Cup.

 

The pool stage wraps up at the Madejski Stadium against London Irish a week tomorrow, after Sale visit Kingston Park for the second time this season on Sunday. We have met the Sharks regularly in cup competition down the years, most famously in the 2004 final at Twickenham and a semi-final at KP three years previously. The two northern sides have also met thrice in the Anglo-Welsh competition.

 

Perhaps the most interesting of those three games was in January 2012, when Gary Gold took charge of the Falcons for the first time after replacing Alan Tait as manager. Optimism was high among the 4,000 home fans in attendance but we were silenced by Nick MacLeod’s early try that he himself converted, putting Sale 3-7 up. It took until the half-hour for the Falcons to retake the lead, when Mark Wilson’s converted try was added to two earlier Jimmy Gopperth penalties, and the Falcons led 13-7 at half-time.

 

In the second half, we pulled away with further tries by Rob Vickers, Tim Swinson and Gopperth, gaining a bonus-point win in the first game of a new era. Gary Gold’s first Falcons squad, only five of whom are still at KP, was: J Gopperth, R Shortland, C Uys, J Fitzpatrick, S Hufanga, J Hodgson, C Pilgrim, G Shiells, R Vickers, J Hall, A Fondse, T Swinson, A Hogg, W Welch, M Wilson (Replacements: M Mayhew, J Golding, A Wells, R Boyle, T Tu’ifua, R Mayhew, W Chudley, T Bedford).

 

We have a great record in cup combat against Sale, with only one defeat down the years – a bit of a rubbish loss in 2006.

 

Gosforth/Falcons v Sale in cups:

29/09/1973         North Road                         RFU Cup Preliminary       W18-6

03/04/1976         Heywood Road John Player Cup SF                            W12-3

06/01/2001         Kingston Park                     Tetley’s Bitter Cup SF     W37-25

17/04/2004         Twickenham                       Powergen Cup Final        W37-33

02/10/2005         Kingston Park                     Powergen Cup                  W34-9

29/09/2006         Edgeley Park                      EDF Energy Cup               L5-28

29/01/2012         Kingston Park                     LV= Cup                              W37-7

 

 

After a heavy defeat at Northampton and a narrow home reverse against Cardiff Blues, the Falcons have but a slight mathematical chance to win our pool in this cup and get through to the semi-finals. With just a point from two games, we trail Leicester by eight points.

 

Pool 3:

Leicester 9 points

Wasps 7 points

Newcastle 1 point

Scarlets 1 point

 

Sale began their LV= Cup campaign with a 32-29 victory over Wasps in Salford, MacLeod’s penalty with five minutes left sealing a bonus-point win after Alex Lozowski had equalised minutes earlier. Then then went to Welford Road and were soundly beaten 29-13 by Leicester, despite leading 3-13 at half-time. Those results mean that Sale have five points, and sit third in Pool 2 behind Northampton on nine and Cardiff Blues on eight.

 

 

The weekend’s other fixtures relevant to us are:
Leicester v Northampton (Tomorrow 3pm)

Scarlets v London Irish (Tomorrow 6.30pm)

Wasps v Cardiff Blues (Sunday 1pm)

 

On Sunday, I would like to see the Falcons go out to put on a good, attacking show and win the game, and then hopefully do the same against London Irish next weekend, in preparation for returning to league action. These games don’t really matter as we aren’t likely to go through, but the best teams (and we aspire to be among them) don’t throw games, every game matters to them. I subscribe to the theory that if you perform when it doesn’t matter, then you’re far more likely to do so when it does matter.

 

 

The Falcons have named an interesting team for Sunday, with rare starts for Rob Hawkins and Alex Rogers in the front row, and Uili Kolo’ofai has recovered from another injury to start at eight. I don’t think anyone would have predicted that we’d see a three-quarter line of Lee Smith, Jamie Helleur, Anitelea Tuilagi and Danny Barnes in a game this season! Phil Godman is also fit again and is on the bench.

 

Falcons team: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Lee Smith, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 Anitelea Tuilagi, 11 Danny Barnes, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Ruki Tipuna; 1 Eric Fry, 2 Rob Hawkins, 3 Alex Rogers, 4 Josh Furno, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Andy Saull (c), 8 Uili Kolo’ofai.

 

Replacements 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Rob Vickers, 18 Mark Irving, 19 Sean Robinson, 20 Ally Hogg, 21 Mike Blair, 22 Phil Godman, 23 Simon Hammersley.

 

 

Sale team: Luke McLean, Tom Brady, Andy Forsyth, Sam Bedlow, Phil Mackenzie, Joe Ford, Nathan Fowles, Alberto de Marchi, Tommy Taylor, Ciaran Parker, Andrei Ostrikov, George Nott, Mark Easter, TJ Ioane, Viliami Fihaki.

 

Replacements: Shalva Mamukashvili, Maxim Cobilas, James Flynn, Nathan Hines, Andy Hughes, Will Cliff, Nick Macleod, Sam James.

 

 

So I’m guessing that team we’re putting out on Sunday won’t start at Sandy Park in a fortnight, but it’s a good opportunity to get some game time into fringe and recovering players’ legs, and hopefully get a win to make up for the Newport game.

 

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

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Match reaction: Bucharest Wolves 10-52 Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 24 January 2015 – 5.00pm (3.00pm UK time)

Cluj Arena, Cluj-Napoca

European Challenge Cup Pool 3 #6

 

Job done, I reckon. The Falcons went to Romania for a bonus point win and had it wrapped up after 32 minutes when a penalty try, to add to previous scores by Rob Vickers, Juan Pablo Socino and Alex Tait, put us 28-10 up.

 

I don’t have much to say about the actual game as I didn’t listen in unfortunately. This morning, Mrs L and I headed deep into the Lake District for a walk around Buttermere (once we found the village to start from!), and didn’t get home until about 3.30pm. I really wanted to go for a run as the weather beat me last night, so I checked the score quickly – bonus point secured! – and headed out to pound the mean streets of South Lakeland.

 

Ten kilometres, two aching legs and one numb hamstring later, I was home and saw the score was 10-52 in the dying minutes. Excellent, that’ll do! For the first time since 2010, the Falcons are in the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup.

 

Early reports from the game don’t say too much, Twitter suggests that we were dominant for most of the game as the scoreline suggests. The final try, scored by Andy Davies, was apparently a nice team try, so that’s good to see. I suppose in these games it’s no-win, as we’re expected to go over and get five points, it’s only if we don’t that anyone gets excited.

 

So the QF seedings currently look like this:

Gloucester 29pts (Pool 5 winners)

Newport Gwent Dragons 25pts (Pool 3 winners)

London Irish 24pts (Pool 1 winners)

Edinburgh 22pts (Pool 4 winners)

Exeter 20pts (Pool 2 leaders, playing Bayonne at home tonight)

Cardiff Blues 24pts (Pool 2 runners-up)

Newcastle 21pts (Pool 3 runners-up)

Bordeaux-Begles 16pts (Pool 4 runners-up)

 

Connacht, on 15 points in Pool 2, could still claim the eighth-seed position if they get at least two points away to La Rochelle tomorrow. It would take a 40-plus-point win for Exeter to be able to overtake Newport Gwent Dragons and take second spot, so as the Falcons are guaranteed to be seventh seeds, we are going back to Rodney Parade in April!

 

That’s not terrible, as it’s a ground we have a half-decent record at and of course we won the equivalent game in the pool round, before last week’s debacle against the Welshmen at KP.

 

It’ll be an interesting encounter, and I’ve got a sneaky feeling that after that game I might be pre-emptively booking tickets for the final at the Stoop in May.

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

Match preview: Bucharest Wolves v Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 24 January 2015 – 5.00pm (3.00pm UK time)

Cluj Arena, Cluj-Napoca

European Challenge Cup Pool 3 #6

 

European competition can take you to some exotic locations, and they don’t come more exotic than Transylvania. A place more normally associated with bats, due to it being host to Dracula’s Bran Castle, hosts our Falcons tomorrow after our game against Bucharest Wolves was moved 300km to the city of Cluj-Napoca, towards the north-west of Romania.

 

I had never heard of Romania’s second most-populous city until a few years ago, when the football team CFR Cluj began to become regular participants in the UEFA Champions League. Although they have not had great success, a win over Roma in 2008 was a big day in the club’s history and they also won away to Manchester United in December 2012.

 

CFR play at the Stadionul Dr. Constantin Rădulescu in the Gruia area of Cluj, but the Falcons will tomorrow be playing at the 31,000-capacity Cluj Arena. Opened in 2011 having cost €45m to build and owned by Cluj County Council, this UEFA Category 4 stadium is home to men’s and women’s local football teams and the rugby team U Cluj, who moved there from the local Babeş-Bolyai University (the U stands for Universitatea) grounds in 2013 in time for that year’s SuperLiga season.

 

U Cluj finished the 2014 season in last place, propping up the seven-team league with just a single victory and even that came in the final outing of the season, 26-18 at home to CSA Steaua Bucuresti.

 

This will of course be the Falcons’ second visit to Romania, fifteen months after our first. That day in October 2013 saw our team win their first European match since promotion by a slender score of 12-13 at the Stadionul Arcul de Triumf, only Joel Hodgson’s late penalty saving the travellers’ blushes. Adam Powell was the try-scorer for the following team:

T Catterick, R Shortland, A Powell, A Crockett (c), S Brown, J Hodgson, C Pilgrim, R Vickers, G McGuigan, O Tomaszczyk, F McKenzie, S Tomes, C York, M Wilson, H Collins. Replacements: K Brookes, G Strain, S Wilson, D Barrow, J Fitzpatrick, W Fury, M Thompson, N Cato.

 

 

So how does qualification play out? We can’t win Pool 3, Newport Gwent Dragons having top spot sewn up, but with a one-point advantage over Stade Francais at the moment, a bonus-point victory tomorrow would guarantee second place. If we were to win without a BP and Stade got the full five points against the Dragons at Rodney Parade, then it gets tricky. The Falcons and Stade have an identical head-to-head record from December’s double-header, so it would go to points difference. Stade’s is currently six better than ours, and you would imagine that if they got a BP and we didn’t, that advantage would only improve. So a BP win, please!

 

In terms of the other groups, here are how the top twos (and relevant threes) stand:

Pool 1 – London Irish 19, Cardiff Blues 19

Pool 2 – Exeter 20, Connacht 15

Pool 3 – Dragons 21, Newcastle 16, Stade Francais 15

Pool 4 – Edinburgh 17, Bordeaux-Begles 16

Pool 5 – Gloucester 24, Oyonnax 12

 

The top three runners-up go through and the Falcons are currently the third best, so five points tomorrow would guarantee a quarter-final spot. There are lots of different permutations, too many to go through with so many games relevant so again, lets just score four tries and win the game!

 

As for Bucharest, along with pride, they are looking to avoid a first-ever whitewash in a European group, in their current guise as a select team.

 

 

Rob Vickers and Scott Lawson are among the changes to our starting lineup tomorrow, with Juan Pablo Socino being promoted from the bench and Lee Smith, a scorer in the first two rounds of this competition, getting a rare start. Calum Green and Mark Wilson also return along with captain Will Welch.

 

Falcons team:: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Lee Smith, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Ruki Tipuna, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Calum Green, 5 Kane Thompson, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Mark Wilson.

 

Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Eric Fry, 18 Alex Rogers, 19 Sean Robinson, 20 Andy Saull, 21 Andy Davies, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Tom Penny.

 

 

Bucharest Wolves team: 1 Petru Tamba, 2 Otar Turashvili (c), 3 Vlad Badalicescu, 4 Petre Neacsu, 5 Cornel Tatu, 6 Johan Van Heerden, 7 Sean Morrell, 8 Constantin Ene, 9 Grigoras Diaconescu, 10 Daniel Statulescu, 11 Robert Neagu, 12 Csaba Gal, 13 Catalin Dascalu, 14 Marian Apostol, 15 Ionut Botezatu.

 

Replacements: 16 Alexandru-Claudiu Oancea, 17 Constantin Pristavita, 18 Silviu Vasiliu, 19 Onal Ageacai, 20 Mihai Dico, 21 Florin Surugiu, 22 Ionut Niacsu, 23 Andrei-Daniel Ilie.

 

 

Sources in Romania suggest that the Wolves have selected quite a weak squad, so hopefully the Falcons will come back with the five points they need. The game is on Romanian TV, though I haven’t a clue where you might find it a stream on the internet.

 

 

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 29-40 Newport Gwent Dragons

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Saturday 17 January 2015 – 3.15pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

European Challenge Cup Pool 3 #5

 

Well that was an interesting game. A big defeat, but it could have been a lot bigger!

 

The first half was undoubtedly one of the worst halves I’ve ever seen from the Falcons. No intensity, stupid decisions, and 3-35 down after less than half an hour.

 

There were several head-in-hands moments from overthrown lineouts to unchased kicks, and Tom Catterick offloading to the Dragons’ scrum-half to lead to the fourth away try.

 

We conceded 21 points when Richard Mayhew was in the bin but I don’t think the yellow card made much difference – we just couldn’t live with Newport’s speed and skill. Then there was just some rotten luck, like Ruki Tipuna giving away a penalty try for a tackle on the line when he looked to be onside.

 

That said, we were the masters of our own destruction at times. The fifth try, which came from a deep kick from Catterick that the Falcons were not even interested in chasing, turned me from shocked to angry.

 

The last ten minutes of the first half we rallied a little and put some possession together, but couldn’t make any headway really. Newport’s blitz defence denied us space and kept us well away from the Welsh 22. There really seemed no way back, although I was too angry to try to think about what it might be.

 

It’d be interesting to know what was said by (presumably) Mark Laycock at half-time, as the Falcons came straight out of the blocks and Juan Pablo Socino’s first act off the bench was to blast over for a try! Chris Harris, now on the wing, then latched on to a dribble to the left corner to get the second score and suddenly, with half an hour left, it was 17-35. Dare we dream?

 

We did for a bit, but the Dragons kept their heads and stemmed the tide before Hallam Amos snuck down the smallest of gaps on the touchline to get the visitors’ sixth try.

 

The second half was quite interesting as the Falcons finally got some form together and both sides attacked hard. We just couldn’t really get into the 22.

 

Finally Will Welch was driven over, and then with ten minutes left Andy Saull dotted down from a maul too, and we had the try bonus point. With ten minutes left and 29-40 down, a win was probably beyond us, but a second bonus point was a possibility.

 

There was plenty of endeavour but Newport were really good all day at stealing turnovers, and our final attempt in the dying seconds ended with a loose ball in touch.

 

So, a real game of two halves. Dragons better in the first half, Falcons better in second, but Newport were way better in the second than we were in the first. We got the try bonus point and perhaps we deserved a point for showing a whole load of character in the second half, but unfortunately it just wasn’t enough to overcome the disastrous first half hour.

 

I’m not exactly sure what went wrong in the first half and I wonder if anybody at the Falcons does either, but we kicked badly and made so many elementary errors, which combined with a lightning Dragons backline to punish us on the scoreboard.

 

In the second half, the Falcons played more with the ball in hand and put pressure on the Dragons backs, and we did so much better, winning the second forty by a score of 26-5, which isn’t to be sniffed at. There must be a lesson in there somewhere.

 

I was really pleased to see Kieran Brookes have a really good game today, after some of the things that have been said about him this week following the announcement of his move to Northampton. Anyone who wants to boo him at a game, just remember what Shaun Edwards said about booing Rhys Priestland.

 

Other than that, there were good games from Simon Hammersley and Adam Powell I thought, and Tom Catterick did as well as could be expected with his lack of experience at fly-half and the fact the team was going backwards a lot of the time.

 

The Dragons now have the pool sewn up, but a bonus point victory in Romania could still see us through as a group runner-up. Things will be a bit clearer at the weekend but at present Bordeaux and ourselves have sixteen points, with Cardiff Blues on nineteen, all after five games, while Connacht have fourteen and Oyonnax twelve after four.

 

If we are to have a quarter-final in April it will be away from home, and two weeks later is the semi-final, followed by the final two weeks after that. I point that out to have a mini-rant – who decided to play these games so close together, thus making it harder for fans to plan their travel? The more I find out about this new European rugby administrator, the more I think they aren’t walking the walk that their talk last season promised.

 

Anyway, that’s for another day. For today, the first half was a disaster but it happened and the Falcons will try to work out why. Dean Richards quickly said that it won’t happen again. I think the team deserve credit for their character in the second half, which will serve us well into the future.

 

Onwards and upwards!

 

 

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Newport Gwent Dragons

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Saturday 17 January 2015 – 3.15pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

European Challenge Cup Pool 3 #5

 

The European group stage hits the home straight this month as the battle for this season’s quarter-final spots reaches a conclusion. For the Falcons, our attempt to make the European Challenge Cup’s last eight for the first time in five years begins with a televised hosting of Newport Gwent Dragons tomorrow.

 

The Welshmen appear to be our closest rivals for qualification, both teams having won three of their opening four games. The Dragons lead pool three with sixteen points, just one ahead of the Falcons, with Stade Francais on ten and Bucharest Wolves propping up the rest with a single point. While Newport face Stade at Rodney Parade next Saturday, we travel to Cluj to take on the Wolves and on paper at least, you would think that a win tomorrow would see the Falcons take top spot at the end of the pool stage.

 

That said, we did have a very tricky time of it in Romania last season, sneaking a 12-13 win over Bucharest.

 

In the reverse fixture against the Welsh side back in October, a topsy-turvy encounter saw the Falcons win 26-30 and take an early advantage in pool 3 thanks to Will Witty’s late try. Since then, we have got six points from two games against Stade while the Dragons have beaten Bucharest twice (with two bonus points) to top the group. It’s quite interesting now.

 

The Dragons have been regular opponents of ours over the years, going back to 2004/05 in the Heineken Cup when two victories played a huge part in the Falcons going through to the quarter-finals of the big tournament. More recently, we have had several meetings in the LV= Cup, including just less than a year ago. Phil Godman, Fraser McKenzie and Mark Wilson (two) were our try-scorers in a 29-0 hollow beating of Newport, as both teams exited the competition.

 

Since our November meeting, the Dragons have been consistently inconsistent. In November they won only one of five games, a 51-35 game of two halves against Ospreys in Bridgend. Remarkably, the Men of Gwent were 41-0 up at half-time at the Brewery Field before losing the second half 10-35!

 

Then there was an unbeaten December, with the aforementioned double over Bucharest topped off with Pro12 victories against Zebre at home and Cardiff Blues away. However the Blues avenged their derby loss at Rodney Parade on New Year’s Day by a slender score of 9-11, and while we were beating London Welsh, Newport were beaten 22-11 at Ospreys.

 

Like the Falcons, Newport have rotated some players in this competition. Star man Taulupe Faletau has not made an appearance in Europe yet this season, though Lee Byrne and Boris Stankovich have been fielded.

 

This weekend’s other Pool 3 game is Stade Francais v Bucharest Wolves at the Stade Jean Bouin, at 3pm our time tomorrow. So by 5pm the qualification picture should be a bit clearer.

 

 

With a lot of our foreign stars rested, there are starts for youngsters Tom Penny, Chris Harris, George McGuigan and Sean Robinson, as well as fringers Richard Mayhew and Chris York. Andy Saull captains the team and Will Witty will be looking for a repeat of his star turn in the reverse fixture as he starts on the bench.

 

Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Tom Penny, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Chris Harris, 11 Alex Tait, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Ruki Tipuna; 1 Alex Rogers, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Sean Robinson, 5 Kane Thompson, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Andy Saull (c), 8 Chris York

 

Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Rob Vickers, 18 Eric Fry, 19 Will Witty, 20 Will Welch, 21 Andy Davies, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Juan Pablo Socino.

 

 

I tempted fate above by saying that Taulupe Faletau had not played in Europe yet this year, he’s on the bench tomorrow. Lee Byrne is nowhere to be seen however.

 

Newport team: 15 Tom Prydie, 14 Matthew Pewtner, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Dorian Jones, 9 Jonathan Evans, 1 Phil Price, 2 Hugh Gustafson, 3 Brok Harris, 4 Andrew Coombs, 5 Rynard Landman (c), 6 James Thomas, 7 Nic Cudd, 8 Lewis Evans.

 

Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Owen Evans, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Luc Jones, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Geraint Rhys Jones.

 

 

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 38-7 London Welsh

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Sunday 11 January 2015 – 2.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #13

That should sort the relegation battle, if there has even been one this season. A six-try victory over London Welsh all-but condemns the Exiles to the drop and so means the Falcons can look forward to a third season back in the Premiership.

I suppose you can’t be too critical after scoring six tries, but it could have been more. We left tries out there in the first half in particular, and then dropped the intensity in a low-key second forty when the game was already won.

The first three tries from Sinoti Sinoti, Rob Vickers and Mike Blair ended the game as a contest after less than half an hour. The bonus point came soon after through a scurry from Will Welch, although our opponents showed some spirit to pull back a try of their own.

Then in the second half Welsh had a lot more possession, but never really looked like scoring another try, and our scores came from searing runs by Ally Hogg and the outstanding Tom Catterick.

I’m not sure what happened after half-time, I’d have thought the team talk would have been simple, along the lines of “Just keep doing the same, but be a bit sharper at the tryline” in light of Welch and Blair’s dallying probably denying us another try just before the break.

But the crowd were more subdued and the team seemed to ease off a bit. I suppose it didn’t matter. The Falcons did what this fan was looking for – they won with plenty to spare and got the bonus point.

Our first try bonus point at home in the Premiership for more than seven years! That probably hasn’t been a monkey on our backs but it’s an unwanted statistic destroyed now, and we can head into the cup period with some confidence. After eleven tries in three league games, there’s no reason we can’t get at least a couple of good wins from the games against Newport, Bucharest, Sale and London Irish.

I have been a bit critical of Will Welch on occasion recently but I thought he had a storming game today, putting in some noticeable tackles on the big Welsh number eight and making plenty of metres with the ball, including a battling try. Sinoti continues to look like a danger every time he gets the ball, and Catterick ran the game well along with a decent day with the boot.

The only thing I’d question was our eagerness to kick to Welsh and allow them to run back at us early in the game, though I wonder if perhaps the team were just testing out the wind. Anyway, once things settled down and we played with the ball in hand, the tries came. Oh, and Josh Furno probably needs to cool down a bit and keep discipline, we could do without a repeat of his yellow card at Franklin’s Gardens.

Just having a look at the table, the Falcons are still level with London Irish after the Readingers’ bonus point win over Exeter, and points difference keeps us in tenth. On 21 points, we’re just one behind last season’s final total. However, very interestingly, we have now scored 32 tries and conceded 31 – I imagine it’s quite a few years since we ended the season with a positive try balance!

The most immediate target is to get to the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals, and then make good use of the remaining LV= Cup games. February’s Premiership games are Exeter away, Wasps at home and Saracens away. One win and maybe one or two bonus points from them would be a decent return, and is achievable.

We’re on the up. Interesting times ahead.

 

Today’s Eddie Stobart (first in a while):

Freya Ann

 

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

Kendal 23-7 Penrith

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Saturday 10 January 2015 – 2.00pm

Mint Bridge, Kendal

North One West Round 16

 

Kendal overcame atrocious weather conditions and a dogged Penrith side to claim four precious points in today’s Cumbrian derby.

 

The temperature may not have been quite freezing at Mint Bridge but a howling north-easterly wind made it feel so, and the game was punctuated by spells of driving hail that would have made even the hardest forward think occasionally about a hot shower.

 

After a difficult first forty minutes that saw few scoring opportunities, Kendal took control with three tries in the second half with three tries to keep up the pressure on Birkenhead Park and Kirkby Lonsdale at the top of the table.

 

South Lakeland has been battered by the strong winds and heavy rain this week, and presumably that is why the minute hand is now missing from the Lake District Business Park’s big clock. After a bitterly cold and blowy morning, there were creepings of sun on the Mint Bridge pitch come the 2pm kick-off, though a menacing dark cloud hung above the nearby hills, as if to warn the few hundred hardy souls who had turned out for Kendal’s first home match of the new year.

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Early on, both sides looked to test the wind and soon discovered that long kicks were likely to head onto the roof of the main stand on the east of the pitch, if not in the Ford dealership behind, and cost them the opportunity to make metres. Kendal had a decent spell after ten minutes and were held up twice, the second time when hooker Garry Holmes looked to have touched down.

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The hail had arrived and battered those of us crazy enough to be standing on the east of the pitch, and probably the fans seated towards the front of the stand. But to their credit, both teams (and of course) the referee kept going unperturbed, though the game tended to be played in the middle of the park with neither side able to make much headway towards the 22s.

 

With a quarter gone, Glenn Weightman had the perfect opportunity to put Kendal ahead with a penalty on the left, but despite the assistance of the wind he his kick flew wide.

 

Penrith’s best chance of the opening half came just minutes before half-time as they spread the ball right but the scoring pass drifted forward. It was the first opportunity we’d had to see the away back three in full flow, and I recalled how destructive the Penrith backs were when I saw them at Wigton a month ago.

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Just as we thought the first half would end scoreless, home captain James Gough made a break through the middle and Kendal almost made it to the line, but were eventually awarded a penalty just in front of goal and Weightman made no mistake.

 

For the poor players, half-time at this level does not mean them going into the changing rooms, and the interval seemed quite short, perhaps because the teams wanted to start running around again.

 

Weightman missed another penalty just a few minutes into the second half before Kendal made a big drive down the left but the ball was killed just in front of the tryline.

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The Hornets were now in control and put real pressure on their neighbours from up the A6. The pressure finally became too much for Penrith and the referee, who sent flanker Mike Stephens to the bin for an offside in front of goal. Weightman doubled Kendal’s lead to 6-0.

 

The opening try finally came just after the hour, when I was happily approaching the end of my second pint and looking forward to being able to warm my hands up in my pockets (yes, I did have gloves on!). Holmes was the scorer, forcing his way over from close range on the far left, and Weightman made no mistake with his conversion into the wind.

 

Just five minutes later, after Kendal’s continued to forwards continued to knock on the door, led by cult hero prop Billy Coxon, Holmes was again driven over the line to all-but secure a home victory.

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However, Penrith gave their hosts something to think about as Darren Lee raced in down the left to pull back a try, and James Spencer knocked over the conversion.

 

Kendal went straight back into the driving seat however. Gough spun a pass out to Matty Houghton in space on the left and only a heroic tackle into touch behind the line by Ged Key prevented a score.

 

With just a couple of minutes to go Key went down in the right corner and was unable to continue, leading to a bit of light entertainment when a Penrith coach shouted over to his bench “Sub! Anybody?!”. Finally, big prop Sanele Mtembu took off his jacket and returned to the pitch.

 

Kendal drove for the line and full-back Nathan Woof touched down the final score of the day, Weightman’s lax conversion attempt suggesting that either Kendal were desperate to crack on and go for a bonus point, or get back into the changing room. Maybe it was a bit of both.

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Anyway, when referee Tyrone Castles finally blew the full-time whistle, one wag in the crowd suggested that it was the “Best decision he’s made all day!”. Both teams’ forwards were covered in mud and must have been colder than is healthy, and I for one was happy to head home for a hot shower!

 

Kendal remain in third place tonight with Birkenhead Park winning at Broughton Park and Kirkby Lonsdale sneaking a 21-22 victory away to Warrington, but perhaps the most interesting result of the day was at Wigton, where the north Cumbrians gave themselves a chance of getting off the foot of the table later in the season by beating second-bottom New Brighton with a 15-3 victory. The gap down there is six points now. With just under half the season to go, the promotion and relegation battles in North One West look likely to be interesting to watch over the coming months.

 

 

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