Friday 2 January 2014 – 745pm
Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton
Aviva Premiership #12
The second half of the season is here, and we could barely have a harder start.
In theory, tomorrow night should be our most difficult game of the season – away to the champions It might not turn out to be exactly that, but it will certainly be a toughie We’re facing the only team who have outclassed us in 2014/15 Northampton will be desperately disappointed if they don’t come out of the game with five points
What should be looking for from a Geordie point of view? Obviously a win would be just fantastic, and the team should be aiming for that, but if it doesn’t come off, then I’d be happy to see us be more competitive than on the LV= Cup visit to Franklin’s Gardens in November, maybe even nick a losing bonus point
The Saints are currently on a six-match winning run, having beaten Saracens, London Welsh, Harlequins and Treviso away and Treviso and Leicester at home since a shock 18-24 reverse against Exeter at the Gardens in November With a side packed with internationals (though controversial hooker Dylan Hartley is suspended tomorrow night), Jim Mallinder’s side top the table by one point from Bath having won nine of their opening eleven Premiership matches
The final match of 2014 for Northampton saw the Midlanders travel to Twickenham as the opponents for Harlequins’ latest Big Game, and they upset the applecart in front of 82,000 spectators with a 25-30 victory thanks to tries from Samu Manoa, George North and Kahn Fotuali’i US international Manoa, a real driving force in the Saints pack, will leave for Toulon this summer along with Wallaby prop Salesi Ma’afu, though the latter had different fortunes against Quins, suffering a first-half yellow card
A bittersweet final Christmas in the Premiership for Ma’afu, who is probably best known to other clubs’ fans for planting a smacker on Tom Youngs in last season’s Premiership semi-final and apologising on Twitter afterwards Youngs accepted the apology gracefully, and the incident was held up as an example of why rugby is such a great game Mind, you’d have to ignore a very violent punch to get to that opinion
Right, back now Just trying to cook 500g of frozen mince to take to Mrs Choir’s sister’s gaff for New Year burritos, while I also write this
Tomorrow will be our third meeting with the champions in 2014/15, and the Jimmies will be going for a hat-trick of victories As I said, they are the only side to have outclassed us this season, but they have done so in one-and-a-half of the two meetings so far
The reverse Premiership game in September was beamed live on BT Sport across Britain, including to my laptop in a pub on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile Frankly, the Saints blew the Falcons away in the first half – they led 3-28 after the just half an hour However, our lads rallied and competed well after that, pulling a try back through Noah Cato ten minutes before the end, though George North celebrated the momentous occasion of his first appearance at KP with the bonus-point score
More recently, on 1 November, we visited the Weedon Road in the LV= Cup and were given something of a seeing-to by a Saints team featuring debutant Joel Hodgson at scrum-half The home team mixed youth and experience with a shedload of pace and tore into the Falcons, who lost the returning Alesana Tuilagi to the sin bin at one point Saints scored five tries and won 37-23, a score that probably flattered the Falcons, whose tries came from Tom Catterick and replacement Juan Pablo Socino
It’ll be different tomorrow night in one respect – it’s a lot more expensive to get in!
Compared to some away grounds, we have won at Northampton relatively recently, in February 2009 (yes I know, that’s nearly six years ago now)
Falcons in NN5:
15/02/1958 Club Match L6-33
28/12/1974 Cup R1 W7-4
08/04/1989 Division 2 L12-13
23/01/1993 Cup R4 L3-33
30/04/1994 Division 1 L23-43
12/11/1994 Club Match L0-12
06/04/1996 Division 2 L5-26
31/01/1998 Premiership 1 W21-17
28/02/1998 Cup QF L7-17
27/03/1999 Premiership 1 L16-57
26/12/1999 Premiership 1 L5-37
18/11/2000 Premiership L18-26
09/03/2002 Cup SF L7-38
12/05/2002 Premiership L19-24
07/09/2002 Premiership L13-31
18/10/2003 Premiership L20-33
15/04/2005 Premiership L22-23
17/09/2005 Premiership W16-9
03/09/2006 Premiership L23-25
28/02/2009 Premiership W19-13
13/02/2010 Premiership L13-25
30/10/2010 Premiership L13-34
20/03/2011 Cup Final (v Gloucester) L7-34
29/10/2011 Premiership L15-44
23/11/2013 Premiership L0-18
01/11/2014 Cup L23-37
There are plenty of changes on the Falcons side, hopefully (wrong word but I can’t think of a better one) due to injuries and not because the management are writing off tomorrow night as a defeat and throwing their eggs towards London Welsh, who we should realistically be able to beat without Ally Hogg, Sinoti Sinoti and Alesana Tuilagi
There are rare starts for Danny Barnes, Eric Fry, Josh Furno and Richard Mayhew, and to be fair there’s no better game than away to the champions for these lads to have a blinder and put their hands up for more regular appearances Chris Harris’s two-try cameo last week is rewarded with a first Premiership start
Falcons team: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Chris Harris, 13 Adam Powell , 12 Anitelea Tuilagi, 11 Danny Barnes, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Mike Blair; 1 Eric Fry, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Calum Green, 5 Josh Furno, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Mark Wilson.
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Rob Vickers, 18 Alex Rogers, 19 Scott MacLeod, 20 Andy Saull, 21 Ruki Tipuna, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Tom Penny.
Northampton look to be going all out for a quick bonus point, having named a quite impressive team with England stars Alex Corbisiero and Tom Wood only making the bench, along with lal’ Joel Hodgson. Hodgson’s fellow former Falcons Phil Dowson and Lee Dickson start, the former as captain in the absence of Hartley.
Northampton team: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 1 Alex Waller, 2 Mike Haywood, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 4 Sam Dickinson, 5 Christian Day, 6 Calum Clark, 7 Phil Dowson (c), 8 Samu Manoa.
Replacements: 16 Matti Williams, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Ben Nutley, 20 Tom Wood, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 James Wilson, 23 Tom Stephenson.
I’m sure, unlike in 2009, we won’t be 0-19 up after ten minutes tomorrow, but anything can happen in sport and there are times when it does If we are competitive throughout the game, then I’ll be happy A losing bonus point would be great. A win? Well, if that happens then I might be running over to the village pub and officially opening the bar!
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)