Match reaction: Northampton Saints 39-31 Newcastle Falcons

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Friday 2 January 2015 – 7.45pm

Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton

Aviva Premiership #12

When I saw the two sides named for tonight’s match, I have to admit that I had a bad feeling. Normally I am optimistic before any Falcons match, but tonight I actually expected Northampton to get their five points without a great deal of difficulty.

However, all credit to our lads for putting in a very strong performance that against a weaker team than the Saints might have been enough to win. We got our first try bonus point of the season and were one point away from a second point too.

Defeat is never acceptable, or something to be happy about, but we can take a lot of positives tonight while also looking to tighten up discipline and tackling.

In the first twenty minutes we were pretty competitive but were undone by some poor discipline, allowing Northampton to put us under a lot of pressure and for their try we failed to put their back line under as they ran back towards us. Slack tackling did the rest but to be fair there were also some lovely hands from the Saints attackers.

But the Falcons scored a nice try of their own as the lively Tom Catterick’s dribble was taken by Chris Harris, who touched down his third try in two Premiership games. We’re back in the game!

Catterick’s penalty – though Ian Tempest took a good few seconds to penalise Christian Day for clearly not rolling away – got us back level, and it was 10-10 after half an hour. I certainly didn’t predict that and though my pre-game apprehension wasn’t easing (I get remarkably nervous during matches!), I was a little more optimistic.

The night’s third try, like the first two, was a beauty for the neutral with Myler looking all along the line but dinking a dribble through our defence for George Pisi to run onto unopposed.

We had some more TMO rubbish late in the half when Danny Barnes tackled a Saints catcher in the air and the referee came back twenty seconds later to check it. Just a penalty and no yellow card, apparently because Barnes put the catcher down safely. Surely, even if the referee didn’t see the tackle clearly, he will have seen the Saint land safely, otherwise I think you’d have to question what he was looking at. Utter waste of time. Lets get back to having TMOs only for tries, and leave the rest to the referee, his assistants and the citing commissioner.

Northampton had their tails up going towards forty minutes and the Falcons will probably have been happy to hear the half-time whistle, I certainly was! 17-10 down wasn’t great but better than I had expected. The question was whether the Falcons could continue to compete in the second half, or whether the champions’ fitness and superior quality would eventually tell.

The second half didn’t start very well as our scrum got a bit of a seeing-to and Myler kicked over the resulting penalty, taking us out of bonus-point range. When Josh Furno was shown a yellow card I began to get the feeling that the game might get away from us. George Pisi and Manoa both almost scored from the resulting lineout but some fantastic defence kept Saints out from the first attack.

After we cleared however, the home side came back at us and isolated Richard Mayhew among a flat and slow defensive line, allowing George Pisi to feed Calum Clark inside. At 25-10, even with half an hour to go, the game was effectively over as a contest.

It got worse with a controversial penalty try for pulling down a maul, despite clear evidence that it was not pulled down since we had no players in the second wave. It is one of my (many) frustrations with referees that when a maul collapses, referees seem to just automatically give a penalty (or penalty try) for pulling down, and whether or not that actually happened doesn’t seem to matter. That said, Mr Tempest did allow one to go in the first half when Saints clearly overran each other.

No such controversy about our second try, which saw George McGuigan finish off a maul just minutes after replacing Scott Lawson. 32-17 with 20 minutes left, could we grab one or even two bonus points?

Well, we went the right way about it with a lovely backs try finished off by Alex Tait. Harris and Penny combined to suck in the defenders and then Chip was on hand to add the finishing touch. Even Dean Richards cracked what looked suspiciously like a smile! Catterick converted and we had a quick fourteen-point turnaround, and the deficit was now eight points.

Saints were unfortunately the ones who got the crucial eighth try though, George North’s hand-off being neatly dribbled over the line by Luther Burrell, who managed to get to the loose ball before our defender.

So the chance of a losing bonus point had probably gone, but we continued to look for a fourth try that would provide a first try bonus point of the season. It finally came through Furno, touching down from a maul that Saints looked suspiciously to have attempted to pull down, and making up for his earlier yellow card.

A first try bonus point of the season and 39-31 with two minutes to go…could we get a second BP? No, the Falcons toiled away in their own half but couldn’t get through the Saints line and eventually knocked on. A bit better tackling and more discipline in the first half and it might have been different? Never mind!

So as I said, I had feared the worst when I saw the two teams that were named, and the omission of Socino, Sinoti and Alex Tuilagi. But the Falcons did themselves extremely proud and gave an excellent show against the reigning champions. The bonus point we got was probably not the one that people were hoping for (if that makes sense) but we were only a point away from a second.

In this game last season, many Falcons fans praised our performance but I remember that we barely had any attacking possession in an 18-0 defeat. Tonight we may have conceded five tries, but we were far more competitive and looked like we were trying to win the game, rather than just limit damage, as was happening so often a year ago.

Our top performer was probably Catterick, who gave Northampton plenty of problems from fly-half and must surely now be given a bit of a run in that position. Furno, Mark Wilson and Kieran Brookes made some good metres in the pack, and Harris and Tait were lively too. Anitelea Tuilagi punched a fair few holes in the Saints defence and made up for his brother’s absence.

I can’t think of anyone who seemed to have a bad game actually, from the TV. Barnes maybe wasn’t involved too much in his forty minutes but what I saw him do, he did well.

We are now ahead of London Irish on points difference (until they play on Sunday at least) and have to be going into the London Welsh game looking for a big win.

Happy New Year? Well, not necessarily happy, but positive.

Bring on Welsh!

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

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