Sunday 11 January 2015 – 2.00pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
Aviva Premiership #13
I expect that back in the summer, a lot of Falcons fans (and probably a few London Welsh fans too) looked for this game first, as before the season began it was tipped as a relegation decider. Since we hold a fifteen-point lead over the Exiles just into the second half of the season, it may not be so vital on paper for the Falcons’ league status that we win, but a first win back in the Premiership would no doubt give Welsh a huge boost and damage our morale deeply.
An eleven-point gap (assuming no bonus points for anyone) is sizeable but with Welsh gaining the confidence from their first win of the season in thirteen attempts, and the Falcons having the knowledge of what happened in the second half of 2013/14, it may not be 100% insurmountable. Nineteen points though would be, you’d have thought, and if we are truly to believe that the Falcons have turned the corner then we need to not only be winning on Sunday, but winning with something to spare. Ideally, we should be getting a first home try bonus point in the Premiership since 2007 against a side that has conceded 76 tries in their twelve league games this year, that’s a massive (and quite incredible) average of 6.33 concessions a game!
Three of those tries came in the reverse fixture at the Kassam Stadium back in October, when a small lot of Falcons fans huddled in a corner of the ground’s one open stand serenaded our team to a 3-23 victory that included a bit of a backs-to-the-wall defensive job in the second half. Adam Powell, Mark Wilson and Ruki Tipuna were our try-scorers in the strange Oxford atmosphere.
Whereas in 2012/13 Welsh gradually got to grips with the Premiership while we were slowly brought down to Championship level and had a couple of late hiccups in the promotion battle, this season Welsh have had lots of low points and relatively few ‘highs’. Their only point was for scoring four tries away to Bath on weekend two back in September, though they still lost 53-26. A promising home performance a couple of weeks later ended in a 10-46 home defeat to Gloucester as the Cherry ‘n’ Whites pulled away late on, scoring four tries in the final twelve minutes.
Even in the vital Boxing Day clash in Reading, Welsh were unable to go back up the road with anything as London Irish won the Christmas Basement Battle 24-9. This past Sunday Justin Burnell’s team again put up some decent resistance but were unable to prevent Harlequins getting a bonus-point 13-24 victory.
Then there were the utterly forgettable seventy-point-plus destructions at Wasps and Saracens.
Welsh do have a bit of quality in their side, not least in the form of Olly Barkley and Piri Weepu, a half-back partnership that just a few years ago would have graced any side in the world. However, both have struggled since moving to the Kassam in the summer, while captain and Falcons legend Tom May was sent off at the Madejski Stadium and will miss Sunday’s game through suspension. We will see whether former blacks Olli Stedman and Pete Browne are given a run-out at their old ground though.
Stedman, May and Browne all have experience of KP but Welsh as a club don’t, this will be their debut on the hallowed plastic. We have met the Dragons just three times previously in the North East, always at the old ground (well, New Ground) in Gosforth. In 1977 Gosforth won a friendly 12-10, before two Division Two matches in 1988 saw Welsh triumph 12-14 in April, before our team got revenge the following season with a 34-26 November win.
Big guns Ally Hogg, Rob Vickers, Juan Pablo Socino and Sinoti Sinoti are back in the starting lineup on Sunday, while Simon Hammersley returns at full-back so Alex Tait moves to the wing. Juan Pablo Orlandi could make a Falcons debut from the bench after signing this week.
Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Alex Tait, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Calum Green, 5 Josh Furno, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg.
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Eric Fry, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Kane Thompson, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Ruki Tipuna, 22 Chris Harris, 23 Alesana Tuilagi.
Tom May is back to captain Welsh, who also start with Pete Browne in the back row. Piri Weepu starts in the ten shirt with Olly Barkley on the bench.
London Welsh: 15 Will Robinson, 14 Elliot Kear, 13 Tom May (c), 12 Seb Jewell, 11 Nick Scott, 10 Piri Weepu, 9 Paul Rowley, 1 Nathan Trevett, 2 Koree Britton, 3 Taione Vea, 4 Ben West, 5 James Down, 6 Peter Browne 7 Carl Kirwan, 8 Opeti Fonua.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Morris, 17 Ricky Reeves, 18 Ben Cooper, 19 Richard Thorpe, 20 Ben Pienaar, 21 Rob Lewis, 22 Olly Barkley, 23 Seb Stegmann.
I was encouraged earlier this week to read that the Falcons are planning to attack Welsh and not sit back, suggesting that following Northampton last week we have learned the lessons from the Worcester farce last season. Of course we need to work and not take anything for granted, but if the Falcons are professional and play towards their potential, then we should be celebrating a decent win come Sunday night.
P.S. Don’t forget the early kick-off at 2pm!!
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