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.
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