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)