Saturday 24 January 2015 – 5.00pm (3.00pm UK time)
Cluj Arena, Cluj-Napoca
European Challenge Cup Pool 3 #6
European competition can take you to some exotic locations, and they don’t come more exotic than Transylvania. A place more normally associated with bats, due to it being host to Dracula’s Bran Castle, hosts our Falcons tomorrow after our game against Bucharest Wolves was moved 300km to the city of Cluj-Napoca, towards the north-west of Romania.
I had never heard of Romania’s second most-populous city until a few years ago, when the football team CFR Cluj began to become regular participants in the UEFA Champions League. Although they have not had great success, a win over Roma in 2008 was a big day in the club’s history and they also won away to Manchester United in December 2012.
CFR play at the Stadionul Dr. Constantin Rădulescu in the Gruia area of Cluj, but the Falcons will tomorrow be playing at the 31,000-capacity Cluj Arena. Opened in 2011 having cost €45m to build and owned by Cluj County Council, this UEFA Category 4 stadium is home to men’s and women’s local football teams and the rugby team U Cluj, who moved there from the local Babeş-Bolyai University (the U stands for Universitatea) grounds in 2013 in time for that year’s SuperLiga season.
U Cluj finished the 2014 season in last place, propping up the seven-team league with just a single victory and even that came in the final outing of the season, 26-18 at home to CSA Steaua Bucuresti.
This will of course be the Falcons’ second visit to Romania, fifteen months after our first. That day in October 2013 saw our team win their first European match since promotion by a slender score of 12-13 at the Stadionul Arcul de Triumf, only Joel Hodgson’s late penalty saving the travellers’ blushes. Adam Powell was the try-scorer for the following team:
T Catterick, R Shortland, A Powell, A Crockett (c), S Brown, J Hodgson, C Pilgrim, R Vickers, G McGuigan, O Tomaszczyk, F McKenzie, S Tomes, C York, M Wilson, H Collins. Replacements: K Brookes, G Strain, S Wilson, D Barrow, J Fitzpatrick, W Fury, M Thompson, N Cato.
So how does qualification play out? We can’t win Pool 3, Newport Gwent Dragons having top spot sewn up, but with a one-point advantage over Stade Francais at the moment, a bonus-point victory tomorrow would guarantee second place. If we were to win without a BP and Stade got the full five points against the Dragons at Rodney Parade, then it gets tricky. The Falcons and Stade have an identical head-to-head record from December’s double-header, so it would go to points difference. Stade’s is currently six better than ours, and you would imagine that if they got a BP and we didn’t, that advantage would only improve. So a BP win, please!
In terms of the other groups, here are how the top twos (and relevant threes) stand:
Pool 1 – London Irish 19, Cardiff Blues 19
Pool 2 – Exeter 20, Connacht 15
Pool 3 – Dragons 21, Newcastle 16, Stade Francais 15
Pool 4 – Edinburgh 17, Bordeaux-Begles 16
Pool 5 – Gloucester 24, Oyonnax 12
The top three runners-up go through and the Falcons are currently the third best, so five points tomorrow would guarantee a quarter-final spot. There are lots of different permutations, too many to go through with so many games relevant so again, lets just score four tries and win the game!
As for Bucharest, along with pride, they are looking to avoid a first-ever whitewash in a European group, in their current guise as a select team.
Rob Vickers and Scott Lawson are among the changes to our starting lineup tomorrow, with Juan Pablo Socino being promoted from the bench and Lee Smith, a scorer in the first two rounds of this competition, getting a rare start. Calum Green and Mark Wilson also return along with captain Will Welch.
Falcons team:: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Lee Smith, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Ruki Tipuna, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Calum Green, 5 Kane Thompson, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Mark Wilson.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Eric Fry, 18 Alex Rogers, 19 Sean Robinson, 20 Andy Saull, 21 Andy Davies, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Tom Penny.
Bucharest Wolves team: 1 Petru Tamba, 2 Otar Turashvili (c), 3 Vlad Badalicescu, 4 Petre Neacsu, 5 Cornel Tatu, 6 Johan Van Heerden, 7 Sean Morrell, 8 Constantin Ene, 9 Grigoras Diaconescu, 10 Daniel Statulescu, 11 Robert Neagu, 12 Csaba Gal, 13 Catalin Dascalu, 14 Marian Apostol, 15 Ionut Botezatu.
Replacements: 16 Alexandru-Claudiu Oancea, 17 Constantin Pristavita, 18 Silviu Vasiliu, 19 Onal Ageacai, 20 Mihai Dico, 21 Florin Surugiu, 22 Ionut Niacsu, 23 Andrei-Daniel Ilie.
Sources in Romania suggest that the Wolves have selected quite a weak squad, so hopefully the Falcons will come back with the five points they need. The game is on Romanian TV, though I haven’t a clue where you might find it a stream on the internet.
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)