Match preview: Saracens v Newcastle Falcons


Saturday 28 February 2015 – 3.00pm

Allianz Park, London

Aviva Premiership #16


Ah, Allianz Park. It’s not the concrete horror of Vicarage Road, fortunately, but I thought it was a funny place on my first visit last season. It seemed very open, maybe due to the running track requiring an expanded space between the pitch and stands, and there wasn’t much atmosphere.


Then again, when a top team beats a lesser side with little difficulty and a 40-3 scoreline, maybe there isn’t much atmosphere. Hopefully it will be different this time, and after we gave Saracens an almighty scare at Christmas, maybe it will be.


Saracens will be smarting after losing at Sale last Saturday in a 14-10 upset that left the Londoners joint-third in the table, just ahead of Exeter who are also on 44 points. Though the scoreline looks tight, it was only a last-minute try by Richard Barrington (converted by Alex Goode) while the Sharks were down to fourteen men that saved a losing bonus point.


Mark McCall’s side are three points behind Bath in second, and one ahead of Sale, Leicester and Wasps, and along with Exeter and these sides appear to be in a six-way fight for three places in the playoffs alongside top side Northampton. Sarries lost the final to the Saints last year and will be desperate to atone for that and repeat their Premiership triumph in 2011.


Away form has been Saracens’ achilles heal this season in both the league and Europe, and only Northampton have won a competitive match at Allianz Park this season, 24-31 back in November. A fortnight ago, the Men in Black survived a Bath fightback to beat Sam Burgess RFC 34-24 in Barnet, and they have also beaten both Clermont Auvergne and Munster (along with Sale) at home in the Champions Cup to line up a potentially-thrilling quarter-final against Racing Metro in Paris.


Four wins in the LV= Cup group stages has booked a semi-final at home to Northampton in a couple of weeks too.


Our previous meeting with the Fez Boyz this season was an absolutely fantastic match that surely nobody has forgotten yet. Just two months go, on 27th December, more than 9,000 packed Kingston Park and almost saw the Falcons sneak a draw, but for Juan Pablo Socino failing to convert Chris Harris’s superb late try. After trailing 6-10 at half-time, a breakaway try by Sinoti Sinoti got our team going and replacement Harris’s brace kept us in touch. Saracens won 23-25, but know they had been in a huge game and their manager McCall was full of praise for our lads.


After a decent record away to Saracens in the amateur era, the Falcons haven’t done so well since the elite game went pro, going back to that 12-10 Watford defeat in front of 19,000 in 1998 as both sides fought for the inaugural Premiership title. I remember our victory at Vicarage Road in December 2007, it was a cracker in which all four of our England international backs were on the scoresheet – Mathew Tait, Jamie Noon and Toby Flood scored tries while Jonny Wilkinson kicked two conversions and a penalty. Oh did we sing that day!


The 58-15 pounding in March 2010 was not quite as much fun, though unlike most Falcons fans I didn’t pay to watch it as I was up on the commentary scaffholding with Kev ‘n’ Smithy. I see Noah Cato and Andy Saull both scored in that game, along with our perennial thorn Richard Haughton. One thing I do remember from that day though was getting the train home from London Bridge after the game, and sitting opposite me was a woman and her young daughter, maybe five years old. The whole five minutes I was on this train, the little girl was singing that Jessie J song ‘Price Tag’, and I just had to smile.


Falcons at Saracens:

27/09/1980             Bramley Road           Club Match               W15-3

09/04/1982             Bramley Road           Club Match               W25-6

26/01/1985             Bramley Road           Cup R3                             L13-16

12/12/1987             Bramley Road           Division 2                   D7-7

15/04/1995             Bramley Road           Division 2                   D16-16

19/04/1998             Vicarage Road           Premiership 1           L10-12

20/05/1999             Vicarage Road           Premiership 1           L26-40

17/10/1999             Vicarage Road           Premiership 1           L6-55

15/04/2001            Vicarage Road           Premiership               L29-34

09/12/2001             Vicarage Road           Premiership               W24-19

24/11/2002             Vicarage Road           Premiership               L13-17

13/01/2003             Vicarage Road           Challenge Cup QFL1 L10-31

22/02/2004             Vicarage Road           Premiership               L27-32

19/12/2004             Vicarage Road           Cup R6                       L20-22

28/01/2005             Vicarage Road            Premiership               L13-32

20/11/2005             Vicarage Road           Premiership               L18-27

17/09/2006             Vicarage Road           Premiership               L20-44

30/12/2007             Vicarage Road           Premiership               W22-19

21/09/2008             Vicarage Road           Premiership               L14-44

12/04/2009             Vicarage Road           Challenge Cup QF     L13-32

28/03/2010            Vicarage Road           Premiership               L15-58

27/03/2011             Vicarage Road           Premiership               L9-24

09/10/2011             Vicarage Road           Premiership               L5-25

03/11/2013             Allianz Park               Premiership               L3-40

26/01/2014             Allianz Park               Cup                             L8-41



Juan Pablo Orlandi and Scott Lawson are back in the Falcons’ starting front row in place of Rob Hawkins and Kieran Brookes, while Gonzalo Tiesi starts on the wing, a position I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play before. Will Welch moves down a shirt to allow Andy Saull to start and Mark Wilson wears eight.


15 Alex Tait, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Gonzalo Tiesi, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 4 Kane Thompson, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Will Welch (c), 7 Andy Saull, 8 Mark Wilson.

Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Mark Irving, 19 Calum Green, 20 Chris York, 21 Ruki Tipuna, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Alex Tuilagi.



Saracens might be missing a lot of star players due to injury and the Six Nations, but they have still put out one heck of a team. I remember Jamie George having a blinder in this game last season, and Maro Itoje is being hailed as the next big thing for English rugby.


Saracens team: 1 Rhys Gill, 2 Jamie George, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Alistair Hargreaves (c), 6 Nick De Jager, 7 Jacques Burger, 8 Jackson Wray, 9 Neil De Kock, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 11 David Strettle, 12 Brad Barritt, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 14 Chris Wyles, 15 Ben Ransom.


Replacements: 16 Brett Sharman, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Matt Hankin, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Nils Mordt, 23 Tim Streather.



This will be a tough one but if it is a competitive game then it should also be very entertaining. We have an advantage over most visitors to Allianz Park in that we know about plastic pitches, so no excuse there. Come on Falcons!



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


Wigton 15-21 Carlisle


Saturday 21 February 2015 – 2.15pm

Lowmoor Road, Wigton

North One West #20


Carlisle survived a late fightback by Wigton to win yesterday’s hotly-contested north Cumbrian derby and all-but condemn their close neighbours to relegation.


The visitors held out against an early Wigton onslaught to go into half-time 3-13 ahead, before the hosts cut the deficit to one point in the second half, however a late pushover try ensured Carlisle took the four points back along the A595 with a 5-21 win.


It was a bitterly cold day in rural Cumbria despite (or perhaps because of) the sunny weather, though fortunately Lowmoor Road offers among the best matchday meals in rugby – steak pie, chips, peas and gravy. At least the twice I’ve been there, that’s been on, and at £3.50 it was also as cheap as, well, chips, and quite lovely.


Wigton battered on the door for the first ten minutes, putting Carlisle under intense pressure but they were just unable to score. The away side could count themselves lucky not to concede penalty tries as first scrum-half Matty Roper was penalised for not rolling away on the tryline, and then the referee missed Tom Graham pulling down a maul.


One Wigton supporter let referee Ryan Oliver know his thoughts on this lack of a decision, and then moaned about it for much of the rest of the afternoon. As I made some notes late in the second half, this fan even asked me whether I was assessing the referee!


It’s not the first time I’ve heard the referee get a barracking at Wigton this season, but when you’re eleven points adrift at the bottom of the table and have won only two of twenty games, you probably have to look a bit closer to home to see where problems lie.


Anyway, the deadlock was finally broken after twenty minutes, when home full-back Gregg Smith kicked a huge penalty from just a metre inside Carlisle’s half. However, when you’re at the bottom things don’t go for you, and on Carlisle’s first attack just minutes later, James Rocke kicked an offside penalty to equalise.


The city visitors took control and after a number of penalties took them upfield, Mr Oliver warned home captain Fergus Ledingham that he was losing patience with tighthead Lindsay Walker, who had offended a couple of times. Seconds later, Stuart Creighton entered a maul from the side and was sent to the sin bin.


Carlisle went for the corner and drove Henry Wainwright over for the opening try. On half-time, Dan Holmes fought over to give his side a ten-point lead at the break.


Wigton’s coaches gave their side a passionate team-talk during the interval, calling for a step up in work-rate and fewer missed tackles. Unfortunately for the greens, Carlisle dominated the next quarter of the game but like their hosts in the first half could not get on the scoresheet. Rocke made breaks, Josh Holmes was held up, and Ledingham was lucky that what seemed to be a deliberate knock-on of a Carlisle pass was deemed accidental, but the score remained 3-13.


Wigton finally fought their way upfield and won a penalty on halfway, but the lineout in the corner was lost, a further example of their struggling in the set-piece all day. However, Dan Holmes was sent to the bin for a high tackle and Wigton drove forwards, their spirits now up, and Creighton needed a big tackle to stop his rampage through the Carlisle 22.


From a scrum on the left, Wigton quickly spread the ball across the pitch and centre Chris Pattinson rounded the away defence to score the home side’s first try of the day. Although Smith’s conversion caught the wind and fell short, there was hope of a rare victory for the hosts.


Carlisle went upfield and won a penalty for hands in the ruck, Rocke knocking over the three points. However, Wigton hit straight back too by tapping a penalty just outside the 22, and Smith fought his way through the visitors’ defence to score a try that he then converted.


With seven minutes to go, Carlisle led by one point.


Roared on by a small but vocal home crowd, Wigton probed but were unable to trouble the scorers again, and with the clock hitting eighty, Carlisle’s forwards drove over for the final score of the game, sealing their victory 15-21.


This result moves Wigton one point closer to second-bottom New Brighton, the gap reducing to eleven points after the latter’s defeat at Broughton Park today. However, the greens are 22 points behind Bolton and safety, with just six games of the season left, and face an almost-impossible task to avoid relegation, with New Brighton and Eccles also in the drop-zone.


Carlisle consolidated tenth place, though they might have moved up had Vale of Lune not upset Kendal in Lancaster and broken a nine-game losing streak.


The top four in North One West now reads Birkenhead Park 83 points, Kirkby Lonsdale 79, Kendal 75 and Penrith 63, all after twenty games. With just one automatic spot and one in the playoffs up for grabs, it looks like a three-way battle and Birkenhead Park, unbeaten since November, will be confident of at least getting into the playoffs, so it’s up to Kendal and Kirkby Lonsdale to fight it out for the other top two spot and the title of Cumbria’s top club this season!

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 09.53.13


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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 23-23 Wasps

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 21.54.18

Friday 20 February 2015 – 7.45pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #15


That is why I love the Premiership – so many games are absolutely titanic. We’ve had a few this season, Saracens at home for example, and this was another one. The Falcons put in a mighty performance against playoff-chasing Wasps and came away with a deserved draw.


Although both teams might be disappointed not to have won, neither team really deserved to lose and both can be proud of their efforts. The scoreline and momentum swung time and again until finally time ran out and Tom Catterick made the pragmatic, and in my view correct, decision to kick for touch in our 22 and save the extra point.


These two points take the Falcons back up to tenth in the league, one above London Irish, who host Leicester on Sunday.


The match tonight started fantastically for our lads, putting big pressure on Wasps and opening the scoring through an Alex Tait try after five minutes. After that, Wasps seemed to control possession (the stats say otherwise) but they certainly had the momentum and it was probably fair that they led 11-13 at half-time.


Then in the second half the Falcons really got the 7,000+ crowd on their feet. The first try was from Josh Furno, and came following a backs move that included a beautiful flick from Gonzalo Tiesi to Sinoti Sinoti, who then gave the scoring pass for Furno to round on the left.


With the score back to 16-16, Wasps put the Falcons under sustained pressure for ten minutes and only some sheer bloody-minded defending kept them out, especially when Christian Wade looked to have crossed but was held up.


Even when Kearnan Myall through a loose pass into touch, the Falcons botched the lineout and it seemed a Wasps score was inevitable. However, that was not what happened. Juan Pablo Socino read Andy Goode like a book and intercepted a pass before racing seventy metres, just about outpacing Wade and Joe Simpson to put the Falcons back ahead.


Unfortunately, heads were then in hands as Wasps equalised almost immediately.


In the last ten minutes, the Falcons kept possession but struggled to make much progress into the Wasps half and finally conceded a penalty. Turning over in the dying seconds, we kicked for touch to save the draw and end a monumental battle.


Perhaps we might have won, for example we made some silly handling errors at times and there was suspect defence for Elliot Daly’s try, but it happens. Wasps will feel the same about JP’s try, and both Catterick and Goode were inconsistent with the boot.


I thought our best individual players were Socino and Sinoti, both making lots metres with the ball and worrying Wasps when we were on the attack. Socino tackles well above his weight too. Furno and Mark Wilson were dangerous in the forwards, and Kieran Brookes made plenty of breaks too.


As for Wasps’ star man, well I think BT Sport had it right. If Stuart Lancaster wants an elusive, speedy runner in his squad for the trip to Dublin, he really need look no further than Daly. I’ve always rated him but he had a fantastic game tonight.


Perhaps one of the most pleasing aspects of tonight’s performance from the Falcons’ point of view was how well we defended Wasps’ rolling maul, which remember benefits from two very powerful forwards in Nathan Hughes and Ashley Johnson. I don’t remember us pulling down a single one, and it makes a mockery of claims made by some that a maul is impossible to defend.


Other than that, just keeping our heads when really under the cosh, when it would have been so easy for fatigue to cause a mistake.


This game suggests that Exeter last week was a freak result, and we can certainly hope so. The games don’t get any easier with Saracens away next week, but I think we can go to Barnet with real hope of, at the very least, competing with the Londoners, something we didn’t do in the same fixture last season.


Good times!



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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Wasps


Friday 20 February – 7.45pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #15


The Falcons have a quick opportunity to put the horror show at Exeter behind them when they take on Wasps at Kingston Park tomorrow night.


While our team are looking to get out of the bottom two in the Premiership table, Wasps are looking much further upwards. Currently lying fourth with 41 points from their fourteen games, the Covvies are looking to get into the playoffs for the first time since they last won the title in 2008.


Dai Young’s team are in mixed form, having beaten London Irish and Sale at the Ricoh Arena at Christmas either side of a 23-30 success in Gloucester, though they were downed 39-26 at Bath in the new year.


In Europe, Wasps then snuck through to the Champions Cup quarter-finals as Pool 2 runners up thanks to a better head-to-head record against London rivals Harlequins after a 3-23 victory at the Stoop in round five then a final-day 20-20 draw against Leinster in the Midlands. They now have the unenviable task of travelling to Toulon in the last eight.


Two recent defeats in the LV= Cup to Cardiff Blues and Northampton won’t have caused too many sleepless nights, especially as Wasps returned to league action with a 37-6 drubbing of Quins at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday. Two penalty tries in the second half added to scores by Elliot Daly and Tom Varndell before the break gave the home side the maximum five-point haul.


Wasps’ controversial mid-season move from Adams Park in High Wycombe to Coventry’s Ricoh Arena has been successful so far, with some big crowds in the Midlands. Even against the Blues they had more than 9,000 in attendance, compared to just 5,568 against the Falcons in Buckinghamshire back in September.


In that game, a late try from former Falcon Rob Miller sealed Wasps’ bonus-point victory, our team going down 35-18. Ruki Tipuna’s first-half score was followed by a penalty try in the second half, while Varndell (two) and James Gaskell were the home team’s other try-scorers.


Varndell will join Bristol at the end of the season, while veteran fly-half Andy Goode will retire. but Wasps have been busy on the incoming transfer front, already agreeing a deal to replace Goode with former Falcons talisman Jimmy Gopperth. It’ll be weird seeing wor Jimmy playing against us for another team. He will team up with Gloucester scrum-half Dan Robson to feed one-cap All Black Frank Halai on the wing.


Anyway, back to Wasps this weekend, and I’ll immediately leave that again to go back to this game last season. The then-southerners travelled to the North East during the day for a televised Friday evening clash with the Falcons that saw Chris Pilgrim make his final league start in a black shirt.


Wasps dominated for much of the game but two second-half tries by Noah Cato and, at the death, Will Welch, as well as Phil Godman’s conversion of the second score gave us a losing bonus point. The Falcons had scored their first tries in more than four full league matches and showed some fight that gave us optimism heading into 2014, but the following Friday reverted to type for a dour home defeat to Sale.


This game has been an unpredictable one for the most part over the years, with wins shared out in little runs. After four successive losses to Wasps at KP, Alan Tait reversed the trend as manager with victories in 2010 and 2011, before last season’s defeat.


Some noteworthy games: Alan Yates’ only forty minutes in a Falcons shirt in March 2000, a six-try and six-penalty hammering of Wasps on TV in September 2000, Toby Flood’s debut in February 2005, and another try bonus point in February 2007.


Falcons v Wasps in the North East:

29/03/1980             North Road                Club Match    W12-0

11/02/1984             North Road                Cup R3           D12-12

31/03/1984             North Road                Club Match    L6-44

29/10/1988             North Road                Club Match    L15-19

29/09/1990             Kingston Park            Club Match    L13-19

12/09/1992             Kingston Park            Club Match    D3-3

29/01/1994             Kingston Park            Division 1       L16-18

17/12/1994             Kingston Park            Cup R4           L12-58

07/04/1998             Kingston Park            Premiership 1W20-13

11/10/1998             Gateshead                  Premiership 1W27-19

12/03/2000             Kingston Park            Premiership 1L8-34

23/09/2000             Kingston Park            Premiership   W59-21

16/12/2001             Kingston Park            Cup R6           W24-22

27/01/2002             Kingston Park            Premiership   L22-23

01/09/2002             Kingston Park            Premiership   W24-17

29/11/2003             Kingston Park            Premiership   L20-23

06/02/2005             Kingston Park            Premiership   W29-28

27/11/2005             Kingston Park            Premiership   W17-15

23/02/2007             Kingston Park            Premiership   W37-11

07/05/2008             Kingston Park            Premiership   L12-23

24/10/2008             Kingston Park            Cup                 L13-26

28/11/2008             Kingston Park            Premiership   L17-23

08/05/2010             Kingston Park            Premiership   L21-25

10/09/2010             Kingston Park            Premiership   W29-17

02/10/2011             Kingston Park            Premiership   W15-10

27/12/2013             Kingston Park            Premiership   L12-17



Kieran Brookes is back in the Falcons’ starting lineup after being released by England, Juan Pablo Orlandi dropping to the bench. Rob Hawkins starts in place of (the presumably injured) Scott Lawson and Noah Cato makes a first appearance since December in place of Alesana Tuilagi. Alex Tait starts at full-back and Calum Green misses his first league game of the season, Josh Furno and Dom Barrow starting in the second row.


Falcons team: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Noah Cato, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Rob Hawkins, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Josh Furno, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg.


Replacements 16 George McGuigan, 17 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Kane Thompson, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Ruki Tipuna, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Gonzalo Tiesi .



Rob Miller starts at full-back for Wasps, who will be looking for big back-rowers Ashley Johnson and Nathan Hughes to wreak the same havoc at KP that they did in this fixture last season. James Haskell is away with England still but Matt Mullan captains the team and Italy’s Andrea Masi is on the bench.


15 Rob Miller, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 James Downey, 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Joe Simpson, 1 Matt Mullan (c), 2 Carlo Festuccia, 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 4 Bradley Davies, 5 Kearnan Myall, 6 Ashley Johnson, 7 Thomas Young, 8 Nathan Hughes.


Replacements: 16 Edd Shervington, 17 John Yapp, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 James Gaskell, 20 Guy Thompson, 21 Tom Bliss, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Andrea Masi.



Don’t forget that the Falcons are looking to set another world record noise tomorrow night, so don’t forget to sing loud and cheer the team on to victory!!



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

Match reaction: Exeter Chiefs 46-17 Newcastle Falcons


Saturday 14 February 2015 – 4.30pm

Sandy Park, Exeter

Aviva Premiership #14


I was supposed to be getting some live rugby today at Kendal. Mrs L was out all morning and only got home about an hour before the 2pm kick-off, which wouldn’t really have been a problem but I knackered by back chopping wood this morning so I decided just to lie on the sofa and watch England v Italy instead.


That was an alright game, quite competitive in the first half as England couldn’t quite get their rhythm together, but in the second half the white shirts piled on the pressure and eventually the points.


I also tried to find the betting website that shows Premiership games, but couldn’t, so I had to settle for Radio Newcastle, which isn’t a bad alternative.


The game started badly for the Falcons and they were 10-0 down after just more than ten minutes thanks to Jack Nowell’s try and two kicks from Henry Slade. Tom Catterick and Slade traded penalties to leave us ten points down at the quarter point.


Things got worse for the Falcons, losing Scott Lawson to injury and then Slade scored the hosts’ second try. 18-3 L


It sounded like Exeter were pretty dominant for most of the game, and the Chiefs forwards almost got another try before a penalty try was awarded from a scrum. Things weren’t going very well at all.


Just a minute or so later Big Smithy made a familiar comment – penalty to Exeter, this time for slipped binding in a scrum. The way it was going, Exeter could’ve been looking for a big score, and they then got the bonus point try just before half-time through Thomas Waldrom.


32-3 at half-time, time for Dean Richards et al to earn some dough! There were some immediate changes with Alex Tait, Richard Mayhew and Dom Barrow all coming on as replacements, and we seemed to put some possession together in the first few minutes of the second period.


Just before the hour, we finally got a try when Ruki Tipuna sniped in, and Catterick’s difficult conversion brought the score to 32-10. With the second half going better, could we manage to steal a point?


Well, if we did it probably wouldn’t be a losing bonus point. Just afterward, Phil Dollman got Exeter’s fifth try, and the sixth soon followed. 46-10.


Just minutes before full-time, my internet connection died and I struggled to get up off the sofa to reset the modem! Pathetic really. Anyway, we got something else to cheer with Will Welch scoring a consolation try, converted by Catterick, so at least we got a couple of scores. 46-17 doesn’t make good reading though and it seems the Falcons were well and truly trounced.



I guess these things happen. Every team has a mare every now and then and today was one for us. I’m not sure who played well or not, I guess we’ll see when people start offering their opinions and the media reports are out.


Today is probably only the second time this season that we have been comprehensively outplayed for eighty minutes, the other being Northampton away in the cup, so no need to be too depressed. We have a winnable game against Wasps on Friday night, so we need to stay positive for that.





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

Match preview: Exeter Chiefs v Newcastle Falcons


Saturday 14 February 2015 – 4.30pm

Sandy Park, Exeter

Aviva Premiership #14


At the start of the season, one might have expected that the Falcons would be heading south this weekend looking to avoid a St Valentine’s Day Massacre. But as it has turned out, we actually have genuine hope of a first-ever win at Sandy Park.


That’s no reflection on Exeter, who are enjoying another solid season in the Premiership and currently sit in joint-fifth place with Leicester, just a point off the playoffs, but rather shows the optimism around Kingston Park at the moment. We are on a run of six successive try bonus points at the moment, and while that may be hoping for too much tomorrow, a victory is not out of the question.


Whatever happens, we should be grateful to the Chiefs for continuing to make the case for relegation to continue, and also providing the blueprint for promoted clubs. After a more-than-respectable eighth place in their first-ever top flight season in 2010/11, two top-half finishes followed and though Rob Baxter’s side dropped to eighth last year, they have a real chance of a debut in the playoffs come May. Not to mention that they are in the semi-finals of the LV= Cup, and so have a chance of defending the title they won at Sandy Park last March, and the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup, where this fixture repeats on Easter Saturday.


Just in case you were wondering about 2015/16, England wing Jack Nowell will be joined in Devon by fellow Red Roser Geoff Parling, as well as Bath speedster Olly Woodburn.


Wor Geoff will also link up with three players who are expected to wear the white shirt in the not-too-distant future in hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, flanker Dave Ewers and utility back Henry Slade. Slade is normally used at outside centre by the Chiefs, but his distribution and kicking have led to calls for him to be included in the England squad as a fly-half.


Chief Baxter can also call on England-capped flanker Tom Johnson and Moray Low, the Scotland prop, as well as talismanic captain Dean Mumm, who won 33 caps for Australia before switching hemispheres in 2012. Lets also not forget Thomas Waldrom, revitalised after his move from Leicester in the summer. Don’t bet against the Tank adding to his five England caps before 2015 is out.


Despite their lofty position, Exeter are currently on a four-game losing run in the Premiership, being on the wrong end of all four Christmas league results. Those defeats were 18-11 at Sale, 31-14 at Bath, 25-26 at home to Gloucester and 28-26 at London Irish. However, back in November they beat Saracens at home and pulled off probably the result of the season so far, 18-24 at champions Northampton. The Chiefs were 6-21 at half-time at Franklin’s Gardens following tries from Cowan-Dickie and Waldrom (two), and survived a Saints onslaught in the second forty to pull off a famous victory that marked Exeter out as real contenders.


In terms of home form, apart from Gloucester at New Year, the only other away team to win at Sandy Park in 2014/15 was Leicester in September, but a slender 20-24 scoreline.


As I said, the Falcons have never won at Sandy Park, but then before this season our Premiership record against the Chiefs read P6 L6. That record, and our unwanted run of twenty successive league defeats, ended on 5th October. Tom Catterick’s try had levelled the scores at 24-24 and the 4,000 home fans cranked up the noise, roaring Noah Cato over for the winning score. The 29-24 victory was an incredibly tense day, but what a release of elation at the final whistle!


In our last meeting in the South West in December 2013, Exeter won quite comfortably 16-3. The first half was a battle of the kickers, Gareth Steenson knocking over three penalties to one from Phil Godman, before Haydn Thomas’s sniping try sealed the home team’s victory.


Falcons in EX2:

18/09/2010     Premiership                 L17-22

11/12/2010     Challenge Cup             L10-36

10/09/2011     Premiership                 L15-32

21/12/2013     Premiership                 L3-16



Dean Richards has made a bit of a left-field selection for tomorrow by giving Juan Pablo Orlandi a first start in a Falcons shirt. Scott MacLeod makes a rare league appearance, and Gonzalo Tiesi is fit to take a place on the bench.


Falcons team: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 4 Calum Green, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c) 8 Ally Hogg


Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Mark Irving, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Dom Barrow, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Ruki Tipuna, 22 Gonzalo Tiesi, 23 Alex Tait.



After what I said previously, Exeter are starting with Henry Slade in the ten shirt tomorrow, partnered with former Falcon Will Chudley:


Chiefs team: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Ian Whitten, 13 Jack Nowell, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Will Chudley, 1 Ben Moon, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Dean Mumm (c), 5 Damian Welch, 6 Dave Ewers, 7 Ben White, 8 Thomas Waldrom.


Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Alex Brown, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Gareth Steenson,23 Byron McGuigan.



Although things have been much-improved this season, with respect to Gloucester, London Welsh and of course Exeter themselves, we haven’t really made a big statement with any of our league victories in 2014/15. A win at Sandy Park tomorrow would be a big marker of the Falcons being truly on the up. Come on!



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

Saturday afternoon in the bar


I wrote this yesterday, so imagine it as Saturday afternoon:


This was supposed to be a blog about Italy v Ireland, but with my attention torn between a silent big screen, the sound blasts of arcade machines, the Falcons’ Twitter feed, and a pint of Budweiser, it turned into more of a “What’s going on in the big rugby games right now?” kind of article.


Right, so Eccles v Wigton was called off with one part of the pitch rock hard, the two-storey clubhouse apparently obscuring the sun from the grass. I had a feeling, as Mrs L and I arrived 35 minutes before kick-off and there was hardly anyone around bar a few cars and two blokes chatting.


I walked through the changing rooms and didn’t see or hear anyone. Neither Eccles nor Wigton’s Twitter accounts said anything about a postponement, but a gentleman opening the bar shutters explained that the game had been called off at 8am and why.




Interestingly, Eccles RFC is off Junction 11 on the M60, on the opposite side to the AJ Bell Stadium, and we had seen some Sale scarves on our drive up towards Gorton Street. A quick check of the BBC Sport app showed that Sale v Scarlets kicked off at 2pm, so we thought about going to that game instead.


I also had a fleeting wonder whether Broughton Park might be at home, but even if they were we probably wouldn’t have time to get there.


About to hit the junction again, a decision had to be made and we decided to head to the Trafford Centre instead, where hopefully I could find a bar to watch Italy v Ireland before we headed to my boy Ant’s gaff in Chorlton. Finally ending up in a bar at the back of an arcade (a licence to print money if ever I saw one), the last few minutes of Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal were on the TVs.


We eventually got the rugby on twenty minutes into the game, finding Ireland 0-6 up thanks to two penalties from Ian Keatley.


A quick check of Twitter at 3.05pm shows that the Falcons’ U18 team are 8-25 down in the second half against Leicester at KP. The first team game in Reading remains scoreless.


London Irish have just scored a penalty, but on the plus side, Dan Marshall has scored for the juniors, who are now losing 13-25 with 25 minutes left. Continuing on the Falcons theme, I’ve just seen wor Josh Furno on the big screen for the first time today.


In Rome, Keatley has knocked over a third penalty for Ireland but with 75 seconds left until the break, Italy have a lineout on five metres. It’s thrown high to Furno and the maul collapses, Furno is in a bit of a scrap with Ireland’s Tommy O’Donnell but not sure what the decision is…Paul O’Connell doesn’t look happy as one of his teammates gets treatment…it’s an Italian penalty and Kelly Haimona, with an interesting combination of beard, short hair and a string ponytail, steps up to reduce his team’s deficit to six points as the two teams head into the tunnel.


Another penalty has been knocked over in Berkshire, and the senior Falcons are 6-0 down.


So, to recap, I’m sat here in a bar deep in the bowels of the Trafford Centre, just metres away from Pizza Hut, where I had my first non-paperboy job in England way back in 2001. I didn’t like it much – the buses to get here were unreliable so I used to have to leave mega-early, the last bus would often be full so I’d have to spend a tenner on a taxi home (not too terrible I suppose as I could easily make £30 a night just in tips) and a lot of the staff didn’t like students.


In my second year, I switched to Oxford Street in Manchester city centre and there continued a story that led to me being in Regents Park one day in 2011 and meeting the now-Mrs Leipy.


Not sure I’ve ever had a beer in the Traff before, I’ve probably only been here two or three times for purposes other than graft, but this Budweiser is going down nicely. The blasting music having been turned down after the football isn’t unwelcome too.


Hoo, wor Carlo del Fava on the telly there! Can’t hear what he’s saying as the sound’s off.


Back in Falconland, the U18s are right back in the game with a converted try from Aidan Coulthard. It’s 20-25 at KP with seven to go.


Some highlights of Wales v England coming on now, excellent! I’m not sure if Leigh Halfpenny slipped as he turned to chase Mike Brown’s dribble for Anthony Watson’s try, but if so, it was a very costly one! Jonathan Joseph did so well to fight through the tackles for his try, and then that monster penalty from George Ford at the end – I doubt he will forget that as long as he lives!


Woo, the Falcons youngsters have scored a try… 25-25 as the conversion lines up…aw, it’s missed and the game ends in a draw. Cracking effort by the U18s though to come back from 8-25 down. Even better, Tom Catterick has converted Will Welch’s try for the first team and they are 6-7 up at the Madejski!


It gets better, Alesana Tuilagi is over and its 6-14! I see the Exiles had a player in the bin, which probably helped us.


Right, Ireland and Italy are back out in Rome and the talisman Paul O’Connell and Sergio Parisse are shown one after another.


Six minutes into the second half, haven’t seen much happening so far, but 130 Italian tackles to 58 by Ireland tells a story, amazingly the visitors still haven’t scored a try. Ireland looking dangerous off the scrum, the backs are hammering away and the inside centre is nearly at the line, but Italy have stolen it and looking to run their way out of trouble…looking hairy until finally the ball is booted towards halfway.


It’s through the Irish backs that a score is going to come here I think – just as I say that, it’s a classic ten-man rugby score as the forwards win a scrum penalty and Keatley knocks it over. 3-12 Ireland.


The #mightyfalcons are 6-14 up at half-time, excellent! Nothing game but good practice for Exeter next week.


Things are heating (my spellchecker doesn’t recognise hotting :-S) in Rome as home hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, now known forever to me as ‘Joe Marler with much less hair), is sent to the bin, presumably as a team yellow card as his offside was way out on the touchline. Ireland have now forced their way over for the opening try and it’s 3-19. The favourites have surely opened their campaign with a win as the game has less than fifteen minutes left, more than half of which Italy will play with fourteen men.


It was Conor Murray with the try I see, scurrying over. Just a minute later, the aforementioned O’Donnell left the Italian defence in his wake with a storming run through the middle to touch down the second Oirish try. The conversion is again good (you don’t get many misses at this level – as I said last night, it’s a step above what we Geordies watch every week). 3-26 to Ireland, and ‘Joe Marler with much less hair’ still has five minutes in the bin.


Just dropping this in for no reason whatsoever, other than that I’m writing about the Falcons and Ireland – did you know that Mike McCarthy’s wife was on Dragon’s Den the other night? My brother went to school with her, that’s the only reason I know this fact, or apparent fact. Don’t know if she got any money though.


The second half is underway in at the Mad Jetski stadium and Irish have missed a penalty, but from an overthrown home lineout Ally Hogg has scored our lads’ third try! 6-19 to the Geordies, could it be our…sixth try bonus point in a row?


Just looking at some stats, the Falcons have scored tries in EVERY game this season, which is a revelation compared to 2013/14. Today is our 23rd competitive game this season and we have only scored one try in four of them (Northampton, Gloucester and Sale at home and Harlequins away).


Back in Rome, Ghiraldini is back on but with just over five minutes to go, it remains 3-26 and Ireland have the game won. Italy are attacking, looking for a consolation try.


With seventy seconds left, it looks like they may have got it in the left corner. Parisse chased a high ball but looks like he completely missed it, so it’s not a knock-on in my opinion and Haimona touched down. Try, surely!


Oh no, it’s been given as a knock-on from Parisse’s fingernails! Poor Italy!


No such problems in Reading apparently, it’s Ally Hogg again (apparently again, young Smithy’s Twitter feed says there is confusion over who scored the third try) and the Falcons have a sixth successive bonus point! Catterick’s conversion makes it 6-26, coincidentally just as the Ireland-Italy match finishes 3-26.


Just waiting for the good lady to return from shopping and then we can head off to Chorlton. Attendance at the Majestic Stadium is announced as 4,764, and Smithy reckons there are fewer than that there. Probably about what I expected for a dead game. The Falcons seem to be putting in a canny performance, shame there are probably about a dozen of our fans there to see it.


In case anyone’s interested, Sale beat Scarlets 38-3, so though that might have been a good game (don’t know), it doesn’t seem to have been overly competitive.


One final try by Jamie Helleur and it’s a five-try, 13-31 win for the Falcons! Fantastic stuff to lead into the Premiership run-in.


Right, off for a night out in Chorlton now, lock up your dogs as we are taking Woody and Luna out with us!


See you for Exeter next week (if the BBC guys can get the commentary working!).



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