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)