Sunday 8 March 2015 – 3.00pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
Aviva Premiership #17
The Falcons are hoping for a first Kingston Park sell-out since Easter 2007 this Sunday when Leicester come north. With the Tigers having an indifferent season by their lofty standards, and the Falcons continuing to be competitive against top teams, there is a real chance of us gaining a first victory over the Midlanders for six years.
While the Falcons were at Saracens last Saturday, Leicester were beating Sale 28-8 at Welford Road thanks to their first tries in almost four league matches. Laurence Pearce, Seremaia Bai and a penalty try saw the Tigers home and keeps them in the hunt for a playoff place. They might be sixth in the table, but only one point separates second-to-six with Saracens, Exeter and Wasps all on 48 points, and Bath and Leicester on 47.
So not terrible, but Leicester have bigger expectations. They are England’s biggest club and aim for nothing else but top spot in every competition.
DoR Richard Cockerill has had a difficult season, not least because of the huge volume of injuries in his squad. Former Falcon hero Geoff Parling is recently back from injury, while Dan Cole and Tom Croft have been picked up by England soon after recovery. Captain Ed Slater and talisman Manu Tuilagi are also long-term casualties, and England internationals Mathew Tait, Anthony Allen and Tom Youngs have had spells on the sidelines.
One man’s pain is another man’s gain of course, and Leicester have seen some quality youngsters coming to the fore, including hooker Harry Thacker and centre George Catchpole. The latter was teamed up with Jack Roberts, making his first Premiership start, at London Irish a couple of weeks ago. These younger players have been helped by the acquisition of seasoned All Blacks veteran Brad Thorn last summer, a real transfer coup into a second row already containing Graham Kitchener and the aforementioned Parling and Slater.
Despite their problems, the Sale success was Leicester’s fifth win in a row, and they have lost only twice this year, at Harlequins in the Premiership and Ulster in the Champions Cup in January. 2014/15 began for Leicester with a 36-17, bonus-point victory over the Falcons at Welford Road, thanks to a second-half Vereniki Goneva hat-trick and another try from David Mele, after Richard Mayhew’s score just after half-time had brought us back to 12-10. Andy Saull scored a late consolation.
Last season’s equivalent game at Kingston Park came on 2nd March 2014. Watching on BT Sport (as I was, recovering from my brother’s stag weekend) you wouldn’t have known there were two teams playing, heck you wouldn’t have known that Manu Tuilagi had fourteen teammates playing, such was the TV people’s apparent obession with him. The England talisman was sent to the bin late in the game but Leicester already had the game won thanks to tries from the aforementioned Fijian Goneva (two) and Thomas Waldrom, and Pablo Matera went on to secure the bonus point. Noah Cato and Scott Lawson scored for the Falcons, who had Lee Smith making his debut on the wing and the Rugby League convert opened the scoring with an early penalty.
That 18-41 win was the Tiggers’ fourth consecutive success at KP, our last home victory over them coming in March 2009. Coincidentally that was also the last of a four-game winning run in this fixture, and the seventh win in eight games for the Falcons. Tane Tu’ipulotu scored in the first quarter of an hour, and two penalties and a drop-goal by Tom May put us 14-0 at half-time. Leicester fought back but could only manage to get a losing bonus point through Ben Youngs’ try with the last play of the game. A 14-10 victory was quite acceptable.
Tiggers in Newcastle:
15/04/1974 North Road Club Match W28-18
19/04/1976 North Road Club Match W27-9
20/04/1985 North Road Club Match W20-6
15/04/1989 North Road Club Match L14-47
22/02/1992 Kingston Park Cup QF L0-10
09/10/1993 Kingston Park Division 1 L13-22
22/02/1997 Kingston Park Cup QF L8-18
04/05/1998 Gateshead Premiership 1 W27-10
02/05/1999 Kingston Park Premiership 1 L12-21
05/11/1999 Kingston Park Premiership 1 D12-12
27/08/2000 Kingston Park Premiership L22-25
02/09/2001 Kingston Park Premiership W19-16
16/03/2003 Kingston Park Premiership W24-22
04/04/2004 Kingston Park Premiership D25-25
02/10/2004 Kingston Park Premiership L15-44
24/02/2006 Kingston Park Premiership W24-16
07/01/2007 Kingston Park Premiership W31-29
04/05/2008 Kingston Park Premiership W28-25
27/03/2009 Kingston Park Premiership W14-10
18/04/2010 Kingston Park Premiership L7-31
22/04/2011 Kingston Park Premiership L13-24
17/09/2011 Kingston Park Premiership L26-27
02/03/2014 Kingston Park Premiership L18-41
Though the Falcons backs are pretty much as you would expect, although Ruki Tipuna replaces Mike Blair, in the forwards there are a couple of surprises as Alex Rogers comes in at tighthead and Richard Mayhew is in the back row, Andy Saull dropping to the bench. New signing Tane Takulua could make a debut off the bench and the replacement tighthead is Rob O’Donnell, signed on loan from Worcester with Kieran Brookes, Scott Wilson, Oliver Tomaszczyk and Juan Pablo Orlandi all unavailable, and even Eric Fry injured too.
Falcons team: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino 11 Alesana Tuilagi 10 Tom Catterick 9 Ruki Tipuna, 1 Rob Vickers 2 Scott Lawson 3 Alex Rogers 4 Kane Thompson 5 Dom Barrow 6 Richard Mayhew 7 Will Welch 8 Mark Wilson
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins 17 Mark Irving 18 Rob O’Donnell 19 Josh Furno 20 Andy Saull 21 Sonatane Takulua 22 Gonzalo Tiesi 23 Noah Cato
Mathew Tait makes his final appearance at Kingston Park for the Tigers before moving to France at the end of the season, while Geoff Parling should get a big cheers too.
Leicester team: M Tait, N Morris, V Goneva, S Bai, A Thompstone, F Burns, S Harrison; M Ayerza, T Youngs, L Mulipola, S de Chaves, G Parling, T Croft, J Gibson, L Pearce.
Replacements: L Ghiraldini, M Rizzo, F Balmain, J Crane, J Salvi, D Mele, T Bell, J Roberts.
Seats are sold out for Sunday and there aren’t many places left in the South Stand, so unless you’re willing to brave the frozen North, get on the blower or the jiggyweb today and get your ticket!
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)