Saturday 28 March 2015 – 3.00pm
Madejski Stadium, Reading
Aviva Premiership #18
With the order in which the fixtures fell, at the start of the season I don’t think many people would have been massively surprised that our biggest game of the season is London Irish away. Many understandably predicted a three-way relegation scrap between the Falcons, Irish and London Welsh. Though it hasn’t worked out that way, both ourselves and the Exiles are looking to finish in tenth place in the Premiership to be able to show signs of progress in 2014/15, or at least that they haven’t gone backwards.
Of the two meetings so far this season, we have won once and Irish have won once, both away from home, so there is a mini series-decider tomorrow. The first clash was at Kingston Park back in September, when Juan Pablo Socino’s kicking nightmare on his competitive home debut helped Irish escape with an 18-20 victory. Josh Furno’s early try gave the Falcons a lead before Shane Geraghty kicked two penalties and put Irish ahead at half-time, and though Scott Wilson and Sinoti Sinoti crossed in the second forty, tries by Fergus Mulchrone and Andrew Fenby alongside Geraghty’s boot secured an away victory.
More recently, in February, an LV= Cup dead rubber at the Madejski Stadium ended in a sixth successive try bonus point for the Falcons, who won 13-31. Never seriously in danger, our tries were scored by Will Welch, Alesana Tuilagi, Ally Hogg (two) and Jamie Helleur, Mulchrone getting a consolation for the hosts.
This form has been in sharp contrast to last season’s games against Irish. Again there were three, but the home team won on each occasion. The Falcons were victorious at KP in the Premiership and LV= Cup in the autumn, before travelling to Reading in April for a game that seemed to change the mentality of the management at the club.
Two weeks after a dire home defeat to Worcester led to a “mutinous” (according to one fan) mood in the South Stand, little was changed for the visit to Irish and thus the men in green ran riot in the first half, former Falcon Fenby’s hat-trick making up half of the six tries Irish scored before the break for a 40-12 lead. At half-time Joel Hodgson was thrown on at fly-half and though there were no more points, the Falcons began a new attacking philosophy that gave fans hope in the final three games of 2013/14 and has led to an exciting, if at times frustrating, 2014/15.
So Irish currently sit tenth in the Premiership table with five games to go. They have 29 points to the Falcons’ 25, so defeat tomorrow would most likely condemn us to eleventh place, but a win could help us rise into the top ten. We have every chance, as although we have not won since the victory at Irish, our Paddy friends are on a run of just one win in six games, that a predictable 12-50 trouncing of their Welsh exile chums in Oxford a month ago. Irish’s last home outing was a forgettable 6-12 loss to Leicester in February.
It would be easy to blame this form on the loss of boss Brian Smith earlier in the season, the Aussie being replaced with Glenn Delaney until the summer before Tom Coventry switches hemispheres to take the reins, but a 28-26 home victory over Exeter in early January shows that Irish are still a decent side. They have also beaten Leicester at Welford Road this term.
However, from seven Premiership games at the Mad Jetski Stadium, Irish have only won once, the aforementioned tight conquering of the Chiefs, and lost both home ties in the LV= Cup, so we’ll rarely have a better chance to come away from Reading with the points.
The Falcons have not won at the big blue bowl since 2009, a game that I remember well (amazingly) because I had a wee bit too much to drink and was working both jobs for the following three days – by the Thursday I was just about ready to conk out! It was a day dominated by the boot for the most part, Jimmy Gopperth scoring all of our fifteen points and Chris Hala’ufia scoring the only try, and Steve Bates’ Falcons’ 11-15 win took us into the top half of the table.
We have had other successes in Reading, most notably against the Madejski Stadium’s former tenants Richmond in the Tetley’s Bitter Cup semi-final. A 3-20 victory was achieved without Marius Hurter or, for the most part due to an early injury, Jonny Wilkinson, but Rob Andrew stepped up in one of the final matches of his career to steer the Falcons into our first professional final, while Va’aiga Tuigamala also played a big part with two tries.
Falcons at Irish:
04/12/1982 Sunbury Club Match D13-13
19/11/1988 Sunbury Division 2 L7-35
20/04/1991 Sunbury Division 2 L16-24
09/04/1994 Sunbury Division 1 W19-17
29/04/1995 Sunbury Division 2 L22-32
27/04/1996 Sunbury Division 2 L28-29
01/11/1997 Sunbury Premiership 1 W35-19
02/01/1999 Sunbury Premiership 1 L14-16
03/10/1999 The Stoop Premiership 1 L8-56
05/12/2000 Madejski Stadium Premiership L17-19
23/09/2001 Madejski Stadium Premiership W22-18
29/12/2002 Madejski Stadium Premiership L0-20
23/11/2003 Madejski Stadium Premiership W19-15
21/11/2004 Madejski Stadium Premiership L15-21
12/02/2006 Madejski Stadium Premiership W9-6
03/03/2007 Madejski Stadium Premiership L12-38
23/09/2007 Madejski Stadium Premiership L0-19
03/01/2009 Madejski Stadium Premiership L8-48
22/11/2009 Madejski Stadium Premiership W15-11
12/02/2011 Madejski Stadium Premiership L14-23
24/09/2011 Madejski Stadium Premiership L29-46
23/10/2011 Madejski Stadium Cup L23-39
13/04/2014 Madejski Stadium Premiership L12-40
Noah Cato makes his first league start since October on the wing in place of Alesana Tuilagi, while Juan Pablo Socino makes way for compatriot Gonzalo Tiesi in the centres. Tiesi’s selection alongside Adam Powell suggests that the Falcons expect some physicality tomorrow, but there is plenty of pace outside with Sinoti Sinoti and Alex Tait completing the back three. Kieran Brookes returns from international duty up front.
Falcons team: 15. Alex Tait, 14. Noah Cato, 13. Gonzalo Tiesi, 12. Adam Powell, 11. Sinoti Sinoti, 10. Tom Catterick, 9. Ruki Tipuna, 1. Rob Vickers, 2. Scott Lawson, 3. Kieran Brookes, 4. Kane Thompson, 5. Dom Barrow, 6. Richard Mayhew, 7. Will Welch (c), 8. Mark Wilson.
Replacements: 16. Rob Hawkins, 17. Alex Rogers, 18. Juan Orlandi, 19. Josh Furno, 20. Andy Saull, 21. Andy Davies, 22. Juan Socino, 23. Chris Harris.
London Irish team: 15. Andrew Fenby; 14. Alex Lewington; 13. Eoin Griffin; 12. Eamonn Sheridan; 11. Tom Fowlie; 10. Shane Geraghty*; 9. Scott Steele; 1. Tom Court*; 2. David Paice*; 3. Halani Aulika*; 4. George Skivington (Captain); 5. Nic Rouse; 6. Conor Gilsenan; 7. Blair Cowan*; 8. Tom Guest.
Replacements: 16. Jimmy Stevens 17. Matt Parr 18. Leo Halavatau 19. Jebb Sinclair*; 20. Luke Narraway*; 21. Darren Allinson; 22. Chris Noakes; 23. Topsy Ojo*.
Tomorrow will be the first time we have visited Irish on their annual Paddy’s Day Party, and with a Supporters’ Club coach travelling the Falcons are sure of plenty of support. Let the Guinness pour and the tries flow!
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)