Match reaction: Gloucester Rugby 42-40 Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 25 April 2015 – 3.00pm

Kingsholm, Gloucester

Aviva Premiership #20

 

Still gutted? Yes, me too, though I’ve mellowed a bit since 5pm last night. What a fantastic match, the Falcons gave absolutely everything and bar an amazing Gloucester comeback would have returned north with five points.

 

When I say gutted though, I don’t mean depressed and I certainly don’t mean angry. The team put in a great performance and it was only a few missed tackles and a couple of minutes of madness around 65 minutes that denied us a famous victory.

 

We’ve thought recently that the Falcons had a psychological barrier, making it difficult to close out games, and I think that’s true, b yesterday was strange because we recovered from the two quick tries with a quarter of an hour to go, and got another ourselves to get the try bonus point. The Falcons then defended so strongly in the dying seconds as Gloucester threw the sink at us before they finally found the smallest gap for the winning score.

 

Whatever caused the little switch-off and the missed tackles that led to conceding tries is for the coaches and players to work out, but I think we have to be proud of a huge effort. Better teams that us have been sent packing from Kingsholm with their tails between their legs this season but we went toe-to-toe with Gloucester in front of a Shed that finally found their voices late on, and we can take heart from that.

 

There is no reason now that we cannot beat Sale and Harlequins in the final two games and end the season on a high. I’m not saying that we definitely will beat them, but we can be hopeful.

 

One of the keys to our attacking quality yesterday was Juan Pablo Socino, who I thought had his best game since Wasps at home. Taking the ball a little deeper gave the little Argentine space to make runs and the creative passes we’ve seen set other players away in space. Combined with Rory Clegg showing more attacking ambition than he probably did earlier in the season, our backs had a good platform to work from.

 

It’s a shame that Chris Harris went off early as he could have really benefitted from Clegg and Socino’s partnership inside him, but Adam Powell was a lion in defence so no problems there.

 

In the forwards, Josh Furno played right on the edge of the law and could well have seen a yellow card on another day, but as it was his spoiling work slowed Gloucester time and again. Kieran Brookes defied the critics again with another big carrying game, and Scott Lawson was his usual busy self all around the pitch.

 

Nobody had a bad game really, although after the last few matches it seems the Falcons need to work out how to get the best out of Simon Hammersley, who hasn’t been quite the attacking force he was in September.

 

I think the defence also needs looked at generally. Our attack has been revolutionised this season, but the defence has not really improved on a year ago, and while that’s the case we will always struggle to win more games than we lose. To the naked, statistic-less eye, it seems to me that we concede fewer points than we opponents’ possession suggests we should, but we need to keep improving all areas of our game and in defence it’s not happening. Definitely something for the bosses to think about during the summer.

 

Obviously Gloucester deserve a lot of credit for their character in coming back from a big deficit, not every team has the heart to do that. I think what they also did well was adjusting their defence in the first half. Early on, they played a high line, possibly intent on denying Sinoti Sinoti and others the space to get up a good speed. However, we exploited this through clever passing that put Mark Wilson and Sinoti behind the defence for run-in tries.

 

Gloucester realised this was a problem and looked to stand a little further back when defending, and it gave us a little more to think about.

 

So, another game we could well have won but ended up losing. These things happen I suppose. “You keep saying that, aren’t you bored of it now?” you may ask. Well, not really, because I still believe we are on the right track, even if e journey is a lot slower than we’d all like. Even if I were getting sick of thinking long term, what’s the alternative? Moaning all the time about how we’re not winning games and suggesting we sack the manager and make wholesale changes to the squad, which is of course no guarantee of success.

 

Besides, Dean Richards has a new three-year contract so he’ll be in charge for next season at least, so we might as well get behind him.

 

It’s coming together. Let’s keep our heads up.

 

 

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

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Match preview: Gloucester Rugby v Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 25 April 2015 – 3.00pm

Kingsholm, Gloucester

Aviva Premiership #20

 

There are just three games of the season to go now – three chances for the Falcons to hit a high point before the summer break, and avoid going into 2015/16 on the back of another long losing league run.

 

A visit to Gloucester isn’t the easiest of tasks to get a win, but of course at this stage in 2011/12 we did just that to give real belief in the relegation battle. Who could forget Mark Wilson stealing that lineout and emptying the silent Shed with our second try?

 

Our own Scott Lawson was in the home side that day, and a quick glance at the Falcons team shows that a grand total of six of our twenty-three are still at KP – Jamie Helleur, Rob Vickers, Ally Hogg (our other try-scorer), Will Welch, Wilson, and Tom Catterick.  James Hudson has of course swapped parished with Lawson and could line up in cherry and white tomorrow.

 

Kingsholm may not have been the usual fortress for David Humphreys’ (who I see counts Olympian Marlon Devonish among his staff, as a speed coach) side in 2014/15, with four home defeats in the Premiership so far – to Exeter, Harlequins, Bath and Wasps – and a thrilling 33-33 draw with Northampton last month, but the Shed will no doubt be in good voice and the Falcons will have sixteen men to beat, like all visitors to Castle Grim.

 

Gloucester are currently on a run of four Premiership games without a win, as losses away to Wasps, Sale and Harlequins have been punctuated only by that draw with the Saints at Kingsholm. Their last victory was a 48-10 win over London Welsh in February.

 

However, our hosts have progressed to the final of the European Challenge Cup with knockout wins over Connacht and Exeter. This past Saturday night saw the south-westerners beat their neighbours from Devon 30-19 at home in the semi-finals, Jonny May’s try two minutes from time making the game safe. Gloucester will face Edinburgh at the Stoop in the final a week tonight, hunting for their first trophy since beating the Falcons in the 2011 LV= Cup final.

 

After that, Gloucester host London Irish and finish their season away to Bath, and will be looking to grab eighth place in the table if they possibly can. They currently sit five points behind Harlequins, but just one ahead of Irish and will not want to drop below ninth, their finishing position last year.

 

Nevertheless, even eighth would be an underachievement for a squad boasting internationals Richard Hibbard, James Hook, the aforementioned May, Charlie Sharples, Tom Palmer and Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw, as well as club captain and England ‘fans’ punching bag Billy Twelvetrees. Not to mention World Cup-winning prop John Afoa, who has 36 New Zealand caps and is reported to be the world’s highest-paid player.

 

No matter what kind of form the Cherry and Whites are in, Kingsholm is never an easy place to go and the Falcons have only ever won twice in front of one of rugby’s most passionate home crowds. These two victories were, amazingly enough, the year we won the Premiership title and the season we were relegated. The latter we have already discussed, the former was a belter in front of the Sky cameras in April 1998.

 

A long-range try by Peter Walton and two more by Rob Andrew, never a favourite with the Shed, gave the Falcons a priceless 27-29 victory and the home fans were left to rue a trip by Paul Van-Zandvliet on Mark Mapletoft metres from the line that went unseen by referee John Pearson.

 

There have been some other fireworks in these meetings over the years – Olivier Azam and Epi Taione clashing in December 2001, leading to Andrew accusing Azam of racism and the French hooker threatening legal action until our manager backed down. Thinus Delport’s last-minute try to break Falcon hearts in a top v bottom clash in April 2003. James Simpson-Daniel’s last-minute try to break Falcon hearts in a cup game in October 2007, sneaking an 18-18 draw for Gloucester.

 

Our two visits to GL1 last season ended in defeats, the first one (in the LV= Cup) saw a tame Falcons team beaten 20-3 in a game that is likely to be only remembered, sadly, as Simpson-Daniel’s final professional game after he sustained a bad ankle injury that forced retirement for the mercurial Teeside-born winger.

 

The league visit in March was a bit different. With an hour gone, Gloucester led 37-7, with Chris York’s try converted by Phil Godman all the Falcons had to show against a home side who had already scored five tries. However, the introduction of Joel Hodgson and George McGuigan off the bench galvanised the Falcons and showed us an attacking intent that had been lacking all season. The young hooker scored our second try, before Andy Saull and Alex Tait crossed to give the Falcons an unlikely try bonus point, our first in the Premiership for almost five years.

 

Though a Rob Cook penalty sealed the win for Gloucester, Hodgson converted Noah Cato’s last-gasp try to secure a second bonus point for the relegation-threatened Falcons, who lost 40-33 but gave fans a glimmer of hope.

 

Falcons at Gloucester:

25/02/1978             Cup 2nd round           L10-19

15/01/1994             Division 1                   L9-15

11/04/1998             Premiership 1           W29-27

17/10/1998             Premiership 1           L32-41

11/09/1999             Premiership 1           L16-31

23/12/2000             Premiership               L13-28

29/12/2001             Premiership               L25-29

18/05/2002             Championship QF     L9-60

12/04/2003             Premiership               L23-25

07/02/2004             Premiership               L12-36

25/09/2004             Premiership               L17-31

08/05/2005             Wildcard SF               L16-23

05/11/2005             Premiership               L20-27

24/03/2007             Premiership               L18-24

27/10/2007             Cup                             D18-18

23/02/2008             Premiership               L20-28

01/10/2008             Premiership               L23-39

05/12/2009             Premiership               L13-25

02/04/2011             Premiership               L9-34

14/04/2012             Premiership               W29-20

16/11/2013             Cup                             L3-20

22/03/2014             Premiership               L33-40

 

 

Rory Clegg continues at fly-half tomorrow, with Tom Catterick dropping out of the squad completely. Chris Harris moves into the centre in place of Adam Powell, Alex Tait coming in on the wing. In the forwards Josh Furno, Will Welch and Ally Hogg replace Calum Green, Richard Mayhew and Chris York. Will Witty could make a Premiership debut from the bench, where he is joined by Andy Tuilagi.

 

Falcons team: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Ruki Tipuna, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Josh Furno, 5 Kane Thompson, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg.

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Eric Fry, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Will Witty, 20 Sean Robinson, 21 Sonatane Takulua, 22 Andy Tuilagi, 23 Adam Powell.

 

 

Gloucester team: 15 Charlie Sharples, 14 Jonny May, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 Billy Twelvetrees (c), 11 Henry Purdy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Dan Robson, 1 Yann Thomas, 2 Darren Dawidiuk, 3 Sila Puafisi, 4 Elliott Stooke, 5 Mariano Galarza, 6 Ross Moriarty, 7 Matt Kvesic, 8 Sione Kalamafoni,

 

Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 John Afoa, 19 Tom Savage, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 James Hook, 23 Bill Meakes.

 

 

After the calamity of London Irish, the debacle of Exeter, and the blowing away by Bath, it’s time we got another win on the board. The Falcons have a great record against Gloucester at KP, it’s about time we took that down to Kingsholm too. Come on!

 

 

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

Match preview: Exeter Chiefs v Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 4 April 2015 – 8.00pm

Sandy Park, Exeter

European Challenge Cup quarter-final

 

After five Premiership games without a win, the Falcons have another break from the league this weekend as they travel to Exeter for a Saturday night European Challenge Cup quarter-final.

 

The eight quarter-finalists in this competition have been given an added incentive this week by the news that the winners in May’s London final will participate in the playoffs to win a place in 2015/16’s Champions Cup – and wouldn’t we all love to be playing teams like Leinster and Toulon next season?

 

Exeter will of course also be keen to get back into the top competition, having competed with the big boys for the past two seasons before dropping into the Challenge Cup this year. Rob Baxter’s side are looking good to qualify for the Champions Cup through the Premiership though, sitting fifth at present on 54 points, six ahead of sixth-placed Wasps.

 

That said, the scent of a trophy will no doubt have been picked up in EX2 too. The LV= Cup holders lost their title to Saracens in this year’s final at Franklin’s Gardens a couple of weeks ago and will be looking to end the year with at least one trophy, as they still hunt a Premiership playoff place for the first time.

 

Our two meetings so far this season have led to two home wins. The away game was a bit of a disaster for the Falcons, who were trounced 46-17 in probably our worst performance of the season in February. Probably nothing more to say about that. A lot more fun was our 29-24 win at Kingston Park in October, a result that brought to an end the Falcons’ 20-game losing run in the league. Two quick tries from Tom Catterick (converted by Juan Pablo Socino) and Noah Cato turned the Chiefs’ seven-point lead into a five-point advantage for the Falcons within two minutes, and in the final ten minutes 4,000 home fans roared our team to a fantastic victory.

 

This year’s loss at Sandy Park was our fifth successive winless trip to Exeter, so that’s a record we will be looking to change this weekend.

 

The Falcons previously played a European game in Exeter in December 2010, in a group match in this tournament. It was a day to forget, and not just because it was incredibly cold! The Chiefs scored five tries, including the last one from future Falcon Andy Higgins, in a 36-10 win that had seen them lead 22-0 at half-time. Micky Young and Danny Williams were our try-scorers, but the name of our starting inside centre is a real blast from the past – Andrew Henderson. This was one of the 53-cap Scottish international’s final appearances in a short Newcastle career, and it’s fair to say that he never hit any heights at KP.

 

As well as never having won a match at Sandy Park, the Falcons have never won a one-off away knockout game in Europe, going back to our first semi-final in December 1998, when Rob Andrew’s superstars lost 12-9 to Agen in France. Pau, Stade Francais, Clermont-Auvergne, Worcester, Saracens… even Harlequins at Headingley in 2001. It’s about time we broke these sequences I think.

 

 

Chris Harris starts after his scoring comeback to the first team last week, and Juan Pablo Socino and Adam Powell are teamed up in the centres. Sinoti Sinoti, drafted into the European squad since the group stage, makes his continental debut for the Falcons. The forward pack is unchanged from Irish.

 

15 Alex Tait, 14 Chris Harris, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Ruki Tipuna, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Dom Barrow, 5 Kane Thompson, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Mark Wilson.

 

Replacements 16 George McGuigan, 17 Eric Fry, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Calum Green, 20 Dan Temm, 21 Tane Takulua, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Simon Hammersley.

 

Exeter team: 15 Byron McGuigan, 14 Tom James, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Will Chudley, 1 Ben Moon, 2 Jack Yeandle, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Mitch Lees, 5 Damian Welch , 6 Dave Ewers, 7 Dean Mumm (c), 8 Thomas Waldrom.

 

Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Moray Low, 19 Ben White, 20 Kai Horstmann, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Fetu’u Vainikolo.

 

 

With the Falcons safe from relegation but looking likely to finish in eleventh place in the table, the Challenge Cup is the only tangible thing we are still playing for this season, and the management clearly recognise that with Sinoti among the additions to the European squad. Lets go for it!

 

If you’re not going to the game, don’t forget that it’s live on the telly at KP’s new Tap and Tackle bar too. We’ll be hoping for a prompt landing in Madeira and to quickly find a bar showing the game – thus I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a week or two. Thanks for reading for now!

 

 

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