Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Harlequins

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Saturday 16 May 2015 – 3.30pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #22

 

I wouldn’t say it feels like just yesterday that we were rocking up to Darlington for the Sevens back in early August, but nine and a half months have passed quite quickly. In some ways we are where we were twelve months ago – 11th in the league and, barring victory over Harlequins tomorrow, a long losing league run to take into this longest of close seasons.

 

The Falcons have lost seven and drawn one in the Premiership since beating London Welsh in January, that being our only league win since November. There would be no better time to get a morale-boosting win than tomorrow. This season has been so much more enjoyable than 2013/14 was, and the Falcons have been far more competitive in most games, but that holy grail of turning performances into wins continues to elude us.

 

In 2014, we threatened to win at the Stoop twice, but both times Harlequins held on for victories. Most recently, in December, Alesana Tuilagi scored the only try of the game on half-time, but five Tim Swiel penalties gave the Londoners the win and denied the Falcons even a bonus point. To put that 15-7 result into context though, in the Premiership only Saracens and Sale have conceded fewer points at the Stoop this season.

 

Going further back to the last time Quins came north, a Newcastle side devoid of spirit were crushed 9-35 in front of the BT Sport cameras. Tom Williams, Sam Smith (two) and Danny Care secured a bonus point for clinical Quins, while all we could manage were three Phil Godman penalties in the first half. For the majority of the 6,017 in attendance, it wasn’t pretty.

 

However, we have had some big meetings with Conor O’Shea’s side over the years. Who could forget the night of violence at KP in March 2012, when the relegation-threatened Falcons so rattled title-chasing Quins that O’Shea was seen remonstrating with the referee on the pitch at half-time? Chris Pilgrim and Rob Vickers saw yellow, and Taiasina Tu’ifua was cited for a particularly brash display. Rumours that O’Shea checked under the bed for Tai and James Fitzpatrick before he went to sleep that night were never confirmed.

 

The match ended controversially with Nick Evans kicking a touchline penalty from a scrum to sneak a 9-9 draw.

 

A year earlier came our last victory over Harlequins, a routine-looking 33-18 win to ease relegation worries. Alex Gray, Luke Fielden and Micky Young were the Falcons’ try-scorers, while Jimmy Gopperth added eighteen points with the boot. Rory clegg kicked eight points for Harlequins.

 

After several seasons in the top four, and a title win in 2012, Harlequins have had a disappointing season. Early promise was dashed as Wasps snuck into the Champions Cup quarter-finals ahead of their London rivals, and now that they are likely to finish either eighth or ninth in the table, it will be Challenge Cup opposition flying in to the Stoop from the continent next season.

 

Any hopes of sneaking into the top six were dashed a week ago when Bath snuck a 26-27 victory in TW2. Ugo Monye and a penalty try had put Quins ahead at half-time, before the retiring winger completed a brace on his final appearance at the Stoop. However, Francois Louw, Horacio Agulla and Leroy Houston had kept the Bathplugs in touch and a late George Ford penalty sealed the visitors’ playoff place.

 

It was the Londoners’ fifth home defeat in the Premiership this season, however there have been problems away too. Harlequins have only come away from Sale, London Welsh (13-24, the Exiles’ narrowest Premiership loss of the season) and Gloucester with victories, as well as defeating London Irish at Twickenham in the opening day Double Header, and this is something they will need to rectify if they are going to return to the top four next season.

 

Castres and Leinster were both downed at the Stoop in Europe, but Wasps’ 3-23 away victory in round five all-but sealed Quins’ fate in pool 2, as their arch-rivals and the Irishmen progressed to the last eight.

 

Harlequins have been visiting us for over sixty years now, and in the mid-50s a trip to play Gosforth was reported in the media as the first time an English club side had flown to a fixture.

 

Falcons v Quins:

11/09/1954     County Ground        Club Match                 L9-35

03/09/1955     County Ground        Club Match                 L5-18

01/09/1956     North Road                 Club Match                 L0-9

09/09/1963     North Road                 Club Match                 W5-3

24/02/1979     North Road                 Cup R2                       W9-3

14/11/1987     North Road                 Club Match                 L4-33

02/10/1993     Kingston Park             Division 1                  L3-22

10/02/1996     Kingston Park             Cup R5                       L22-44

15/02/1998     Kingston Park             Premiership 1          W43-15

11/05/1999     Kingston Park             Premiership 1          W33-23

05/12/1999     Kingston Park             Premiership 1          L15-16

06/03/2001     Kingston Park             Premiership            L22-24

16/09/2001     Kingston Park             Premiership              D6-6

01/02/2003     Kingston Park             Premiership              W32-17

04/01/2004     Kingston Park             Premiership              L25-29

19/09/2004     Kingston Park             Premiership              W22-21

10/11/2006     Kingston Park             Premiership              L3-14

02/12/2006     Kingston Park             Cup                            W21-18

29/09/2007     Kingston Park             Premiership              W19-12

15/03/2009     Kingston Park             Premiership              W24-16

25/09/2009     Kingston Park             Premiership             D17-17

15/11/2009     Kingston Park             Cup                               L8-19

04/03/2011     Kingston Park             Premiership              W33-18

02/03/2012     Kingston Park             Premiership              D9-9

01/12/2013     Kingston Park             Premiership              L9-35

 

With Sinoti Sinoti out after sustaining a head injury last week, Alesana Tuilagi starts for the first time in two months. Tom Catterick and captain Mike Blair replace Rory Clegg and Ruki Tipuna in the half-back shirts, and Eric Fry, Scott MacLeod and Richard Mayhew come into the pack along with Uili ‘Big Willy Style’ Kolo’ofai, who will be looking to complete a game in a Falcons shirt for the first time. Kieran Brookes starts on the final game of his second spell at KP, and Zach Kibirige will surely get a big cheer if he comes off the bench following a year out with injury.

 

Falcons team: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 AlexTait, 13 AdamPowell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Mike Blair (c), 1 Eric Fry, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Calum Green, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Mark Wilson, 8 Uili Kolo’ofai.

 

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Rob Vickers, 18 Alex Rogers, 19 Will Witty, 20 Andy Saull, 21 Ruki Tipuna, 22 Anitelea Tuilagi, 23 Zach Kibirige.

 

 

Harlequins team, slightly stronger than some had expected: 15 Ollie Lindsay-Hague, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Harry Sloan, 11 Charlie Walker, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care (c), 1 Darryl Marfo, 2 Dave Ward, 3 Matt Shields, 4 George Merrick, 5 Charlie Matthews, 6 James Chisholm, 7 Jack Clifford, 8 Netani Talei.

 

Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Rob Buchanan, 18 Seb Adeniran-Olule, 19 Sam Twomey, 20 Joe Trayfoot, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Tom Williams.

 

 

Last chance for a win heading into the summer, lets get a big crowd into KP (no, I haven’t got my ticket yet since you’re asking!) and cheer the team on to an important mood-bopping victory!

 

 

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

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Match preview: Sale Sharks v Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 9 May 2015 – 2.00pm

AJ Bell Stadium, Salford

Aviva Premiership #21

 

When the fixtures came out, I was slightly apprehensive about this game.

 

Why? Well, in 2000 Ipswich Town were promoted to the football Premiership. Their first home game in 2000/01 was against Manchester United, and then the following season their last home game was against Manchester United too, and they were relegated.

 

What’s that got to do with us? If you remember, the Falcons’ first away game back in the top division last September was at Sale, and tomorrow our final away game of this season is also in Salford.

 

A far-fetched link of course, and once it became clear how few points London Welsh were going to get, I wasn’t worried any more.

 

Tomorrow’s game appears to be a dead rubber in terms of the league – Gloucester’s Challenge Cup victory means that the seventh-placed Sharks need to overhaul an eight-point gap to Wasps ahead of them to qualify for the Champions Cup, while the Falcons are even further behind London Irish in tenth.

 

However, tomorrow marks the last home game for Sale for winger Mark Cueto, one of the top players of the professional era. A one-club man and the Premiership’s all-time top try-scorer with more than a try every three games in his 301 appearances for Sale, Cueto’s career will be celebrated at the AJ Bell Stadium tomorrow ahead of his retirement this summer.

 

Amazingly, since he also scored 20 tries in 55 England caps, Cueto will perhaps be best remembered by fans of other clubs for a try that wasn’t – he controversially had a try ruled out by the TMO in the 2007 World Cup Final, which England narrowly lost to South Africa, for a foot in touch.

 

So tomorrow’s game will be the Falcons’ second visit to the ground formerly known as Salford City Stadium, home of the Salford Red Devils in Rugby League and Sale of union. The first trip there was, as I’ve said, in September 2013, when I got the feeling that it was all still a bit brand new. Not surprising perhaps, since it only opened ahead of the 2012 Super League season, but it was definitely quite shiny. The building was anyway, much of the site was still mud awaiting development.

 

It may have been the Falcons’ first away game back in the big time, and come on the back of a dour 0-21 defeat to Bath in our opening match, but the Falcons pulled off a good result by winning at Sale for the first time since April 2010. In front of a crowd of 6,876 (not too far off the Sharks’ average since they moved from Stockport’s Edgeley Park), Sale led 11-9 at half-time thanks to captain Dan Braid’s try and two penalties from Nick MacLeod, while three penalties by Phil Godman kept us in touch.

 

With tries at a premium in our opening games, there were also penalties in the second half, one apiece from MacLeod, Godman and his replacement Rory Clegg with thirteen minutes left, and the Falcons withstood big Shark pressure to hold on to a tight 14-15 win.

 

You can’t talk about Sale away without remembering one of the great league games in our history though. ‘Twas in April 2010 when the Falcons travelled to Stockport to take on relegation rivals Sale. The 30-32 scoreline tells barely half the story, the rest is here.

 

We have already met Sale twice this season. In the reverse Premiership fixture at KP in November, the Falcons led 13-8 with an hour gone but Danny Cipriani’s penalty, followed up by a try by Jonny Leota that the much-maligned England fly-half set up by catching his own chip over our defence, gave the Sharks a 13-18 win in front of the BT Sport cameras.

 

The Falcons gained a little revenge in a meaningless LV= Cup game, also in the North East, at the start of February. Alex Rogers, Josh Furno, Uili Kolo’ofai and Lee Smith (two) crossed in a 39-19 bonus point win.

 

Other than that, Sale have had a disappointing season in the league, their likely finish in the bottom half denying them another crack at the Champions Cup. This season’s failure to reach the last eight in the elite tournament could partially be put down to the ludicrous situation of three of last season’s semi-finalists – Saracens, Clermont Auvergne and Munster – being placed in the same group, Sale the apparent whipping boys. Steve Diamond’s side did lose all six games, including a 65-10 destruction in Limerick, but were competitive in all of their home games.

 

The LV= Cup campaign saw home wins over Scarlets and Wasps along with defeats at Leicester and (as previously mentioned) Newcastle, while Premiership form has been inconsistent. The Sharks have lost both of their last two games, at London Irish and most recently at home to Harlequins two weeks ago, 23-25, and are currently on a run of just one win from five games, that being a 23-6 home defeat of Gloucester in March. However, both Saracens (14-10) and Northampton (20-7) have lost in Salford in 2015. Wasps and Exeter have also returned south beaten this season, plus as expected London Welsh.

 

Those Sharks with a foot in both camps are three former Falcons academy players. Of the trio, only Darren Fearn played for the first team at KP, moving to Bedford in 2012 before joining Sale last summer. So far, the prop has only played four minutes for the Mancs, as a replacement at Leicester in the cup in November. Winger Charlie Ingall and back-five forward Josh Beaumont never made the Falcons’ senior side, but the former, son of former England and Question of Sport captain Bill, has earned plenty of plaudits in his 24 appearances (including 19 starts) this season.

 

 

The Falcons have made two changes from the team that lost narrowly to Gloucester. Calum Green and Adam Powell start in place of Josh Furno and Chris Harris, and Alex Tuilagi joins brother Andy on the (hopefully reinforced) bench along with Mike Blair and Richard Mayhew. The revitalised Rory Clegg continues at fly-half.

 

15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Ruki Tipuna, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Calum Green, 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 Richard Mayhew, 21 Mike Blair, 22 Alesana Tuilagi, 23 Anitelea Tuilagi.

 

 

Sale team: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Johnny Leota, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Chris Cusiter, 1 Eifion Lewis Roberts, 2 Tommy Taylor, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 4 Jonathan Mills, 5 Nathan Hines, 6 Dan Braid (c), 7 David Seymour, 8 Josh Beaumont.

 

Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Ciaran Parker, 19 Michael Paterson, 20 TJ Ioane, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Mike Haley.

 

 

Two wins to end the season would really give us a kick after another long losing run. A good omen is that before the game tomorrow, Mrs L and I will be nipping to see some friends in Chorlton. The last time we saw them was the day of the Falcons’ last win, away to London Irish in February.

 

Come on!

 

 

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

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

header

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)

Match preview: London Irish v Newcastle Falcons

StPatricksDayHappy

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)

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Leicester Tigers

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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)

Match preview: Saracens v Newcastle Falcons

Saracen_Land_of_the_Infidel

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)