New Zealand U20 21-16 England U20

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Saturday 20 June 2015 – 8.30pm (Italian time)

Stadio Giovanni Zini, Cremona, Italy

World Rugby Under 20 Championship Final

 

New Zealand won their first under-20 world championship in four years and ended England’s two-year reign with a 21-16 victory in Italy last night.

 

A physical performance from the young Kiwis was just about enough to wrestle the title from the English Rosebuds, who gave their all but didn’t quite have enough to beat the Baby Blacks.

 

England named an unchanged side from Monday’s semi-final, with a number of players who have Premiership experience, including captain James Chisholm and Newcastle Falcons’ Will Witty in the forward pack.

 

England were pretty dominant in the opening twenty minutes. Although their opening try came from centre Max Clark, the England forwards shoved the Baby Blacks’ pack around in the maul and particularly the scrum. Bristol’s Ellis Genge was showing up well on the loosehead side.

 

New Zealand’s only inroad came from a penalty by Otere Black in response to Clark’s try, but this was answered by Rory Jennings, England’s fly-half from Bath.

 

Vincent Tevae-Aso, just on as a replacement for TJ Faiane, broke through England’s defence for an unconverted try, and the game became a bit more even for a while.

 

England made their first replacement, the third in the first half hour in all, when Piers O’Conor came on for Aaron Morris. This is a trend I’ve noticed creeping into rugby more in the past year or so – more injuries in the first half. Hopefully it’s just coaches taking more precautions.

 

England captain Charlie Ewels dived offside on his own line to give Black the opportunity to put the Baby Blacks ahead for the first time and the New Zealand fly-half kicked between the posts to put his side 11-10 up.

 

It stayed like that until half-time, and despite England having probably been the better team in the first forty, they were in danger of losing the crown they have held for the past two years. Our own Will Witty hadn’t been too conspicuous but had got through some good breakdown work.

 

Akira Ioane drove over from a ruck early in the second half to extend the Baby Blacks’ lead to 18-10, but the powerful number eight was quickly sent to the bin for what the assistant referee considered an armless tackle on Jennings. The fly-half picked himself up and knocked over the penalty, reducing the deficit to five points.

 

With fifty minutes gone, Witty’s work was done, the Falcon being replaced by Harlequins’ Kieran Treadwell.

 

The game was almost turned on its head by a bit of a bizarre try by O’Conor. Howard Packman, whom I last saw being taken off at Franklin’s Gardens after injuring himself in a Chris Ashton-like try-scoring dive, took a high ball, broke upfield and then dribbled forward. O’Conor chased with Blake Gibson, who dived but didn’t get the ball, and the England replacement gathered and spun to touch down.

 

Unfortunately, O’Conor had been slightly in front of Packman when the Northampton winger kicked the ball, and after some assistance from his TMO, Australian referee Will Houston disallowed the score.

 

Jennings’ third penalty of the night cut the deficit further, but just before Ioane returned to the field, Black returned his team’s lead to five points with a penalty for England hanging on in the tackle.

 

With twenty minutes left, England looked like they might be a little devoid of ideas, struggling to cope New Zealand’s physicality in defence and attack.

 

The game threatened to fizzle out a bit, with not a lot happening apart from fireworks outside the stadium and missed penalties by each team.

 

England looked to attack with five minutes left but Paul Hill’s pass was too far in front of Packman and went forwards. New Zealand then penned England back in their own half for the rest of the game, a scrum with ninety seconds to go allowing the Baby Blacks to run the clock down by keeping the ball tight, and finally kicking out to secure the trophy for Kiwis for the first time since 2011.

 

 

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

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England 73-12 Barbarians

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For the first time in six years, two current Falcons were in an England team today. Though the annual Twickenham meeting with the Barbarians isn’t a test match, and the England XV contained perhaps only one first choice player in Joe Launchbury, it was a great opportunity for Kieran Brookes to start his Northampton career as a World Cup player.

 

For our other man in a white shirt, Mark Wilson, today was a chance to announce himself on the national stage after two outstanding seasons since the Falcons returned to the Premiership.

 

Brookes was joined in the front row by Matt Mullan and Luke Cowan-Dickie, both also battling for World Cup spots, while Wilson backed up the scrum with Josh Beaumont and Jack Clifford in a back row that could yet take the field for England in 2019.

 

Both Wilson and Brookes made their presence felt early on with some tackles, as the home players looked to press their World Cup claims.

 

Cowan-Dickie’s great line into a gap, drawing in the last defender allowed Marland Yarde to score the first try after ten minutes. Both Wilson and Brookes were involved in the build-up to the try; Brookes in particular popped a nice pass to Henry Slade so the Exeter man could unleash his team-mate for the assist. Brad Thorn, the Barbarians’ soon-to-retire captain, got the invitational team on the scoreboard with an unconverted try.

 

Thomas Waldrom, on the Barbarians side but not completely out of contention for the World Cup after a fantastic season alongside Slade and Cowan-Dickie at Sandy Park, was sent to the bin in the middle of the half and England took advantage by driving a lineout towards the line. Leicester captain Ed Slater touched down the try, and Danny Cipriani kicked the conversion to put England 17-5 up after 22 minutes.

 

The third try, just before Waldrom returned to the field, was made mainly by some lovely feet by Elliot Daly, dancing past the Barbarians’ full-back before setting up Clifford to run in unopposed. If England want a like-for-like replacement for Jonathan Joseph in the World Cup squad, Daly must be the leading contender.

 

It took just over half an hour for the bonus-point try (were this a league) to come, Yarde finding himself trapped on the left touchline and dribbling inside for Christian Wade to run onto, putting England 31-5 up. Not bad against a strong Barbarians side, many of whom beat an Ireland side containing more first-choice players than England’s last week.

 

Yarde and Wade combined again just minutes later for try number five, Daly’s dummy run confusing the defence so Cipriani could find Yarde, and the Harlequin passed to Wade on the right for the Wasp to run in behind the posts.

 

Wade almost got a ten-minute hat-trick, but was hauled down a metre out but his one-handed offload to Cipriani. Brookes played a big part on the try, having legged it after Daly’s long kick he tackled David Smith and contributed to England turning over in the 22. The half-time score was 45-5, almost as many after half a game as England scored against France in the Six Nations.

 

Both Newcastle boys had shown up well in the first forty, Brookes probably more obviously despite there being few scrums, but Wilson was also quietly putting in a decent shift in attack and defence.

 

After half-time, it took less than two minutes for England to bring up 50 points. Slade hung on Cowan-Dickie’s shoulder as the hooker drove forward, and as the hooker was tackled he offloaded to his fellow Chief, Slade showing-and-going over the line.

 

The Barbarians had a rare attack and as England tackled in the left corner, George Smith dropped his pass to Waldrom but the Exeter number eight picked up off the floor and dived over from a metre out. Referee George Clancy went upstairs (actually I guess it’s outside) to check Smith’s pass, and though it looked to me to be backwards, the officials deemed the evidence inconclusive and so the try was given. The difference was back to 40 points at 52-12.

 

It threatened to be a short-lived comeback as Wade stormed after a long kick and beat the defender to pick up, but trying to touchdown one-handed, the Wasps winger lost control and dropped the ball forwards, missing out on a hat-trick.

 

Things quietened down for a little while, before Cipriani made a great tackle on David Smith to prevent another Barbarians try, but England then came upfield. Wilson and replacements Jon Fisher and Shane Geraghty combined to set up Josh Beaumont to race in for another England try.

 

Thorn’s last act in the game, with 70 minutes gone, was a big late tackle on Slade that saw the former All Black second-rower shown a yellow card, the big man laughing as he walked to the benches. In context of a non-competitive game and Thorn’s impending retirement, that wasn’t too bad, as the tackle wasn’t really dangerous.

 

Wade finally got the hat-trick try his attacking threat deserved with six minutes to go, chipping ahead and battling with Ugo Monye for the loose ball before touching down just over the line. Cipriani’s conversion brought the score to 66-12.

 

After the kick, commentator Stuart Barnes named Cipriani as his man of the match, a fair choice after a perfect kicking display (one penalty and nine conversions as well as a try) and a creative show with the ball by the Sale fly-half. Cipriani’s selection at fly-half with Slade at centre suggests that he was in pole position to be a third ten in the World Cup squad if Stuart Lancaster is sensible and decides to take cover for George Ford and Owen Farrell, and he did his chances no harm this afternoon.

 

Cipriani had the last word, dummying his way in for England’s tenth try down the left. Converting his own try, Cipriani made the final score 73-12.

 

The Barbarians did not play well, perhaps due to many playing in Limerick on Thursday night, perhaps due to not having lots of time to train together, although in the past the latter hasn’t stopped Barbarians teams beating stronger international teams than this England side, indeed it didn’t in Ireland last week. However, England were very good at starving their opponents of possession and took their chances clinically.

 

Tougher tests lie ahead in the World Cup warm-ups and then the tournament itself, but for now, Lancaster et al will be satisfied with most of what they saw today and several players provided food for thought, notably Wade, Cipriani, Slater, Cowan-Dickie and Daly.

 

Mark Wilson played the whole 80 minutes and was industrious throughout, getting himself into breakdown after breakdown and making a couple of good runs. Surely, my fellow Geordie Cumbrian will finally be in the Saxons squad next season.

 

 

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 37-21 Harlequins

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Saturday 16 May 2015 – 3.30pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #22

 

Look at the scoreline. Just beautiful, is it not? It’s taken a season of entertainment, frustration, gutting in Gloucester, excruciating in Exeter, more excruciating in Exeter, ecstasy at home to Exeter. Finally, a bit of madness in May when the Falcons scored five tries and got five points against Harlequins.

 

It was fully deserved. The Falcons were much the better team yesterday, and took apart a decent team for the first time in probably a couple of years. Was it our most dominant Premiership performance since the equivalent game in March 2011?

 

I’m certainly struggling to think of another one.

 

Everything just seemed to work yesterday. Even the tries we conceded involved individual errors, rather than problems in the system. Our attack was a joy to watch, from the rolling mauls that forced Richard Mayhew and Scott Lawson overs the line, to Mike Blair and Adam Powell’s breaks. Tom Catterick and JP Socino provided a great creative axis in midfield, Alesana Tuilagi was at his steamrolling best, and the forwards laid the foundation with a dominant performance in the set piece.

 

The only disappointments in attack from my point of view were Zach Kibirige never really getting chance to run at Quins during his welcome appearance from the bench, and Kieran Brookes not making it to the line when he made that fantastic break in the first half. Let’s not have any criticism of his ambitious offload, Brookes deserves credit for being in the position to do it in the first place.

 

It was good that we had a big crowd to see yesterday’s big performance, I would hope that it has swayed a few season ticket waverers. There was a real happy atmosphere around the ground I felt, and it’s not always been that way even this season. It’s always better to have a valiant defeat than losing a damp squib, but when you finally add a win to the big effort and the entertainment, you get a lively atmosphere that people will want to be a part of.

 

The challenge now is to replicate what we saw yesterday on a more consistent basis in 2015/16, and we will have the advantage of a long pre-season and plenty of games (Georgia and four in the Kings of the North) to do so. That performance and win has been coming, and now we’ve seen it, we need to do it more often so climb up the table next season. Of course we won’t score five tries in every win, but we should take great confidence that we can take on good sides and beat them well, so we can certainly beat them narrowly too. Turning just a few of the bonus-point defeats into wins will make a huge difference.

 

I’m excited now for the future in a way I probably haven’t been for a lot of years, because this season we have seen consistent efforts for growth and improvement. It’s slow, and there will be setbacks, but we’re really getting there.

 

Thanks for reading this season, I’ll be knocking around over the close season still sometimes, but until the sevens in August, have a great summer!

 

This weekend’s Eddie Stobarts:

Kayla

Heidi Valerie

 

 

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

Match reaction: Sale Sharks 34-28 Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 9 May 2015 – 2.00pm

AJ Bell Stadium, Salford

Aviva Premiership #21

 

So many times this season we’ve seen the Falcons play excellently, but just fall short of victory. Yesterday’s scoreline might suggest more of the same, however I think the result flattered us yesterday, and on another day Sale would have ran out more than comfortable winners.

 

On a day that saw the home faithful celebrate their departing winger Mark Cueto, the Sharks legend was among the Mancs’ try-scorers as his team’s traditional fast and penetrative attack tore into the Falcons’ slack defence. What a day for our tackling to go so awry!

 

What really confused me was that, after five minutes (apologies to fans who were there, you may well have heard me say this at least twice!), I could see Sale throwing four or five players into every breakdown while the Falcons had maybe one supporting player. Fair enough in defence, yet Sale still found gaps to run in three fast tries. In attack, it’s a crazy tactic, and we turned over a lot of ball in the tackle.

 

Nobody on the pitch seemed to realise this. Somebody off the pitch must have, as after half-time the Falcons competed better at the breakdown, but why not say point it out when bringing water on?!

 

Sale were massively intense and the Falcons just couldn’t handle it a lot of the time.

 

Our lineout was a bit of a mess, though eagle-eyed fans will have seen why it isn’t always the hooker’s fault – one throw, Kane Thompson slipped when moving into position and the ball sailed over his head at what would have been a comfortable catching height. Blargh.

 

It seemed to me that most of our defence played too high up, in the faces of the Sale line and thus one break through a gap – and there were a lot – immediately puts us on the back foot. Maybe it’s an understandable strategy when you have Rory Clegg playing, because in defence he often stands as a second full-back, but yesterday he and Simon Hammersley weren’t able to put up a good enough last line of defence.

 

To be fair to Hammers, yesterday in attack he looked more like the player we saw in the first month of the season, taking the ball from deep and testing Sale’s defence. They were equal to it, but you have to have a go.

 

His opposite number, Tom Arscott, was my man of the match. Now 27 and at his fifth professional club, Arscott could be labeled a journeyman, but he showed some fantastic turns of pace and must have beaten a lot of defenders yesterday. After just the first ten minutes, I worried every time he got the ball.

 

Josh Beaumont also had a driving game from the base of the scrum, as we expected. I don’t know if he wanted to move back to the North West anyway, but he could go down as one who slipped through the Falcons’ net.

 

From our point of view, JP Socino continued his return to lively form, and had a good cameo at fly-half at the end of the game, scoring a try and two conversions and showing more invention than Clegg had. Not having a go at Clegg, he was great at Gloucester, but not so much today.

 

Mark Wilson was our best player in my view, just doing the basics well as he always does, getting the tackles in and driving forward with the ball. Yes, it’s basics, but not every player does it so often.

 

Like some other teams have, I think Sale denied Sinoti Sinoti the space to really run at them, and as such he wasn’t as dangerous as we’d like. His injury at the end, possibly a concussion but certainly nasty-looking, shouldn’t be messed with. After a season in which our snaky winger has played a lot of rugby, send him on holiday tomorrow and hopefully he’ll be fit to play for Samoa against Scotland at SJP in the World Cup.

 

Right, I think that’s all for me now, except to say this is the end of another season of great away trips. Thank you to everyone we have enjoyed our trips with, from Oxford to Barnet to Gloucester and stops between Hawick and Twickenham. Looking forward to one last roar against Harlequins on Saturday.

 

We have to end the season with a win. Don’t we?

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir: @SouthStandChoir)

Edinburgh 13-19 Gloucester

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Friday 1 May 2015 – 7.45pm

Twickenham Stoop, London

European Challenge Cup Final

 

After a few years of controversy and smokey negotiations, a qualifying competition that meant some teams didn’t know where they would be travelling to three weeks before a fixture, and two-week breaks between the knockout stages, it was finally time for the first European final under the new regime last night.

 

Gloucester, the great underachievers of English rugby in recent seasons and winners of the Challenge Cup in 2006, were looking for their first trophy since beating our Falcons in the 2011 LV= Cup Final. Their opponents, Edinburgh, were the first Scottish side to reach a European final and looking to become the first club team from north of the border to win a major professional trophy.

 

Although our boys were well beaten (trounced, you might say) at Exeter in the quarter-finals a month ago, there was one Falcon at the finalwith Mike Blair in the BT Sport commentary box. Former KP favourite Tim Visser was on the wing for Edinburgh in one of his last games for the Scots before he moves to the Stoop next season. Fraser “Sunshine on Leith accent” McKenzie was among Alan Solomons’ replacements.

 

Sam Hidalgo-Clyne got Edinburgh on the scoreboard in the third minute after John Afoa was penalised for killing the ball, the perfect start for the Scots, though before the first ten minutes was done Greig Laidlaw had brought Gloucester back on terms.

 

Soon after, the first try came following a great break from Jonny May through the middle, and the England winger offloaded to the onrushing Billy Twelvetrees. The Gloucester captain crossed under the posts for his third try in a week (we remember the first two, don’t we?) and the score had swung to 3-10 in favour of the Cherry ‘n’ Whites.

 

May almost scored one of the tries of the season later, taking a loose ball just metres outside his own 22 and storming through the field, eventually being tapped five metres from the line. His flinging pass couldn’t find the supporting Twelvetrees, but Edinburgh lock Anton Bresler was sin-binned in the ruck and Gloucester kept the pressure on. A succession of scrums ended with a penalty to Edinburgh after the packs collapsed again, to Scottish cheers of relief.

 

The team formerly known as the Gunners went on the attack, and the final pass flew into touch five metres out on the right but referee Jerome Garces had already awarded a penalty. Hidalgo-Clyne knocked over the three points seconds before Bresler returned to the field, meaning that Edinburgh had gained three points while down to fourteen men. Laidlaw quickly cancelled that penalty out though.

 

The half-time ended 6-13 to Gloucester.

 

The south-westerners began the second half with intent, putting pressure on the Edinburgh 22 before Gareth Evans knocked on. Gloucester dominated possession in the first ten minutes of the second half and finally got their reward with a third Laidlaw penalty. Edinburgh fly-half Phil Burleigh kicked his restart out on the full, and after another quick penalty went over, remarkably the next restart went straight out too. It’s those times that you might start to think that it’s not going to be your night.

 

Tim Visser got his first real chance to have a go at Gloucester, his chip over the defence went dead just before the winger could get to it, although I thought there might have been a pull on the Flying Dutchman but the officials disagreed. There was a TMO intervention however, Gloucester’s Ross Moriarty being sent to the bin for kneeing a prone opponent in the back. It was a great spot of a bad foul.

 

13 points down with 25 minutes to go, and a man up, Edinburgh really needed to get back into the game quickly. The Scots found their way to a rare trip into the Gloucester 22 and won a penalty, going for the corner – they needed a try really at this point. Unfortunately for the men in black, after their driving maul collapsed, the ball was knocked on.

 

As Edinburgh put together their best backs move of the game, which ultimately ended in Gloucester touching down a kick behind the tryline, the play was again brought back and cherry centre Bill Meakes was shown a red card on the TMO’s recommendation for a high tackle off the ball. Twelvetrees may have been shocked to hear that his centre partner was being permanently dismissed, but it was a pretty horrendous excuse for a tackle!

 

Edinburgh had about a minute of two-man advantage, and finally the blacks got their lifeline as Ross Ford picked up from the back of a ruck powered over for a vital try. Hidalgo-Clyne added the extras and, with fifteen minutes to go, it was game on!

 

Gloucester had to defend valiantly in the face of some strong Scottish pressure, and did so, winning two penalties and getting a lineout in the Edinburgh 22. A six-point lead is dangerous – it’s big enough for a bit of comfort, but one break and a try under the posts and you’re going to be behind.

 

Five minutes to go now and Gloucester attacked. The shedheads were in fine voice in south-west London, roaring on the Cherry and Whites as they kept the ball tight. Down to two minutes – not enough time for two kicks now, so only an Edinburgh try could change the result. But even then, they had to get the ball.

 

One minute to go and it’s a Gloucester penalty for offside! Laidlaw took the penalty, and by the time he sent the kick deep into the darkness the clock was on zero – it flew wide but it didn’t matter, the game was over and Gloucester had their first trophy for four years with a score of 13-19!

 

Jonny May was named man of the match, however I’d have given the award to Laidlaw, who was a livewire all evening for Gloucester and kept a cool head throughout a topsy-turvy second half.

 

Edinburgh did well to make a real game of it when they looked down and out early in the second half, but well done to Gloucester, worthy winners of this competition and they now go into the play-offs for a Champions Cup place.

 

It’s the big one tomorrow night, Clermont Auvergne v Toulon to decide 2015’s European champions. That one could be totally dour, or it could be a belter like tonight. It’s been a tricky first season for the new European competitions, off the field at least, lets hope for a classic match on the pitch to top it off.

 

 

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

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)

Match reaction: London Irish 22-21 Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 28 March 2015 – 3.00pm

Madejski Stadium, Reading

Aviva Premiership #18

 

Yesterday’s one-point loss to London Irish most likely condemns the Falcons to eleventh position in the Premiership for a third time in five seasons, making it five years since we achieved a finish higher than this.

 

We’re seven points behind Irish with four games to go after a game that we could and perhaps should have won. The Falcons were asleep for the opening period in which we conceded two tries and once we did put some good possession together, especially in the second half, we just couldn’t create enough chances. Often, the play just went from side to side.

 

Sinoti Sinoti battled valiantly but struggled against an up-front defence that denied him space, though he was unlucky to have a try chalked off for a forward pass. Noah Cato didn’t get enough ball to be effective in attack, and though Adam Powell made plenty of metres, all too often we weren’t able to back him up in later phases. When Chris Harris came off the bench the Falcons looked more dangerous but mainly because of his pace on the right wing.

 

We can discuss the referee’s controversial sin-binning of Josh Furno, possibly for a tackle that looked dangerous but turned out not to be or possibly for “being punched”. But I’d hope that the coaching team will look at the video and realise that you can’t fail to break the gain line and make lots of handling errors, and expect to beat any decent team, even one that is just a few points above you in the table.

 

That happens. More concerning is the early slackness, which has happened a few times recently and needs looking at.

 

On the positive side, we had a couple of standout performers who will have given Dean Richards things to consider. Powell was probably our best player, and since he was in the inside centre position for much of the match it will be interesting to see who plays at twelve and thirteen next week with Juan Pablo Socino having enjoyed a great debut season at Kingston Park.

 

Richard Mayhew was the pick of the forwards for me, which will make back row selection interesting since he has been a fringe player for much of the season and Ally Hogg has recently signed a new contract.

 

I don’t think anyone had a shocker, though Dom Barrow had one of his quieter games in the second row.

 

We scored a couple of nice tries through Harris and Powell and that showed the potential we have in attack. As the stats showed recently, our attack has improved out of sight this season, but the defence has been pretty much the same, suggesting that we need to tighten up to win the close games like this one. There have been three points between us and Irish in the two Premiership games this season, but we have lost both, making a six-point swing to them in the table and of course in such a competitive league that makes all the difference.

 

There have been a few murmurs of discontent again in the last couple of weeks, and eleventh place in the table won’t silence all of them. Results need to improve, we all know that, and at some point (maybe this time next year) the talking will have to stop and the pudding will need to be tasted. But for now, the tactics and squad required to take us forward are still being developed and moulding them into a regular winning formula takes time.

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It’s 364 days since Worcester at home. Surely no Falcons fan would deny that we are in better shape now than back then?

 

Onwards and upwards!

 

 

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