Saturday 25 April 2015 – 3.00pm
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)