Saracens XV

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After the Edinburgh v Gloucester game on Friday night, BT Sport aired a half-hour show titled Saracens XV, following Sarries in the days leading up to their meeting with Harlequins at Wembley in March.

 

The show was fascinating, showing interviews with coaches Alex Sanderson and our own Joe Shaw, and several players, including David Strettle, Jamie George, Billy Vunipola and Alastair Hargreaves. Sanderson talked about building relationships with the players as individuals, Jacques Burger showed his family, and Petrus Du Plessis said that the family side of Saracens really helps the players give their all for the club.

 

Saracens have been condemned over the past five years for bringing in lots of South African players, signing lots of star players, allegedly breaking the salary cap etc., but whatever they’ve done, it has worked and they have consistently been one of the very top teams in England and Europe in recent seasons.

 

One European final, several semi-finals, this season’s LV= Cup and the 2011 Premiership title. In the last four years, they have been knocked out of the Heineken/Champions Cup by one of Saturday’s finalists, Toulon (in last year’s final) and Clermont Auvergne (the 2012 quarter-final, and the last four in 2013 and 2015).

 

You don’t become that successful by simply buying in mercenaries; you do it by blending talent with work ethic and team spirit. Talent, you can buy. Work ethic and team spirit, you cannot buy, it has to be created by the right people.

 

In training for the Harlequins game, captain Hargreaves is shown talking to the squad about the importance of sticking together during the match, trusting teammates and backing them up. Later, Chris Ashton talked about not wanting to let people down. That is a culture Saracens have built and it is something every club should aspire to.

 

Not everything that Sarries have done I have agreed with. Talking about playing a competitive home game in South Africa, playing one in Brussels, that’s taking the games away from the bread-and-butter fans. I don’t see the real benefit of them, but I guess Saracens must have done their research and planned how the Brussels game would benefit them.

 

The move to Barnet, from the sterile concrete tower of Vicarage Road, has helped give Saracens a real identity. The atmosphere for the Falcons’ visit there in February was fantastic. The ground has its drawbacks, for example the athletic track and the disjointed stands, but it’s a good day out, from what you expect (to get a beer and a pie quickly) to what you don’t (the Pioneers everywhere, who are very helpful and genuinely seem to be loving their part in the Saracens family).

 

The vibe I got from the interviews during Saracens XV, was of a group of players who genuinely enjoy what they are doing, genuinely love being part of Saracens, and genuinely want to be successful. Fantastic. I’d love to think that Dean Richards is bringing this kind of culture to the Falcons, and I think slowly it is coming together.

 

When the Falcons get to the point where they don’t even worry about the result, because they have 100% belief in what they are doing, 100% belief in every teammate, and 100% belief that they can attack superbly and defend resolutely, leaving nothing on the pitch, then the results will take care of themselves. It takes years to get there. But we can get there, and God willing we will get there.

 

By the way, Saracens beat Harlequins 42-14.

 

 

(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 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)

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)

Match preview: London Irish v Newcastle Falcons

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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 reaction: Newcastle Falcons 12-16 Leicester Tigers

photo (26)

 

Sunday 8 March 2015 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #17

 

What undid the Falcons against Leicester today? Two things for me: a failure to score when we were well on top in the first twenty minutes of the second half – including those two lost lineouts in quick succession – and our team seeming to lose their heads in the final quarter of the game.

 

I’m not going to blame the officials, had the Falcons scored another try we’d have won anyway and we were certainly lucky to avoid a scrum yellow card, however you cannot report on this game without discussing Leicester’s try. A lot of people are convinced that Mathew Tait knocked on as he and brother Alex challenged for a high kick on our line, and the ball certainly went forward, but I couldn’t tell either live or on the screen.

 

What I thought at the time though, and still believe, is that once the two full-backs had come down to the ground again, referee Luke Pearce blew his whistle. Why I don’t know, it’s probably not important. But I’m convinced that Mr Pearce blew his whistle before Tommy Bell touched down.

 

So imagine my surprise that he then not only consults his TMO, but awards a try! A try that was scored when, I thought, the game had already been stopped!

 

If I am wrong about this, I will apologise. But at the moment, I believe what I saw and heard, and if I am right, then I expect the Falcons will be making a formal complaint over such a catastrophic refereeing failure.

 

Right, now that that’s out of the way, we can talk some more positive aspects of a great day out at Kingston Park. A crowd of over 9,000 – fantastic! Well done Falcons on that. A cracking atmosphere those 9,000 made too. The South Stand bar was rammed before kick-off, the truck in the south-east corner less so, fortunately. It’s the first time I’ve used that bar but hopefully it will become a permanent fixture at KP.

 

On the pitch, our lads were aggressive from the start and tore into Leicester, clearly looking to rattle the visitors on a blustery and chilly day in the North East. Chilly at ground level anyway, up in the back of the packed South Stand there was barely room for our breath, never mind the wind! For most of the first half, we had the Tiggers under the cosh and 12-6 was a very good half-time lead.

 

Sinoti Sinoti’s try was a peach, the work of a guy who is bubbling with confidence in his own ability. I’d like him to get his head down more often and go through players when it’s the better option, but you can’t deny that he is great at getting round players and knows how to finish. That said, Scott Lawson is in cracking form and certainly deserved his score too.

 

The scrum was a big worry before kick-off and we often did end up going backwards and conceding penalties, but I don’t think this was a contributory factor in losing as there weren’t really any scrums in the 22s that resulted in big moments. Perhaps that’s why we didn’t concede a team yellow card.

 

It is ironic that at the start of the season we were worried about the loosehead side, where Eric Fry has turned out to be a good find, but confident about the tighthead side, where we have lost two internationals, a future star and a competent Premiership player to injury. You just can’t legislate for that, but Alex Rogers gives it a good go and he had a good game in the loose today I thought.

 

Other than the winning try, what annoys me is that we lost two lineouts in the Tigers 22 in quick succession when we were very much on top early in the second half. The first was to the front and the second to the back, both were read by Leicester which means you can’t blame the hooker (though because it wasn’t Matt Thompson, nobody will anyway), and it just happens. Perhaps we needed to mix it up a bit more, I don’t know. I’m annoyed that it happened, more than annoyed at the players for it. Great opportunities wasted.

 

Then after the hour-mark, our heads seemed to go. Silly mistakes began creeping in, we didn’t seem to have the same intensity going forward, and Leicester made more headway into our half.

 

Maybe the players were tiring. Apart from Josh Furno for Kane Thompson at half-time, I don’t think we made any substitutions until the last few minutes (and Leicester threw the bench on far earlier), maybe that contributed, who knows? Leicester have minds of steel, so as long as they are in touch at sixty or seventy minutes, they still feel they can win and go for it, and they did. We’re improving, but we’re just not at that level yet.

 

Oh well, things are still going in the right direction. “But how long do we just ‘go in the right direction’, when do we get there?” you may ask. It’s only been five months since we were on a twenty-game losing run, and it’s less than a year since The Farce of Worcester, for heaven’s sake! These things take time. If we don’t win another game before the end of the season, I won’t consider 2014/15 a ‘success’, but it has already been a dramatic improvement on 2013/14, and there’s no reason we can’t improve again next year.

 

Now we have a three-week break before going to London Irish for their St Patrick’s Day Party, a must-win game really to put substance to the style of our improvement. Hopefully the Falcons will keep faith in what they are doing, keep attacking and scoring tries, and not neglect that in the search for the ability to consistently close out tight games.

 

That will come. I’m sure of it. Onwards we go!

 

 

Today’s Eddie Stobarts on the drive over from Cumbrialand this morning:

Betty Mary

Lakota Skye (not the first time I’ve seen this one I think, it’s a bit memorable!)

Isabella Mae

 

 

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