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)

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 reaction: Newcastle Falcons 39-19 Sale Sharks

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Sunday 1 February 2015 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

LV= Cup Pools 2 and 3 #3

 

The first half today was never going to be as bad as that against the Dragons two weeks ago – you’d hope. But instead, today it was the Falcons who had a try bonus point in the bank before half-time.

 

Overall, a good day at the office for our lads today. You can’t argue with a 39-19 victory, outscoring the opposition five-to-one on tries. Probably of most concern to the management will be our ill-discipline in the first half. That allowed Sale to score four penalties and stay in the game for a long time, when they rarely threatened the business end of our 22.

 

There were also some wasted chances, most notably when Danny Barnes came inside just metres out on the left rather than taking a clear run to the line. But on the whole, the home supporters will have gone home happy – at the game more so than the temperature.

 

Yes, even by Kingston Park’s standards, it was cold today. How cold was it? Very cold.

 

So credit to both teams for putting on a good running game. Apart from that little ten(?) shot bout of kick tennis in the first half, but you can find positives in everything and we gave the kicks a good cheer by the end. Rory Clegg didn’t cover himself in glory with some kicks from hand, but I thought he ran the game well from fly-half, and was denied a try by just inches when he dummied a penalty and dived for the line. Some quiet difficult kicks sent over too.

 

We had a lot of good individual shows today. Eric Fry, Alex Rogers, Josh Furno and Lee Smith were perhaps the best players, I thought. It’s such a shame that Uili Kolo’ofai had to go off before half-time, after scoring a try, I wonder if we will ever see him fit long enough to get a run in the side as he looks a useful player.

 

I think the score probably reflected the play, as the Falcons had most of the territory and for most of the game looked far more dangerous. We kept knocking on the door in the first half and were rewarded with four tries, including a great team try from left to right for Lee Smith to score the second. Sale didn’t really get into our 22 much in the first forty and so were restricted to knocking penalties over. By half-time the game looked over at 26-12.

 

Sale came back and were more threatening after the break, and finally got their reward with a consolation try. However, the Falcons defended strongly overall and will probably not be too disappointed to have conceded, as we did score five ourselves!

 

There wasn’t much tension in the crowd today and that made for a subdued atmosphere, bolstered by the voices of kids in the West Stand. We were already out of this cup before kick-off and (did I already mention?) it was cold, plus while the game was enjoyable, there weren’t perhaps a lot of moments to cause the crowd to get über-excited bar the tries.

 

More interesting times lie ahead, and probably not at London Irish in the final cup pool game on Saturday. It’s all about building for Exeter now, and today was a good start.

 

 

Interestingly, I’ve just noticed that today is the second anniversary of Cross Keys. One of the best rugby nights I’ve ever had, and one of the biggest hangovers I’ve ever had. It’ll be a long time before I forget either.

 

 

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Sale Sharks

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Sunday 1 February 2015 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

LV= Cup Pools 2 and 3 #3

 

A European Challenge Cup quarter-final spot has been secured, and now attention turns to the final group rounds of this season’s LV= Cup.

 

The pool stage wraps up at the Madejski Stadium against London Irish a week tomorrow, after Sale visit Kingston Park for the second time this season on Sunday. We have met the Sharks regularly in cup competition down the years, most famously in the 2004 final at Twickenham and a semi-final at KP three years previously. The two northern sides have also met thrice in the Anglo-Welsh competition.

 

Perhaps the most interesting of those three games was in January 2012, when Gary Gold took charge of the Falcons for the first time after replacing Alan Tait as manager. Optimism was high among the 4,000 home fans in attendance but we were silenced by Nick MacLeod’s early try that he himself converted, putting Sale 3-7 up. It took until the half-hour for the Falcons to retake the lead, when Mark Wilson’s converted try was added to two earlier Jimmy Gopperth penalties, and the Falcons led 13-7 at half-time.

 

In the second half, we pulled away with further tries by Rob Vickers, Tim Swinson and Gopperth, gaining a bonus-point win in the first game of a new era. Gary Gold’s first Falcons squad, only five of whom are still at KP, was: J Gopperth, R Shortland, C Uys, J Fitzpatrick, S Hufanga, J Hodgson, C Pilgrim, G Shiells, R Vickers, J Hall, A Fondse, T Swinson, A Hogg, W Welch, M Wilson (Replacements: M Mayhew, J Golding, A Wells, R Boyle, T Tu’ifua, R Mayhew, W Chudley, T Bedford).

 

We have a great record in cup combat against Sale, with only one defeat down the years – a bit of a rubbish loss in 2006.

 

Gosforth/Falcons v Sale in cups:

29/09/1973         North Road                         RFU Cup Preliminary       W18-6

03/04/1976         Heywood Road John Player Cup SF                            W12-3

06/01/2001         Kingston Park                     Tetley’s Bitter Cup SF     W37-25

17/04/2004         Twickenham                       Powergen Cup Final        W37-33

02/10/2005         Kingston Park                     Powergen Cup                  W34-9

29/09/2006         Edgeley Park                      EDF Energy Cup               L5-28

29/01/2012         Kingston Park                     LV= Cup                              W37-7

 

 

After a heavy defeat at Northampton and a narrow home reverse against Cardiff Blues, the Falcons have but a slight mathematical chance to win our pool in this cup and get through to the semi-finals. With just a point from two games, we trail Leicester by eight points.

 

Pool 3:

Leicester 9 points

Wasps 7 points

Newcastle 1 point

Scarlets 1 point

 

Sale began their LV= Cup campaign with a 32-29 victory over Wasps in Salford, MacLeod’s penalty with five minutes left sealing a bonus-point win after Alex Lozowski had equalised minutes earlier. Then then went to Welford Road and were soundly beaten 29-13 by Leicester, despite leading 3-13 at half-time. Those results mean that Sale have five points, and sit third in Pool 2 behind Northampton on nine and Cardiff Blues on eight.

 

 

The weekend’s other fixtures relevant to us are:
Leicester v Northampton (Tomorrow 3pm)

Scarlets v London Irish (Tomorrow 6.30pm)

Wasps v Cardiff Blues (Sunday 1pm)

 

On Sunday, I would like to see the Falcons go out to put on a good, attacking show and win the game, and then hopefully do the same against London Irish next weekend, in preparation for returning to league action. These games don’t really matter as we aren’t likely to go through, but the best teams (and we aspire to be among them) don’t throw games, every game matters to them. I subscribe to the theory that if you perform when it doesn’t matter, then you’re far more likely to do so when it does matter.

 

 

The Falcons have named an interesting team for Sunday, with rare starts for Rob Hawkins and Alex Rogers in the front row, and Uili Kolo’ofai has recovered from another injury to start at eight. I don’t think anyone would have predicted that we’d see a three-quarter line of Lee Smith, Jamie Helleur, Anitelea Tuilagi and Danny Barnes in a game this season! Phil Godman is also fit again and is on the bench.

 

Falcons team: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Lee Smith, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 Anitelea Tuilagi, 11 Danny Barnes, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Ruki Tipuna; 1 Eric Fry, 2 Rob Hawkins, 3 Alex Rogers, 4 Josh Furno, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Andy Saull (c), 8 Uili Kolo’ofai.

 

Replacements 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Rob Vickers, 18 Mark Irving, 19 Sean Robinson, 20 Ally Hogg, 21 Mike Blair, 22 Phil Godman, 23 Simon Hammersley.

 

 

Sale team: Luke McLean, Tom Brady, Andy Forsyth, Sam Bedlow, Phil Mackenzie, Joe Ford, Nathan Fowles, Alberto de Marchi, Tommy Taylor, Ciaran Parker, Andrei Ostrikov, George Nott, Mark Easter, TJ Ioane, Viliami Fihaki.

 

Replacements: Shalva Mamukashvili, Maxim Cobilas, James Flynn, Nathan Hines, Andy Hughes, Will Cliff, Nick Macleod, Sam James.

 

 

So I’m guessing that team we’re putting out on Sunday won’t start at Sandy Park in a fortnight, but it’s a good opportunity to get some game time into fringe and recovering players’ legs, and hopefully get a win to make up for the Newport game.

 

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

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 13-18 Sale Sharks

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Sunday 30 November 2014 – 3.15pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

Aviva Premiership #9

 

I had expected to have an afternoon in front of the fire and a few cans today, while watching the game on BT, but about 24 hours before kick-off Mrs Leipy decided I should drive over and watch it live. I didn’t put up too much resistance, not least because the second half of Kendal v Kirkby Lonsdale was about to kick-off so I wasn’t up for a long debate.

 

After I braved the winter sun and wet roads in The Village of the Damned, the M6 was quite quiet, I even got into the left lane on occasion! The A69 was a bit busier, and I missed the turn-off into Westerhope, but still managed to walk the dog (a real live dog, not ‘drink a Brown Ale’) before lunch and kick-off.

 

The Falcons were dealt a blow before kick-off with Oliver Tomaszczyk failing a fitness test, so Scott Wilson started. That was not a disaster in itself, but it meant we had two on-loan (Alex Rogers is practically a Falcons player though, he’s on the bench every week) among the replacements. Kane Thompson and Josh Furno created slightly more interest among supporters.

 

Today’s crowd was never going to match that for the heavily-marketed game against Gloucester, but boosted by a load of youngsters playing for their clubs (including the mighty Kendal!), five and a half thousand is a decent turnout considering the game was on the tellybox. The atmosphere was canny too, particularly in the second half.

 

The Falcons did well early doors, getting a try through a bit of solo magic from Juan Pablo Socino, but after we went 10-5 up Sale really took over I thought and we struggled to get the early tempo back. Our best chance looked to be the two winger Sinoti Sinoti and Alesana Tuilagi, both of whom looked threatening in attack, but they weren’t backed up by the rest of the team breaking the gain line too and it was interesting that in our next dominant period late in the game, we barely made it into Sale’s 22.

 

Danny Cipriani had Sale ticking with some lively passing and intelligent kicks that kept the Falcons under pressure, but again I didn’t think Sale created many try-scoring chances other than their first crossing. Johnny Leota’s try came from a mis-pass by the Falcons and a break led by Cipriani – not making excuses, just saying that our defence was really strong and performed well.

 

The lineout, less so. I’m not sure what went on but we lost at least three to the tail (including a later one on our own five-metre line), and others didn’t seem to go quite into the jumpers’ arms. The scrum was hit-and-miss, strong early on but Sale seemed to get the better of our pack in the set-piece after the first half-hour.

 

Simon Hammersley looked to inject a bit of pace and creativity in the second half but wasn’t able to find a way through Sale’s high-up defence. Another replacement I thought had a canny day was Adam Powell, who replaced Gonzalo Tiesi in the first half. I didn’t notice the aforementioned Furno and Thompson unfortunately, others may have an opinion on them.

 

It seems we are struggling against opposition who get in our faces and deny space to the backs, this happened against Bath and also later on against Gloucester last week. I’m not sure what the answer to that is, as we don’t really have many fast players missing from the pack and half-backs, apart from perhaps Ruki Tipuna but I thought both Mike Blair and later Warren Fury were OK today.

 

Above all, we need to keep working towards playing for eighty minutes. That will come, once it comes it probably won’t be every week, but we should give at least one team (other than London Welsh) a bit of a pounding this season I hope, if we can get everything together.

 

Things are still looking up – for me, a top eight position would be a success this season and a top ten place adequate. We’re not going to win every week, and Sale are a competent side. We still look for more competitive than a year ago.

 

Now it’s time for the belated re-match against Stade Francais and the return to Paris. A couple of weeks to work on things before going to Harlequins for a game that, on recent evidence, looks winnable.

 

 

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

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Sale Sharks

Hammerhaed-shark

Sunday 30 November 2014 – 3.15pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
Aviva Premiership #9

After our victory over Gloucester a week ago, the Falcons are looking to make it three Premiership home wins in a row and four in five league games on Sunday against Sale. It’s a winnable game, but Sale showed their quality last week by beating Harlequins in south London, so it certainly won’t be easy.

Despite an inconsistent start to the season, Sale have had two impressive wins in the last couple of weeks, firstly hammering London Irish 36-8 in Salford before that win at the Stoop. Dan Braid was the Sharks’ hero against Quins with the winning try, while Danny Cipriani kicked eleven points to give the Mancs a 12-16 win.

It was Steve Diamond’s side’s first away win of the season, having previously been downed at Gloucester, Saracens and Northampton in the league and Clermont Auvergne and Leicester in cup combat.

Home form has been better, with only Bath leaving the AJ Bell Stadium with a league win so far this season, and Sale sit a respectable seventh in the table with twenty points, behind Wasps on points difference.

One Shark who has caught the eye recently has been Josh Beaumont, son of England legend Bill and a former Falcons academy man who left us in 2012 without playing a first team game. A lock of a number eight, Beaumont has started the last four games for Sale and will be one to watch on Sunday. He is joined by two other former Newcastle youngsters in winger Charlie Ingall and prop Darren Fearn, the latter moving north from Bedford in the summer.

Steve Diamond’s star signings of this year’s close season were Scottish internationals Chris Cusiter, who replaced Bristol-bound fellow Lion Dwayne Peel, and Nathan Hines.

Now in his third season in the North West after a spell in Australia, the revitalised Danny Cipriani appears to be finally knuckling down and letting his rugby do the talking for him, so much so that he returned to the England side in New Zealand in the summer, and some consider him unlucky to have missed out on the autumn friendlies.

A cursory glance at Sale’s squad shows few star names, but the appearance stats tell a story of a squad that has been built through evolution rather than revolution, contrary to Diamond’s reputation for impulse. Will Cliff, Nick Macleod, David Seymour and Marc Jones are all centurions, as are Magnus Lund and Eifion ‘the big fella’ Lewis-Roberts, both now in their second spell at Sale. Tom Brady, on 96, will likely hit one hundred before the season is out, but Mark Cueto leads the way with 255 appearances and almost a hundred tries – including a record 75 in the Premiership.

Six-cap All Black Dan Braid provides not only leadership from the back row, but with his abrasive style of play alongside the evergreen Seymour, the battle of the loose forwards will be key on Sunday.

Time was that Sale had gone almost two decades without winning a game at KP, but the days when we could almost take a home win against them for granted are long gone.

Two victories in Gary Gold’s era as gaffer were our only wins in six at home to the Sharks, and last year’s 8-16 loss in January sounded pretty dire on the radio. But the 22-19 win in the 2012 relegation battle was an absolute epic.

Rob Miller inspired the Sharks to a 12-19 half-time lead, scoring one of the their tries, and in the early stages of the second half the visitors remained in control. However, with half an hour to go, Gold threw on James Hudson and loan signing Adam Balding as the Falcons prepared to take a lineout in front of the South Stand. From the lineout, Tim Swinson was driven over for a try that sent KP wild.

Jimmy Gopperth’s conversion leveled the scores before the Kiwi added a late penalty, securing four priceless points from a second half that had seen a massive show of defiance from Falcons players and fans. It was surely one of the best atmospheres ever at Kingston Park.

Another game of note was in September 2007. Toby Flood had been left out of the England squad for the World Cup but just two days before the Premiership season-opener, Jamie Noon had been injured in England’s trouncing by South Africa, a game that will perhaps be remembered only for the identity of England’s fly-half: Andy Farrell. Rumour has it that as soon as he heard of the severity of Noon’s injury, our then-manager John Fletcher switched his phone off until after the Sale game.

Flood duly played a blinder in our bonus-point win and the next anyone saw of him was with Brian Ashton’s England squad in France.

Sale at KP:
22/09/1990 Division 2 W7-6
26/09/1992 Division 2 W7-3
03/12/1994 Club Match W40-7
10/03/1998 Premiership 1 W23-18
20/12/1998 Premiership 1 W30-15
29/12/1999 Premiership 1 W12-6
06/01/2001 Cup SF W37-25
11/03/2001 Premiership W48-24
31/03/2002 Premiership W30-10
27/10/2002 Premiership W31-20
21/09/2003 Premiership W9-8
02/01/2005 Premiership W30-29
02/10/2005 Cup W34-9
16/04/2006 Premiership W32-21
26/12/2006 Premiership W40-25
16/09/2007 Premiership W33-12
07/09/2008 Premiership L9-14
13/09/2009 Premiership D16-16
07/01/2011 Premiership D19-19
29/01/2012 Cup W37-7
30/03/2012 Premiership W22-19
03/01/2014 Premiership L8-16

 
Scott Lawson’s injury means that George McGuigan starts and with no hooker on the bench, either he or Rob Vickers will presumably have to play the full eighty minutes. The rest of the starting XV that beat Gloucester get their reward of a go at Sale. Kane Thompson could make his long-awaited Falcons debut from the bench, while Josh Furno and Eric Fry are back among the replacements too.

Falcons team: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Calum Green, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Andy Saull, 8 Ally Hogg (c).

Replacements: 16 Alex Rogers, 17 Eric Fry, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Kane Thompson, 20 Josh Furno, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Adam Powell, 23 Simon Hammersley.

 
Sale welcome back a number of internationals on Sunday, and have a big Antipodean centre partnership in Jonny Leota and Sam Tuitupou who will surely test Gonzalo Tiesi and Juan Pablo Socino. Josh Beaumont starts in the pack.
Sale team: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Luke McLean, 13 Jonny Leota, 12 Sammy Tuitupou, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Chris Cusiter, 1 Eifion Lewis Roberts, 2 Marc Jones, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 4 Jonathan Mills, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 6 Dan Braid (c), 7 Magnus Lund, 8 Josh Beaumont.

Replacements: 16 Shalva Mamukashvili, 17 Alberto de Marchi, 18 Ross Harrison, 19 Mark Easter, 20 Viliami Fihaki, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Nick Macleod, 23 Mark Jennings.

 
There’s surely no reason we can’t get a third successive home league win on Sunday if we play to our potential, and this could be quite a good game. Can’t wait to watch it.

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

Premiership 7s group reaction

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Saturday 2 August 2014

Northern Echo Arena, Darlington

Premiership 7s Group D

 

Despite a tricky opening game against Leicester, in the end the Falcons were not massively troubled on the way to keeping up a perfect record of twelve wins from twelve games in Premiership 7s groups. Our young side now move on to the finals at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday night.

 

The late switch of venue from Kingston Park to the Northern Echo Arena in Darlington did not prevent a big crowd from turning out on a wet night in the North East, indeed three coachloads headed down the A1 to join the rest of the 7,000 in attendance. There was a fun atmosphere and some exciting rugby on show.

 

Tom Catterick was named player of the evening, and he certainly led from the front, however for me the Falcons’ stars were the speedy Simon Hammersley, who will surely get more cup outings at full-back this season, and Dan Temm, whose back row skills were evident in many ruck scavengings.

 

The Falcons just about made it past Leicester in the opening game 26-21, rescued by two second-half scores by captain Catterick. London Welsh beat Sale but were then downed by the Tigers.

 

In our second game, Sale were put to the sword with relative ease, Simon Hammersley and Ben Morris among the scorers to particularly impress in a 27-7 win that was only not a nilling because of a late Sharks consolation.

 

After Leicester beat Sale to ensure a whitewash for the Mancs, the Falcons held out London Welsh’s early attacks and tries from Chris Harris and Catterick ensured the evening’s plate would stay in the North East. In four group stages in this competition the Falcons are yet to lose a single game.

 

It doesn’t really matter of course, and will have no bearing on the Premiership season to come, but winning is always nice and the players involved last night will have had a confidence boost as well as, for most of them as youngsters, benefitting from the experience of playing in front of a big crowd.

 

My impression of the Northern Echo Arena was that a fair bit of it did not appear to have been brilliantly maintained since its opening eleven years ago, although that is perhaps not surprising given the former Darlington FC’s financial struggles. The concourse was not as attractive as many I’ve seen, but it wasn’t really a major problem and if Mowden Park continue to improve then perhaps they can sort everything out. The ‘clubhouse’ bar in the outside of the stadium looked quite nice, though I didn’t get a chance to try it out.

 

The other finalists for Friday are Cardiff Blues, Newport Gwent Dragons, Gloucester, London Irish, Northampton and final hosts Harlequins. The teams will be split into two groups of four, each playing three games and the two group winners advancing to the final. Due to the expanded format, the first game will begin at 6pm, so if you’re going and don’t want to miss any of the action, plan accordingly!

 

Looking forward to it.

 

 

P.S. I’ve decided to be loyal to my adopted Cumbrian country by noting all of the Eddie Stobart lorries I see on rugby trips this season. We didn’t see a single one coming back today, though some of that may have been because for at least twenty minutes, the M6 was deluged with rain and I could see about fifty metres ahead, and not enough of the wing mirror to make overtaking even approaching safe. Lots of fun. Saw a few Stobarts yesterday though.

 

This weekend’s Eddie Stobarts:

Ruby Emma

Jodie Marie

Courtney Liana (the favourite so far)

Lucy Eleanor

Catherine Florence

 

 

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