Preview to Newcastle (A)

28/03/2013

Dean & Ben's Friday evening takeaway

Jersey will tomorrow make the 20th attempt of the season thus far to force the 'Richards Revolution' off track. Newcastle Falcons have won all 19 matches in the RFU Championship to date and are heavy favourites for promotion back to the Aviva Premiership, but the visitors from the Channel Islands insist they aren't travelling to the chilly - but hopefully not frozen - north just to make up the numbers.

Ben & Dean

Directors of Rugby Ben Harvey and Dean Richards met at the Championship launch at Twickenham last August, but have since been preoccupied with their number one priorities for 2012/13. Richards' intention is to emulate the achievement of his Harlequins side in 2005/06 and go straight back up to the top tier; Harvey's over-riding aim has been for Jersey, after a steep climb up the league pyramid, to survive their first season at level two and report for a second campaign in September.

Seven points clear of 12th-placed Doncaster Knights, Jersey believe one more win from their final three games will seal their destiny. While most observers see the clash between the bottom two at Jersey's St Peter ground on April 13th as the one that will determine who is relegated to SSE National One, both sides have the chance to upset a high-flier on Good Friday (Knights host Nottingham at Castle Park in a match starting 15 minutes earlier than the 5pm KO for Newcastle v Jersey at Kingston Park).

Harvey introduces four new faces into his starting XV from the line-up who lost narrowly to Bristol at St Peter last Saturday. After an impactful debut from the bench, Tongan hooker Elvis Taione (below) will start in the front row, lining up alongside Richard Barrington, who is preferred to Sean McCarthy.

Elvis j

Injury will keep Nathan Hannay out of the Jersey side, while Guy Thompson sustained a knock against Bristol and has joined Hannay on the casualty list. Rob Anderson keeps his place in the second row, while flanker Joe Buckle, on loan from Bath since January, slots into the back row.

"Rob Anderson gave a terrific performance against Bristol and we want the same again from him," he said. "Joe Buckle had a great game a few weeks ago against Rotherham but hasn't had many opportunities since, so he has a real chance to shine."

The final addition to Jersey's starting XV is winger James Copsey, who is recalled after full-back Barry Davies suffered a hip injury. Max Stelling will take the number 15 Jersey, while new signings Mark Foster and Mark McCrea team up in midfield.

Jersey's bench includes three men who have captained the Island side: scrum-half Dave McCormack, a second Tongan international in powerful forward Talite Vaioleti, and centre Dai Bishop, who is set to return to lay off following a six-week absence with a broken hand.

March has seen Jersey record their first away win of 2012/13, the 15-19 success at Plymouth, as well as garnering bonus points in defeat against London Scottish, Nottingham and Bristol. Harvey believes that all three results could have gone the other way.

"Some of our execution has let us down at key moments, and I also think there have been cases where we've not had the rub of the green," he said. "But we gave Newcastle a good contest when they came to our place before fading towards the end, and four months on we think we're a better side than we were then, and can cause them some trouble."

Jersey squad (1-15), sponsored by Locate Jersey and jersey.com

/*STOP PRESS, THURSDAY 1pm - Nicky Griffiths misses out through illness, Dave McCormack steps in as scrum-half and captain. Donovan Sanders comes onto the bench*/

Richard Barrington
Elvis Taione
Jon Brennan
Rob Anderson
Dave Markham
Charlie Walker-Blair
Joe Buckle
Fred Silcock
Nicky Griffiths (capt) (now replaced by Dave McCormack)
Michael Le Bourgeois
Ed Dawson
Mark Foster
Mark McCrea
James Copsey
Max Stelling

Replacements
Sean McCarthy
Dave Felton
James Gethings
Talite Vaioleti
Kingsley Lang
Dave McCormack (now replaced by Donovan Sanders)
Dai Bishop

Any Previous?
For a full report of Jersey 3 Newcastle 24, the game played at St Peter last November, see HERE

Newcastle Falcons in 2012/13
The Falcons spent almost half their close season not knowing which league they would be in, but the club's deeds matched the words spoken about how seriously they would be taking the 2012/13, regardless of whether they were going to be playing Tigers or Titans.

Nf -logo -6

An early statement of intent came with the news in March that Dean Richards would become Director of Rugby in August once his three-year ban for the infamous 'Bloodgate' incident was served. Richards' appointment was not conditional on league status, and attracting a man of his calibre was a significant factor in keeping many core players from the Falcons' Premiership squad together.

Another key man was fly-half Jimmy Gopperth, who remained on board for what is his fourth season at Kingston Park. This helped attract a decent calibre of recruit to the club, such as 30-times capped Scotland scrum-half Rory Lawson from Gloucester. Further Premiership and/ or international experience came in the form of Alex Crockett and Oliver Tomaszczyk (Worcester) Andrew Higgins (Sale) and Chris York (Harlequins), as well as Fijian fly-half (16 caps) Waisea Luveniyali, Junior All Black Tane Tu'ipulotu (returning after a stint in Japan) and Scotland lock (23 caps) Scott Macleod.

The new recruits joined a squad bristling with talent - forwards such as the England squad prop Jonny Golding, 54-times capped Italian lock Carlo del Fava and Scotland flanker Ally Hogg (54 caps), and in the three-quarters, the likes of Luke Fielden and Alex Tait. Tait, 24, is the younger brother of England's Mathew and played his 100th game for the Falcons against Jersey in November.

Gopperth -black -hands -2

Gopperth (above) is the lynchpin of the side in many respects - the orchestrator of the back-line, the kicker of goals (he's scored around 1,000 points for the Falcons in 90-something competitive appearances) and because he's something of an iron-man, missing just one league game since joining in summer 2009 (he'd previously played Super rugby for both Wellington and Auckland in his native NZ).

The Falcons began the season with an impressive 37-20 win at Bristol, the team who'd been tipped for promotion last season. The margin was the same the following week although London Scottish did claim a bonus point while going down 32-49, the only point taken off the Falcons all season. Richards' men have failed to get the full-house five only twice, firstly in a 25-3 win at the Mennaye, a game sandwiched by comfortable home wins over Doncaster and Leeds.

The season-high 53 points against Leeds was matched in early October at Moseley in another easy win, and there was no let-up in the British & Irish Cup as Cross Keys (finalists last season) and Connacht 'A' were put to the sword. On resuming league action, Rotherham were defeated 33-0 at Kingston Park, but then a noble effort saw Bedford come closest so far, denying the Falcons a bonus point and almost seizing one of their own until a late Gopperth drop-goal made it 29-20 to his side. Then the Falcons hosted second-placed Nottingham, who trailed just 7-6 at half-time but were eventually beaten 29-9, and travelled to Jersey (see 'Any Previous?').

A 31-15 home win over Plymouth was notable for Albion scoring two tries - 66.6% of the entire try tally by away sides at KP this season. This was the final game of the first half of the league campaign, during which time Falcons' average margin of victory was 24 points. In the second half, albeit with some dodgy weather, this average has fallen to 15 points.

The first game of the 'second half', London Scottish in Round 12, was a case in point, the visitors gaining their second bonus point of the season against Richards & Co in losing 12-9. It was a similar story against Leeds at Otley, Falcons winning 9-13, although they then broke the shackles in February to thump Moseley 36-3 and Pirates 50-3.

Rotherham competed well on their home patch before going down 22-34 for win number 17 for the Geordies, and since then there have been two very tight squeezes: a 17-15 success over Bedford, courtesy of a late converted try, which followed an amazing first-half try by Jamie Helleur. A Gopperth penalty struck the left-hand upright, then the cross-bar and then the opposite post, but Bedford still weren't able to prevent it bouncing and then being plucked from the air by the charging centre, whose exploits have gone viral on Youtube as a result, see HERE.

Tom Catterick's try gave Falcons an early lead at Meadow Lane against Nottingham, but the home side countered with tries by Alex Lewington and former Falcon Brent Wilson to lead 12-5. However Newcastle once again showed they had what it took to chisel out a win, Gopperth reducing the margin with two penalties and replacement Joel Hodgson, who played for Tynedale against Jersey last March while dual-registered, struck the winning points.

Newcastle and Nottingham will lock horns at least once more this season, in next weekend's B&I quarter-final, and could also have a fourth and fifth encounter of 2012/13 in the play-off final.

Falcons will hope to achieve their promotion aim by winning three more regular season matches and both two-leg play-off encounters. Should they do so they would emulate the achievements - in the era before play-offs - of Worcester (26 wins in 2003/04) and Northampton (30 in 2007/08) in going a full season unbeaten. Dean Richards' Quins side lost one of their 26 matches in 2005/06 - who was it to? (Answer at end).

Team News
Dean Richards has rung the changes for the game with Jersey at Kingston Park.

The Newcastle Falcons boss has made nine changes in all with Joel Hodgson and Warren Fury the most notable inclusions at half-back. Alex Crockett replaces Jamie Helleur in the centres and plays alongside Adam Powell who is set to make his home debut.

Meanwhile Richards has shuffled the pack with Grant Shiells, Rob Vickers and Kieran Brookes (who was in the Leicester squad who played Jersey in August's friendly) forming a new-look front row. James Goode gets the nod ahead of Scott MacLeod in the second-row, while Mark Wilson returns from illness to slot in at blindside flanker with Ollie Stedman rounding off the changes at No.8.

Newcastle come into Friday's contest on the back of two tricky affairs against Bedford Blues and Nottingham Rugby respectively.

"The Bedford and Nottingham games have actually helped us because they have exposed us in certain areas which we can work on going into those crucial matches at the end of the season," said Forwards Coach John Wells.? "It was good to have those hard fixtures, and now we have to learn the lessons of why we were exposed in certain areas and put things right for when the do or die games come around.

"I'm actually thankful that we are playing those types of games now, and I'm thankful that we are playing Jersey this weekend because they will come at us and that is what we want," he added.

"There is no doubt that they [Jersey] will come at us upfront, and they are probably the best scrummaging team in the Championship," said Wells. He added: "I know our scrum is a good one, and I know on our day that we are the best in the league, but if we get it wrong, Jersey will punish us.

"Their driving lineout is excellent and their pick and go game is good - if they get momentum in that department, then it will be a tough game."

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Sean Tomes, 5 James Goode, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ollie Stedman

Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 James Hall, 18 Jonny Golding, 19 Scott MacLeod, 20 Jordi Pasqualin, 21 Jimmy Gopperth, 22 Ally Hogg

History of Newcastle Falcons
The Newcastle name is a relatively recent incarnation of a club that was formed as Gosforth FC by a group of former Durham School pupils in 1877, two years earlier than the first recorded rugby in Jersey.

The club's existence was a nomadic one until the middle of the 20th Century, when some committed fund-raising ensured the cash required to purchase land at North Road in Gosforth in 1951, with the ground first used in 1955. Renowned names from this period included two Lions' caps - Scotland wing Arthur Smith and Irish prop Ray McLoughlin.

In 1971/72 Gosforth was captained by future England Coach Jack Rowell and in 1976 and 1977 there was a double centenary celebration with back-to-back John Player Cup wins against Rosslyn Park (23-14) and Waterloo (27-14), with a team featuring the likes of England caps Peter Dixon and Roger Uttley and Scotland hooker Duncan Madsen.

The league era started in 1987 and soon afterwards another chapter of history closed with the sale of North Road for development and the acquisition of the Kingston Park site that has been home to this day. In 1990 the name of the club changed to Newcastle Gosforth, but it remained largely a second-tier side (bar a single-season incursion into Courage One in 1993/94) until the arrival of Sir John Hall in 1995.

With the game turning professional, Sir John's vision was for a Newcastle sporting institution including the city's famous football club as well as rugby, basketball and ice hockey. A team of rugby galacticos was assembled, and not just because 'galactico' sounds particularly good in a Geordie accent. This included Rob Andrew as Player/ Director of Rugby and other names like Dean Ryan, Steve Bates, Garry Armstrong, Doddie Weir, Tony Underwood and Inga Tuigamala.

Playing as Newcastle Falcons for the first time, the star line-up achieved promotion to the Premiership in 1996/97, just a point behind Richmond, another team surfing the professional wave (Ben Harvey was a squad player at Richmond that season). This success was eclipsed the following season as the Falcons won the Premiership at the first attempt, winning 19 of their 22 games to edge Saracens by a single league point.

In league terms this was a high point, as in the ensuing 13 seasons at the top level the Falcons managed a best position of sixth, although there were cup successes in 2001 (Tetley's) and 2004 (Powergen). The club's playing resources during the noughties included England's Jamie Noon, Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Burke and Owen Finegan (Australia) Carl Hayman (NZ), Nick Popplewell (Ireland), Epi Taione (Tonga), Pat Lam (Samoa) and the Scot Alan Tait who was later to be Head Coach.

Off-field financial concerns became increasingly acute towards the end of the decade with the collapse of main sponsor Northern Rock. In 2010 Chairman Dave Thompson, who took over from Sir John Hall in the late 1990s, announced new investment from businessman Semore Kurdi, and in September 2011 Kurdi raised his stake and took over from Thompson who stepped down after 13 years.

2010/11 was a tough campaign for the Falcons and ended with an escape from relegation on points difference ahead of Leeds Carnegie, but the following season there was no such feat. Three wins and a draw in seven games brought the possibility of a final-day escape against Wasps, but north needed to beat south with a bonus-point win, and the 14-10 success courtesy of a late try was insufficient to avert the drop.

Toon Triv
* Alex Tait and brother Matt were educated at Barnard Castle School in County Durham. The renowned rugby school also educated the Underwood brothers (below, only one of whom played for Newcastle), Rob Andrew and, more recently, yet another set of brothers, Lee and Karl Dickson

Underwood _2391552

* Ben Harvey played at Kingston Park during the 1997/98 season, coming on as a replacement for Richmond in an 18-12 defeat. He also played against Dean Richards in October 1995, when Leicester defeated Bristol 43-6 at Welford Road

* Crowds for league games at Kingston Park this season average 3,493, the second-highest in the Championship; this compares with an average of 5,300 for Premiership games last season

* The Falcons have scored 75 tries so far this season in league games; Ally Hogg, Luke Fielden and Gopperth are top-scorers with six each, and there's a good spread below that: one player with five, another four with four apiece and five more with three

* Jimmy Gopperth is top of the Championship pops this season for points scoring, with 192 points with his boot to add to the half-dozen tries (on kicks alone fellow Kiwei James Arlidge is top with 202

Following the game
Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from Jersey v Falcons through the following channels:
• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey from 5.30- 6pm on Thursday, and live commentary on Friday afternoon from 4pm (available online and on your transistor-wireless device)
• Preview in Thursday's JEP, and full match coverage in Saturday's paper, on sale from 7am
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Match report on Channel 103 during the Saturday afternoon show, plus updates during the match
• Reports and match action on Channel TV online and on Monday evening at 6.15pm; and on BBC Channel Islands on Monday evening at 6.30pm?

The Championship this weekend
Friday: Doncaster v Nottingham, the first of two live Sky TV matches
Saturday: Moseley v London Scottish
Sunday: Pirates v Bedford, Leeds v Rotherham (Leeds return to Headingley for the first time since the 'uncontested' match against Plymouth on January 6th) and the other Sky game, Bristol v Plymouth

And finally
Local matches in the Channel Islands this weekend see Jersey United Banks scheduled to tour Guernsey with matches against G2 and St Jacques, while in Jersey the Wanderers will play a double-header against Jersey Athletic.

As if he wasn't a big enough media star after his Youtube exploits, Newcastle's Jamie Helleur (pronunciation guide: think of Terry Thomas coming into a room and greeting a rather foxy young filly) has even bigger image rights after being used in promoting the game with Jersey.

Helleur

Some puntastic opportunities are just too good to resist, even if the person concerned ends up not being selected.

Enjoy your Easter weekend's rugby
Tom Innes

PS The Quins' defeat was by Exeter Chiefs, 13-8 in February '06

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