Preview to Newcastle (H)

22/11/2012

Tomes, tomahawks and galacticos - the Falcons are coming...

The 1,000-mile return trip required for Jersey's National One matches against Tynedale and Blaydon last season was described as the longest journey on the English rugby calendar. Certainly it's a mighty long way - the sort of journey the Proclaimers wrote a song about, and the approximate equivalent of 17 laps around Jason Leonard.

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When Jersey made the trip to Newcastle in October 2011, for the game with Blaydon, the chances of a match-up in 2012/13 with the Newcastle Falcons, the region's top-ranked side, looked remote. The Islanders had lost three of their opening nine games in National One, as well as being deducted five points for exceeding the quota of foreign players that is one of the regulations for the club (if not international) game. The game at Crow Trees was a scrappy affair, but the visitors from the deep south edged it 12-6.

Two rungs up the ladder, former Premiership champions Newcastle were having a tough start to their campaign, but it was early days, and there were plenty of other candidates for the 12th spot in the table which could (subject to a fairly large asterisk) lead to relegation.

Fast forward to the end of March, and Jersey's next visit to the Toon for their game against Tynedale. This was arguably the most dominant victory of the entire campaign, a 64-0 thumping that left the National One title Jersey's for the taking. Newcastle's league position was unchanged, although they still had hope thanks to a gritty 22-19 win over Sale, watched by the Jersey squad on the eve of their game at Corbridge.

The final pieces in the jigsaw were in place when Jersey won their final three league games, while Newcastle failed heroically to overhaul Wasps and get off the trapdoor. The Falcons' only hope was the 'asterisk' clause - that the Championship winners would be denied promotion due to the Premiership's Minimum Standards Criteria. However play-off wins for London Welsh over Bedford and the Pirates, followed by further success in the courtroom, meant Newcastle's fate was confirmed at the end of June, and to the club's credit they opted against further legal wrangling that might have extended the close-season towards Hallowe'en. Instead Dean Richards fronted up at the official Championship launch at 'HQ' where Jersey's Ben Harvey was also a guest (below - who do you think would have won possession if it had been a genuine maul?!)).

Ben & Dean

Five months on and first meeting between the sides is now upon us, with Jersey looking for the kind of inspired performance that could down a giant, in this case an unbeaten side with nine straight league wins. Jersey managed two wins in succession before their most recent outing, a defeat at Bristol, and are 10 places behind the leaders, but nevertheless know that there could just be a sniff of a famous upset.


News from the Jersey camp
After 11 straight weekends of competitive action, the Jersey squad had a well-earned weekend off ahead of the Falcons' clash, with the exception of skipper Nathan Hannay who represented the Championship against the Maori All Blacks on Saturday, alongside Newcastle's Oliver 'Tomahawk' Tomaszczyk.

In theory the break should ensure a chance for players to ease some recent bumps and bruises and give Ben Harvey the chance to pick from a mostly-fit squad, although in practice there are still some significant absentees, with DoR Ben Harvey keeping one eye on the crucial encounter with Doncaster next Friday.

One player certain to be absent is centre Ashley Maggs, whose return to his native Bristol was marred by a red card for a dangerous tackle. This earned him a two-week ban from a RFU disciplinary panel this week, ruling him out of action until December 5th. Although an appeal has been considered it is believed the verdict has now been accepted and no appeal will be lodged.

Team News: Injuries to Mike Le Bourgeois and Ross Broadfoot mean that former Ospreys full-back Barry Davies makes his first appearance at fly-half for the Islanders. Davies is partnered at half-back by Dave McCormack, who also leads the side as regular skipper Nathan Hannay recovers from a physical encounter between the RFU Championship XV and the Maori All Blacks last Saturday.

Ed Tellwright joins the back-line in place of the suspended Ashley Maggs, with James Copsey moving to centre. The pack features four Jersey Academy graduates, with tight-head prop Jon Brennan gaining his first start since returning from a long-term injury. Rob Anderson and Dave Markham will play in tandem having previously rotated as Hannay's second-row partner, while Irish flanker Eoghan Nihill returns to the fray and teams up with 18-year-old James Voss and Nick Trower in the back row.

Jersey's bench includes three players looking to return to action following injuries - scrum-half Nicky Griffiths, centre Dai Bishop and back-row man Fred Silcock.

Jersey squad, sponsored by Locate Jersey and jersey.com
1 Richard Barrington
2 Dave Felton
3 Jon Brennan
4 Rob Anderson
5 Dave Markham
6 James Voss
7 Eoghan Nihill
8 Nick Trower
9 Dave McCormack (capt)
10 Barry Davies
11 Ed Dawson
12 Donovan Sanders
13 James Copsey
14 Ed Tellwright
15 Glenn Bryce

Replacements
16 Sean McCarthy
17 James Gethings
18 Paul Rodgers
19 Fred Silcock
20 Nicky Griffiths
21 Chris Levesley
22 Dai Bishop

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.

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 is set to play his 100th game for the Falcons against Jersey.

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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 29-year-old has played every minute of every league game this season, and did the same (if Statbunker is to be believed) in his 22 Premiership outings last season, with the exception of 10 minutes in the sin-bin against Bath.

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.

Two weeks ago the Falcons hosted second-placed Nottingham, who trailed just 7-6 at half-time but were eventually beaten 29-9.

Team News: Newcastle have made five changes to the side that defeated Nottingham 29-9 a fortnight ago for this Saturday's trip to Jersey.

Alex Crockett comes in for the rested Tane Tu'ipulotu at outside centre, while Warren Fury replaces Rory Lawson at scrum-half after the latter was named on the bench for Scotland to face Tonga this weekend.
Tongan centre Suka Hufanga is also on international duty this weekend, while Taiasina Tu'ifua will be in the Samoan XV taking on France in Paris.

Grant Shiells and Matt Thompson start in the front-row alongside Oliver Tomaszczyk, with Chris York getting the nod in the back-row.
Victory over the Channel Islanders will make it ten league wins out of ten this campaign, and comes hot on the heels of last week's impressive triumph over Tonga at Kingston Park.

Falcons boss Dean Richards is pleased with his side's recent form, which has seen back-to-back wins against title challengers Nottingham and Tonga who are ranked twelfth in the world.

"I'm pleased with both of those performances, particularly the Tonga match which was a complete performance by us," said Richards.
He added: "The game against Tonga opened up a little bit quicker than what we thought, and we took our chances.
"They scored a couple of really nice tries, but we held them at bay which a lot of people didn't expect us to do - we believed in ourselves."
The squad jet out to Jersey today on a charter flight along with an army of Falcons supporters, as the feel good factor for top-class rugby continues to blossom in the North East.

Richards said: "It's a nice trip if you're a supporter and there are certainly plenty of things for them to do on the Friday and Saturday night.

"The players' focus on Friday night will be what they are going to do on the field on Saturday afternoon.

"We will of course have a couple of beers on Saturday night after the game, but we have a quick turnaround and we need to turn our attentions to Plymouth on the Friday."

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Luke Fielden, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Sean Tomes, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Chris York, 7 Mark Wilson, 8 Ally Hogg

Replacements: 16 Mike Mayhew, 17 James Hall, 18 James Goode, 19 Richard Mayhew, 20 Jordi Pasqualin, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Andy Higgins

Taking level two by storm

With 43 points out of a possible 45 this year (4.78 per match), Newcastle will have their sights set on matching, or perhaps even exceeding some of the best numbers racked up by the winners at this level in recent years:

* 2003/04 - Worcester. Won 26, Lost 0. 125 league points out of 130 (4.81 per game)
* 2007/08 - Northampton. W30 L0. 143/ 150 (4.77)
* 2005/06 - Harlequins (DoR D.Richards). W25 L1. 121/130 (4.65)
* 2010/11 - Worcester. W27 L1. 129/140 (4.61)

Of course Worcester's 2010/11 record is the exception in that it could all have counted for nothing had the Warriors failed to win through in the play-offs; this possible - if unlikely - scenario may occasionally feature in the more vivid nightmares of Newcastle officials, players and supporters.

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.

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.

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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, Lee Dickson

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* 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 3,975, the second-highest in the Championship; this compares with an average of 5,300 for Premiership games last season
* The Falcons have scored 42 tries so far this season in league games; Ally Hogg is top-scorer with five
* Jimmy Gopperth is top of the Championship pops this season for kicking (135 points in the league to date) and total points (add three tries).

Coming to St Peter
Tickets for the match are £15 for adults, £10 for Jersey members on production of a membership card, £3 for juniors (13 to 16 inclusive) and free to those aged 12 and under. These will be on sale at the club shop between 10am and 1pm on Friday. The £3 concession rate will also be available to any full-time student on production of the appropriate identification.

Recent wet weather will affect normal car parking arrangements at St Peter - those coming by car need to head for pitch 6, accessed off Rue du Saut Falluet, which in turn is accessed off Rue des Landes. Pitch 3 will not be in use. Please allow extra time, or consider other means (such as bus, taxi or lift) of getting to the ground.

Also on Friday, the Barclays Pavilion will be open from 5.30 to 7.30pm for an eve-of-match reception open to all supporters, with the chance to have a pint, enjoy some free nibbles and pick up your tickets. Tickets will then be on sale on the gate from 12noon on Saturday, with the ground and facilities open from then onwards.

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 Friday, and live commentary on Saturday afternoon from 2pm (available online and on your transistor-wireless device)
• Preview in Friday's JEP, more rugby in Saturday's Inside Centre pull-out, and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Match report on Channel 103 soon after the final whistle on Saturday, 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: Bedford v Pirates
Saturday: London Scottish v Moseley (12.15 matinee so the Scots can head to Twickenham to cheer on South Africa), Rotherham v Leeds, Plymouth v Bristol
Sunday: Nottingham v Doncaster

And finally
Reference has been made already to famous brothers wearing Newcastle colours, and that's without Jonny Wilkinson's brother Mark getting a mention. But for family likeness, check out the resemblance below between Falcons' lock Sean Tomes and his old man Alan, who won 48 caps for Scotland - also in the engine room - between 1976 and 1987 as well as touring with the Lions.

Atomes ,Stomes

Turning attention to other rugby in Jersey this weekend, Banks Vets host HMP at Grainville on Saturday at 11.30am, but the LQ v Guernsey 2nds game is off. On Sunday let's hope Banks Ladies get their first league win at home to Tonbridge at Grainville at 1pm. Also on Sunday Jersey Athletic play the Wanderers (SP, 2pm) and Jersey's Youth Team are away against Petersfield.

And there's the penultimate round of Autumn international matches: Ireland v Argentina looks tasty, while England and Wales will be hoping things can't get any worse.


Enjoy your weekend's rugby (and another look below at Sue T's splendid sunset shot from our last home match)
Tom Innes

Plym Sunset

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