Howay The Lads!
By P G Tips
September 20 2017

Louw: vital

Howay the lads! That will be the cry from Falcons supporters when they visit the Rec on Saturday. It could also be the sentiment of both sets of coaches. The Geordie exhortation, meaning “Come On!” covers a range from the encouraging to a more exasperated –“Buck Your Ideas Up!”. Both clubs could do with a bit of each on Saturday, having slumped after heartening starts. This fixture should rekindle the fire in both.

Falcons topped the table going into last weekend after a bonus point home win in their opening match against Worcester and a last minute swoop to steal victory at Sale. They then fell from grace in Philadelphia against a Saracens side that required only minimal efficiency and little of their true snarl and invention, to win a dour match. Bath, one of 7 clubs leading the table on two wins from three find themselves bottom of that group. Lack of a bonus point has cost them, despite heroic wins over Leicester and Saracens. At Franklin’s Gardens last Friday, Bath were not so much outplayed as out muscled and swept aside by passion.


Dean Richards has patiently built a competitive squad that finished a well-deserved 8th last season after three years rooted at 11th.  In doing so they served notice that they will be genuine contenders for top 6 this term, with a more expansive game which made much of the mercurial talents of Tane Takulua, Juan Pablo Socino and Sinoti Sinoti. This season he has further strengthened the backs with the acquisition of three internationals. Falcons fans may have to be patient though: returning favourite Toby Flood has a hamstring strain and may still be a week away from playing. DTH Van Der Merwe is also injured, while little has been heard yet of their own “Frog on the Tyne” Maxime Mermoz, who arrived late for the new season. Any or all of these, if available, will present potent threats as will Vereniki Goneva a bustling presence on the wing or at centre. It is to the forwards though where Richards is likely to turn his attention in training this week. Last season’s form was built on traditional Richards foundations – a tough as teak pack built around the likes of Vickers, Lawson, Olmstead and Mark Wilson. To that quartet Bath, having been unstitched at the lineout last week by Ribbans must add another unheralded lock, Callum Green whose performances have had the Falcons faithful soaring in the first few games.


Bath will also look to the forwards to rediscover the aggression and passion that served them so well in the first two rounds. They may chose to take a leaf out of Saints’ book: play a simple game plan, hard and ruthless at tempo, force opposition mistakes and get the crowd fired up. A concern from all three games is the possession stats. The highest Bath have enjoyed so far has been 40%, ironically in last week’s defeat. Top priorities for fixing that are the lineout and the breakdown.

On the injury front the news is mixed. Charteris and Ewels should both be fit but there will need to be changes in the back row. Neither Garvey nor Underhill look likely to make it so a call up for Zach Mercer or Josh Bayliss seems likely.  The coaches will hope that the Springboks wait a week before calling up Francois Louw to plug their own injury gaps. His leadership and breakdown work could be vital. Behind the scrum there is no news yet on Khan Fotuali’I, but Chris Cook should be able to join the fray. The back three will have to do without Anthony Watson who has injured his knee, although Matt Banahan may have got over a nasty cut around the eye in time to play. One option at fullback is Rhys Priestland, which could lead for the first time in years to a native Bathonian halfback pairing: Cook and Burns.


There have been some defining clashes in the past between these two clubs. On the first day of the professional era newly promoted Falcons stunned double winning champions Bath by stealing a win at the Rec. A few years later, Bath’s survival in the top flight depended on a final day victory over the Geordies. Bath’s current squad will have shorter memories and be looking to replicate last seasons’ home form which garnered their biggest Premiership win of the season by 58-5. They have the talent to see off the Tyneside talons, particularly the fly half pedigree and the strike force. They now need to rekindle the passion and power of the first two rounds.


Bath will be smarting from a result that did them less than justice last week, and desperate to make amends. Falcons may be hovering to pounce, but Bath are ready to rise like a Phoenix. Will the visitors be able to withstand the heat?


Possible Teams:


Obano, Dunn, Perenise, Stooke, Charteris, Faletau, Louw (Capt.) Grant. Cook, Burns. Banahan, Tapuai, Clark, Rokodoguni. Priestland.

Replacements: Auterac, Walker, Andrews, Ewels, Mercer. Allinson, Joseph, Atkins.


Newcastle Falcons:  Vickers, Lawson, Welsh, Green, Robinson, Wilson, Welch (capt), Latu. Takulua, Hodgson. Sinoti, Harris, Socino, Goneva


Replacements: Cooper, Mavinga, Davison, Cavubati, Latu, Stuart, Willis, Matavesi