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Challenge still on

By Monkey1
January 26 2015

Newcastle Falcons are through to the quarter finals of the European Rugby Challenge Cup despite tripping up against Newport Gwent Dragons in a home game that should have been taken more seriously.

This is a difficult competition to make sense of in many ways, not helped by the different attitudes taken by different teams. Many of the French teams seem to have taken little interest, needing to concentrate on their league positions instead. For the first time in the history of the competition no French team has made it out of the pool stages. Our management decided on a possibly risky strategy of putting an emphasis on both England qualified players and our Academy players, but it has worked well.


The competition kicked off with a home game against Bucharest Wolves about which there isn’t a lot to say, except the comfortable 43-19 win doesn’t truly reflect the action on the pitch. Bucharest played to a much higher standard than the score suggests, providing an enjoyable game in which they competed strongly right to the final whistle.


It was the next game that gave us reason to sit up & take an interest in this competition. Away to Newport Gwent Dragons it became clear that the Academy tem was very much in charge on the day with the senior coaches taking a back seat. A thoroughly thrilling game ensued with drama to the very end, some fringe players were given their chance to shine and they certainly made the most of it. A 26-30 away win against a strong Newport team was worth every minute. Rory Clegg had his best game in a Falcons shirt, as well as matching the three tries scored by Newport we slotted all our penalties, coming back from a 20-13 deficit at half time to win the second half in style.


Next up was Stade Francais Paris at Kingston Park fielding a star-studded team that suggested they were here to take points. Tom Catterick took the 10 shirt to the surprise of many, missing his first couple of penalties to the mutterings of the many experts in the South Stand. His distribution & play in the loose looked pretty good however, and he was in control as Chris Harris was put in for the first try. It was a tense game throughout with both sides remaining within a score of winning, Stade taking the lead in the opening minutes of the second half. The lead changed hands a few times as the clock wore down and in the dying minutes we were less than a converted score ahead when Stade won a scrum just metres from our line. A massive scrum from our forwards saw Stade shoved off their own ball as we won a scrum against the head, right in front of the South Stand and the crowd went mental.


The return game took place less than a week later on a cold Thursday night in Paris. The game was off to a good start after just a few minutes, a charge down by Mark Wilson putting Socino in for the first try. Clegg back in the 10 shirt added the conversion. An energetic display saw two tries scored in the first half by both sides, but problems in the scrum saw Stade awarded a penalty try as the first half ended. A second half try from Mark Wilson levelled the scores at 24-24 but we had to be content with only a bonus point as Stade rumbled over for a last try as the game drew to a close.


To secure a quarter final home game we merely had to defeat Newport Gwent Dragons again but this time at home, and confidence was high. This could have been our undoing as a first half shocker saw the Falcons play their worst rugby for a very long time, it was beyond awful. The first half was thankfully over and we were out of it at 3 – 35 down. It was a small crowd to start with, even smaller after a number of supporters decided they had seen enough at half time and they drifted home. They missed a cracking second half where Falcons had their sensible heads back on and blasted down four tries in determined manner. It looked possible, but the worst example of refereeing seen for generations culminated in awarding the visitors with a try that was barely touched down in our half never mind anywhere near our line, and that proved an obstacle too far. It was still an amazing achievement to end up reducing the deficit to 29-40. The loss was of our own making though, and that first half should be remembered whenever the team is feeling maybe a bit too confident before they even leave the changing room.


Everything now depended on taking five points from the deciding game in Bucharest, although it wasn’t in Bucharest. The game was moved 300 miles to a stadium with under-soil heating in Cluj, although on the night in question it was actually warmer in Transylvania that at Kingston Park. With nothing to play for Bucharest fielded a far from full strength team and as long as Falcons didn’t do anything stupid the 5 points was assured. The 10-52 final score was a just reward for treating the hosts with respect, the all-important 4th try being secured around the half hour mark.


So now we get to stay in the competition and travel to Sandy Park to face Exeter on the weekend of 3 – 5th April. Monday 6th is a bank holiday which may help the travelling supporters if the game is on the Sunday. Unlike the days of the Powergen Cup there is no massive incentive to win the cup as it does not open a door to the Champions Cup for the winner, but it is still about time we won something so I expect Deano to throw everything at this game, and I hope Exeter do too. The Chiefs supporters are a cracking bunch who bring a party spirit to Kingston Park with every visit. I hope we can return the favour and leave a few smiles in the most south-westerly Premiership ground from our home in the most north-easterly.

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Challenge still on (IP Logged)
26/01/2015 14:19
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