December 31 2016
The Falcons put in a huge performance at home to Wasps last night in front of a crowd of 9,000, and against most sides in the Premiership would have gone entered 2017 on the back of a handsome win.
As it was, Wasps’ superior quality and dogged character ensured that they returned to Coventry with five points, Newcastle having to make do with two bonus points.
The club’s efforts to attract a season-high crowd to KP were rewarded with 8,730 people packing the stands, and creating one of the noisiest atmospheres our ground has seen in recent years. Things looked great when Sonatane Takulua and Marcus Watson raced in for early tries, putting the Falcons 12-0 up after less than four minutes.
The Falcons’ early attacks saw them camped in the away 22 but a number of penalties did not tempt Tom Foley to put his hands in his pocket, and gradually Wasps came more into the game.
At the start of the second quarter, two quick scores from Danny Cipriani and Christian Wade, the latter a controversial tap-down by the winger in a race with a Falcons defender, were converted by the former England fly-half and Wasps took the lead.
The Falcons did not get downheartened though and after a wave of forward attacks, Rob ‘deadly from a metre’ Vickers dived over from a metre to put the Falcons back in front. A penalty by Joel Hodgson looked to have given us a good eight-point lead at half-time until Thomas Young’s converted try made the score 22-21 at the break.
With Cipriani having had a difficult first half and probably not fancying Opeti Fonua charging at him again, Wasps did what any good team would do – they replaced the international fly-half with Jimmy Gopperth. Such is the depth of their squad.
Wor Jimmy quickly scored a try, a conversion and a penalty to put Wasps into a bigger lead, the Falcons’ only reply coming from a Hodgson penalty. A huge kick from Elliot Daly on halfway with 15 minutes to go made the score 25-34, and with the visitors seeming in control despite Josh Bassett’s yellow card for a deliberate knock-on, the win looked to be gone.
But with the crowd still making a big racket, spurred on by some potential high tackles by Wasps players that did not draw further cards (though JP Socino might consider himself fortunate not to have given away more than a penalty with such a hit), the Falcons ploughed on.
Banging away in the 22, the Falcons won a wave of penalties before Mr Foley lost patience and sent Guy Thompson off for the final four minutes. Finally, with the South Stand at its deafening best, Mark Wilson went over from a tapped penalty. Hodgson’s conversion hit the post to leave the deficit at four points, and though the Falcons drove up to halfway in search of the winning try, it was not to be and the game ended when Dominic Waldouck was tackled into touch.
It could have been five points but we ended up with only two. However, it was a massive performance last night against one of the very top teams in Europe, one who will either win the Premiership this season or not be far away. We can be proud of such a huge effort to round off a very good calendar year from the Falcons, ending the year in seventh place in the Premiership.
Some games have gotten away from us, some things still need attention – the lack of a reliable, top-level goalkicker for one. But I think if we were transported from 1st September to 31st December without actually experiencing the last four months, most of us would be happy with the Falcons’ current position. We are at last looking up, not down.
Roll on 2017, and have a great New Year folks!