FalconsRugby.org.uk
The Cup Final 2004
By MarkH (20/04/04)
November 29 2005


MarkH's MoTM

There comes a point for everyone when mere seconds seem like years. A turned over ball in midfield. A silent prayer for nothing to go wrong in a scrum, followed by a scream to kick the ball out. And then... well, more of that later.

A sixth cup final for Newcastle in its various reincarnations, and a second for Sale, and with the morning media predictions of a potential classic, absolutely nothing was disappointing. Fabulous weather greeted those arriving at Twickenham, which was buzzing with Falcons supporters from very early in the morning. Inspired marketing left everyone who wanted one (and some who didn’t!) with a Falcons flag, and the stands started to fill towards the end of Bristol’s win over Waterloo in the Powergen Shield, ready for the kick off at 2.30pm. Our party of fourteen thought that we had good seats when we got the tickets - it turned out that they were great seats, right on the halfway line in the East Stand.

That the game actually kicked off again was a major surprise to those of us that got to the ground early, with the South Stand shut for the day after a burger van caught fire and the ground was evacuated. As a result, the Junior Vase final was cut to thirty minutes each way, the time between games was reduced dramatically, and the BBC had their wish of a prompt start.

And it was Falcons, playing with a noticeable breeze in the first half, who came out of the traps first, with Jamie Noon (pictured) running the kick off straight back into the advancing Sale forwards. Dave Walder’s clearance kick failed to find touch, but Jason Robinson chose to pass rather than run it back, and threw possibly the worst pass of his career to no-one, which allowed Michael Stephenson to pick the ball up and end up being forced into touch just five metres from the line. Still Falcons maintained the pressure, the forwards allowing Dave a chance of a drop goal, which was ultimately charged down but the knocked on. Hell, I’ll take starts like this any day of the week. Charlie Hodgson was having to rush his kicks, and Sale could not get out of their own half.

Falcons off to a flying start

A superb penalty clearance to within five metres of the Sale line, and this time the score was on. Garath Archer collected the lineout, and after Stuart Grimes tried to bulldoze his way through, James Grindal threw a pass along the line to Walder, then to Mayerhofler, then on the bounce to Noonie, who broke two tackles before going to ground. Warren Britz (pictured) picked up on the left hand side of the ruck, the ran right the way round and went through the three Sale backs protecting the line to open the scoring. Yes!!

Dave converted, and it was 7-0 in just seven minutes.

Sale Strike Back

Falcons continued the forward motion from the kick off again, with Mayerhofler allowing Joe Shaw and Stevo to try and break away, but Stevo’s attempt at a kick and chase went into touch. From the lineout just outside the 22, Sale drew the penalty for offside, and Hodgson kicked the points. Had things started to turn? The kick off went straight into touch, then Sale enjoyed their best spell of possession in the game, before Titterrell transgressed by holding on, only for the penalty to be given back for exactly the same offence. From the lineout, Titterrell came flying out the back of the maul, and nearly got round Joe Shaw, but for a superb tap tackle from the full back. With the Falcons’ defence desperately trying to regain ground and composure, Pete Anglesea’s drive for the line gave Steve Hanley the chance to pick up and make the two yards needed to score the try. Hodgson converted, and it was 10-7 to Sale.

Not to worry about the composure. Falcons came again, and recycled the ball through seven phases before Jason White was penalised for offside and gave Dave the chance to level it up. Which he promptly missed, dragging the kick left of the post. One bad kick preceded another, with Hodgson kicking the drop out straight into touch. Six more phases (the multiphase play throughout the game was excellent) gave Mayerhofler the chance to release Shaw on the right wing, and although he cut inside, he couldn’t quite make the final few yards required. Not to worry. The ball still managed to come out again before Mayerhofler was released and almost made the line. At the ruck, as Grindal went to get the ball out and Spreaders turned away, Alex Sanderson slapped the ball out of the scrum half’s hands from the side. Instant reaction was penalty (given), yellow card (not given), and the more hopeful among us (ok, me) though penalty try. One out of three had to do, and Dave wasn’t missing this kick. 10 all, 23 minutes, and a very decent game.

Fortune Favours the Brave?

A useful break by Joe Shaw, entering the line at will and making yardage every time, was forced to ground, but when the ball was recycled, a Noon knock on in contact was taken back by Sale for Nick Walshe to put up a more than decent box kick. With Hanley chasing, and Shaw desperately trying to make up ground across the field, it needed something very strange to stop the big winger from scoring. We got it. A bounce that went back over Hanley’s head allowed Walder to pounce on the ball, and feed Mayerhofler to clear into the Sale 22. Could it be Falcons’ day? Luck, or fortune favouring the brave?

Who knows. What we did know that it was Sale’s turn to score again. With Hodgson turning down the chance to go for the posts, their lineout ball was spoilt by conceding another penalty, but the ball ended up being kicked into Jason Robinson’s hands in his own 22. Afterburner time. Combining with Mark Cueto, the ball was taken into the Falcons 22, where Sale gained a penalty for not rolling away. Before the penalty could be blown for, Walshe broke from the ruck and it took a superb tackle from Joe Shaw - again - to stop the try. It saved four points. Spreaders blew for the penalty and Hodgson kicked it.

Marius had, by this point, come on for Ian Peel in the by now regular switch of props on the half an hour mark, but it had no discernible effect on the forwards - they were still marvellous. Turnover ball gained on halfway led to more chances for Shaw, Stevo and May to run at (and through) Sale, and even Grimesy was sidestepping men - only for the ball to be knocked on at the end of it. With half time coming shortly afterwards, a deficit of 13-10 was probably harsh looking at the amount of pressure exerted, but at this point the cup was more than up for grabs.

Half Time Score Sale 13 - Falcons 10

Half time views were that the outstanding Falcons were Britz and Shaw. The half time question though was could Falcons play as well in the second half?

Well, the right impression was certainly made from the start. Falcons won the ball from the kick off when Chris Jones was wrapped up, and the first half pattern resumed again - Noon bursting on, and this time being held up over the line. The ball was fed all the way along the line from the scrum to Stevo, and when he was held up a yard short, Hugh Vyvyan completed the job. What a fantastic start, and what a fantastic view of Dave Walder’s conversion, as the ball was held up in the wind but still kept going before just making it between the posts. 13-17, 43 minutes.

 

The foundations for the second half were laid. Within three minutes, there was another try - this time at the wrong end. Walder collected a Hodgson grubber kick through, but under huge pressure, he could only kick straight into Robinson’s hands on halfway. The ball was taken into a ruck, and three passes later, Cueto was running in unopposed from the ten metre line to take the lead back. 20-17. Not for those of a nervous disposition. Definitely for those who love this great game.

Sale Stretch Their Lead

Hall Charlton came on at this point for James Grindal. From the kick off, a short pass from Chris Jones to Sanderson led the flanker to sprint into the Falcons half and draw the penalty. With Spreaders on the blindside of Sanderson, he blew for a penalty for not rolling away when it was clear to all those seated in the East Stand that Sanderson was hanging onto the ball for dear life. Hodgson had the wind at his back, which consequently helped to make what should have been a difficult penalty look ridiculous easy (the sheer class of the man also had a lot to do with it) as the Sale lead increased to six for the first time.

Just for a moment, Falcon voices went quiet, as the media views of Sale cutting loose sprang to a lot of minds. Just for a moment though, because this was a Falcons team with a cause. A target. A goal. And within four minutes, another try.

Nirvana...

Tom May’s break down the right wing and cut inside saw an inside pass thrown to Huge, but Cueto got his arm in the way. From the scrum, the ball went along the line only for Stevo to this time be robbed of a score just short. Third time lucky? Hall’s dive pass under pressure from Walshe saw Walder and Mayerhofler exchange passes, before an exocet came up on Dave’s right shoulder in the shape of Joe Shaw, cutting a line that came from heaven to go under the posts. And there was no simple touchdown either, with an extravagant, exuberant dive before grounding the ball and hurling it into the South Stand. An expression of joy that said to his critics “right, you’ve seen what I can do, now back me”. A expression of joy that caused we in the East Stand to come up with something else in the heat of the moment that cannot be repeated here…The public address system played Nirvana, and Joe had found his.

Dave kicked the conversion, and it was 24-23 in the 53rd minute. Where was it all going to end? Sale once again pressed, and Shaw was forced to bundle the ball into touch when he knocked on a bouncing ball. He soon made up for that error though, by producing enough of a tackle on a rampant Jason Robinson to stop Billy Whizz going over in the opposite corner, and allowing enough time for the covering May and Noon to get across and wrap the Sale man up. Micky Ward was then replaced by Peely, and Nick Makin by Matt Thompson, but from the next scrum, Chris Mayor came from his inside centre position to first receiver, and cut inside Charlton, Dunbar and Vyvyan to score the try - not even a desperate last gasp tackle by Joe could prevent that. The obligatory Hodgson conversion followed, and it was 30-24.

Falcons at this point just went a bit loose for the first time in the match. Dave chose to kick a penalty into touch when those around me thought he should have gone for the posts, and promptly kicked the ball dead. A subsequent penalty also went for touch, and with the wind obviously proving a problem, we now just had to hope that further scoring chances would come.

Daryl Lilley replaced the effervescent Shaw on the hour, just at the point that Sale appeared to find their normal defensive line and tighten the game up slightly. Two more changes followed on 64 minutes, with Archer and the very impressive Britz replaced by Stretch Hamilton and Phil Dowson. Sale took advantage of the minute or so that Falcons needed to reorganise, and pushed for a try that would surely wrap the game up, but when the ball was forced out of a Sale ruck, Huge was taken out off the ball by a Sanderson shoulder charge, and a penalty for Falcons resulted - but no card. I should say at this point that looking back now, cards would probably have spoiled what was already a marvellous spectacle, but you don’t think this at the time, you’re just totally committed to seeing your team take any advantage they can, so you’re screaming your thoughts at Spreaders, and at the time, I thought he got it wrong.

Praising the referee????

In fairness though, he evened it up shortly afterwards in an incident missed at the time, but crystal clear on the video. Cueto bundled a Noon grubber kick into touch but didn’t release the ball. The newly arrived Dowson then stood on Cueto’s calf, and a less lenient referee (and there are many) would have produced a card - and much as I hate to say it, it could well have been a red one. Spreaders though appreciated the tension in the game and gave nothing more than stern words to both Dowse and Cueto. Take this incident and the previous obstruction together, and Mr Spreadbury had an excellent two minutes, man-management skills and appreciation of the game coming to the fore.

On 68 minutes, and shortly after the lineout from the Cueto incident, a chance. Sale were penalised on their ten metre line for offside, and with the kick being straighter than those previously, opted to go for the points. There were no worries at all, and the gap was down to three. Ten minutes to go. From the kick off, a ruck formed and there looked to be no danger to Sale, as they half-expected a long kick clear.

Wrong, wrong, wrong

Hall Charlton burst from the back of the ruck into wide open spaces, and just kept running. With only Dowse as support, Hall waited for Stevo to come up on the outside, and he tried once more to burrow his way to the line. When that failed, Noonie had a go, and Spreaders put an oh so sweet left arm out. Advantage Falcons, and with the preference being a try, further thrusts were made from Vyvyan and Mayerhofler. Nothing. The whistle went, and the penalty was Falcons for offside, right in front of the posts. One minute had elapsed. Nine minutes to go, and Dave’s kick made it 30 points all. We now had the best cup final ever, regardless of what was to come.

Mayerhofler’s left foot clearance from the kick off found Robinson on the halfway line, and he burst back - straight into Stevo. Unfortunately, Stevo didn’t get out of the way quickly enough, and another penalty was awarded, this time for Sale. Hodgson kicked it. 33-30 to Sale. Five minutes to go by the time he kicked it. A penalty. If only we could get a penalty.

A deep kick off was taken by Nick Walshe, which left Cueto to do the scrum half’s job. His pass back to Hodgson was clean enough, but for some reason he took two steps to clear the ball instead of one. Hugh Vyvyan, launching himself at the ball, managed to charge it down, and just for a second, the try was on. Quick thinking by Hanley just got him in front of Dowse, but he had no choice but to touch down behind his own line and concede a five metre scrum. Did anyone think “drop goal” at this moment?

Huge picked up from the base of the scrum and made a lunge for the line but was stopped on the gain line. Hall had a go, and made no more than a couple of feet. A pair of hands got to the ball, and suddenly a black juggernaut was going for the line, before crashing down. A whistle. An arm. A TRY!!!!!

Now it’s a little known fact that one of our fourteen likes a certain Falcons player, to the extent that at half time she sent a text to a friend saying “wait until Phil Dowson gets the winning try”. She didn’t know who scored, and had to wait for the PA. Suffice to say the scream, above all the noise that was already going on, would have been heard at Kingston Park. The replacement had come on and put Falcons back into the lead, a lead increased by Dave’s straightforward conversion. 37-33, and three and a half minutes to survive.

 

Hang on boys...

Heads were now hitting hands, the tension was unbelievable. Amidst the chants of “Falcons”, Sale came again, but Hanley knocked on and his right foot lunge at the ball just put it into Vyvyan’s hands. His clearance kick was, shall we say, wayward, going all of about three metres forward but fifty up. Stevo caught the ball outside his 22 and rather than taking the ball up the wing, proceeded to hack it into touch. With no advantage being awarded for the knock on, you wondered if Stevo would have been better just running the ball up the line. Could the heads stay cool for another two minutes?

From the lineout, Sale pressed on, and a very clever dink over the top from Jos Baxendell gave Steve Hanley a chance to run onto the ball. Once again, the bounce favoured black rather than white - Hanley couldn’t gather, and Noonie smothered the ball enough to get it shepherded back to Dave. Now there are some moments in a career for a fly half when you just want the ball to go exactly where you want it, even if you never kick a ball again. Jonny’s came in the World Cup Final. Now it was his colleague’s turn. From his own in-goal area, he cleared the ball over Robinson’s head, and the ball took once bounce which sent it ninety degrees and into touch on halfway. Mere kicks were now being roared home.

Sale desperately tried to go forward from the lineout. A Robinson burst was thwarted on halfway. The ball was flung over to the other wing, searching for a gap. The ball went back into midfield, all the time the ball not passing the ten metre line. A drive on white was followed by a drive back black. And a drive over black. And a whistle, followed shortly by a knock on, and the extension of Spreadbury’s right arm to signal a Falcons scrum. The roar was deafening.

At that moment, the stadium clock ticked over to 0.40. I screamed for the ball to be kicked out; I’m sure that I wasn’t alone. Friends couldn’t look. The imperious Falcons scrum had one more to win. Sensibly it was quick ball for Hall to feed back to Dave. The screaming became louder. A bouncing bomb of a kick headed towards Robinson in his own 22. The Whizz couldn’t get to it as it went out of play, and in the cacophony of noise, the final whistle went. And then...

Well, where I was it was silence for about five seconds before the realisation set in. The cup was coming back to Kingston Park, and that’s when the jumping about started. Beer flew everywhere. Lots of relief. Oodles of joy. Job, as they say, done.

One of the best

Neither team deserved to lose, it really was a case of last try wins. One of the best games of rugby I’ve ever seen, and certainly the best final, had ended with not only the good guys winning, but the good guys losing as well. Heads up Sale, you were all a credit to yourselves and to rugby. Now go and win the Wildcard, there’ll be a large number of us cheering for you.

My Falcons Man of the Match

How do you pick one out of a cup winning team. Honourable mentions to the enormous efforts of the pack, but my pick is the most outstanding back, try saver, try scorer, and provider of the memory and the picture of the final. Step forward Joe Shaw. It was your day.

The Teams

Newcastle:

Shaw, May, Noon, Mayerhofler, Stephenson, Walder, Grindal, Peel, Makin, Ward, Archer, Grimes, Dunbar, Britz, Vyvyan.

Replacements: Hurter, Charlton, Hamilton, Thompson, Dowson, Lilley, Gollings.

Sale:

Robinson, Cueto, Baxendell, Mayor, Hanley, Hodgson, Walshe, Sheridan, Titterrell, Stewart, Fullarton, White, Anglesea, Sanderson, Jones.

Replacements: Cairns, Turner, Schofield, Perrett, Going, Hercus, Wigglesworth.


        Editor's Note: If you would like to write up your memories of the day then please do so and email them to me at the usual address (see MB header).