View from the South Stand

No Place For Hate

I became aware of this initiative while watching the 6 Nations U20s, for some reason I didn’t hear it promoted quite as much during the men’s tournament but the England women’s game in Italy started with the statement so I hope the message keeps being re-inforced and gets out to as many as possible. 

I think the statement from 6 Nations Rugby, part of which appears on our home page is well worth including in full here:

Six Nations Rugby, alongside it’s Unions and Federations, stands against any form of discrimination, racism, hate speech or abuse.

As a representative of the sport, Six Nations Rugby is calling on its fans, and members of the community to join in making rugby a safe, open and inclusive environment.

There is no place for discrimination or hate on the pitch, in the stands, online, within the sport, or in any area of society and in the world we all live in, and rugby is coming together to take a stand.

If You…See it, Hear it, Experience it, then REPORT IT.

Flag A Concern:  speakup@newcastle-falcons.co.uk

Obviously rugby is for life not just the 6 Nations so I hope this initiative carries on and that its message hits home and sticks.

I find the abuse that people like Owen Farrell and world cup officials have received online to be unbelievable, not only online but this has spilled over to actual games with Farrell again in the firing line in games at Sale and in South Africa and Ugo Monye being abused at Exeter. Not only have players, officials, pundits, coaches and management been targets but also their families, there is no place for this in our sport so I hope everyone in rugby gets behind the initiative to stamp it out.

Everyone has an opinion and is entitled to express it but there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. There is always going to be some banter but again there is a line and and as for death threats, I just hope the advances in technology mean that these people are caught and dealt with.

Some players will always divide opinion but they are allowed a life outside of rugby. Faz isn’t a “reality tv star” and keeps his family life private so should be allowed to do that. I thought it was great to see him in the crowd for the Ireland v Italy game, smiling and posing for selfies with fans, and also getting a good reception at Twickenham when he was show in the crowd on the stadium screens, that’s how it should be.

It has come to my attention recently that this kind of thing even goes on at our club which really shocked me. This season has obviously been difficult but anyone who actually comes to games will I’m sure agree that the support from the Falcons faithful has been fantastic. It’s easy to support a winning team, maybe not so easy to come out on a cold wet Friday evening when things aren’t going well but they have, and in numbers, which I think tells you everything you need to know about our real fans. It sort of feels like adversity has bonded club and fans even more. I don’t know how anyone expects people to perform with a constant barrage of abuse and negativity so would urge all those “armchair warriors” out there to put down their phones and keyboards and to come along, get behind the club and make a positive statement and a positive difference. We are all in this together and we also need to encourage the next generation of players, fans and officials so need to set the right example both at games and across all communication platforms.

The Story So Far

This isn’t the place for  match analyses, (or after the Bristol game a post mortem maybe more appropriate) there are match reports and the views of the coaches and players on the main Falcons site after each game and Dimes is always pretty frank and straightforward so this is purely from a fan’s perspective.

Now 16 league games in and 16 losses,  This season was always going to be a big ask but even so the statistics make very harsh reading, as have a lot of the scorelines which really haven’t reflected the games which can’t be said about the scoreline in the recent Bristol game however. I don’t think there is much to be said other than how good Bristol were and what a great job Dave Walder is doing as attack coach, sometimes you just have to draw a line and move on. The game at Northampton before the break for the 6 Nations was pretty much the story of our season pre-Diamond, some very bright moments and some periods of great defence and a close scoreline for a long period but then the game got away from us, the main difference being that they took their chances.  5 losing bonus points in total in the league is all we have to show for all our efforts so far. Some really atrocious weather (even by KP standards) some key bounces and decisions that haven’t gone our way, which always seems to be the case when you are at the bottom of the table but you just have to hope these things balance out over the season. The Saracens (home) Leicester, Benetton and now Bristol games were the other games where the scorelines were a true reflection of the games, sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say they were far better in every department on the day, although we looked very sharp in the first 20 mins of the Benetton game but couldn’t maintain that form against what has to be said was a very classy  outfit.

We have to be realistic as we can’t do what Bath did last season and bring in the likes of Ted Hill, Ollie Lawrence, Alfie Barbeary to turn our season around and add the likes of Finn Russell over the summer so we need to find ways to fully utilise the players we have and keep the talent we have. As I’m sure everyone now knows  Pepper, Brantingham and Johnson are moving on over the summer, it’s disappointing that they don’t see their futures here but that’s part of professional sport, hopefully we can change things so can keep hold of the next generation and not become an academy for other clubs. Great news that Oli Spencer and Marcus Tiffin have extended their stays and that Alex Hearle, Luan De Bruin and Cameron Neild are heading to KP next season. Those type of signings I could see coming and no surprises Dimes has gone for people he has worked with before and knows exactly what he will get from them but I think it also speaks volumes that they are all keen to work with Dimes again so positive steps. Although the results have been disappointing there are positives and that’s what we need to concentrate on, after all the past can’t be changed, but we can learn from it. So we are now in the Diamond Era and got off to a flying start in the first minutes down at Sandy Park with Ben Stevenson reminding us what he has in his locker.

The lineout was vastly improved and some good performances, Blamire and Chick were their usual selves, Sam Stuart looked sharp and tried to keep things moving quickly and Cameron Hutchinson made a big impact in both attach and defence when he came on but we conceded far too many penalties which gave Exeter an easy way out and gave them the platform to camp in our 22 and play their power game and of course 2 yellow cards don’t help. The visit of Leicester Tigers for our first home game under Dimes brought our biggest crowd of the season (to that point) and one of the most dramatic and tense finishes to a game you will ever see. I’m still not sure how we didn’t convert all that pressure, territory and extra manpower into points but you have to credit the Tigers defence, resilience and even “gamesmanship” for the way they sucked us into playing how they wanted rather than letting us impose our style on them and being able to stretch play so we could make the most of our numerical advantage. We still need to find a way to get our back 3 more involved as they are as dangerous as any in the league but hopefully some signs that things are moving in the right direction. Tigers certainly knew they had been in a game and a much better performance than in our previous encounters with them this season.

The attendance for the visit of Sale topped that of the Leicester game and the game was similar at times in that we couldn’t quite convert our territory, pressure and extra man advantage when we had it into p0ints. You always know what you will get from Sale, a real arm wrestle…not just arms and not just wrestling!  Radders disallowed try looked a try to me and another one of “those decisions” that go the way of the onfield decision. A lucky bounce for them after Blamire ripping the ball in the tackle led to a try so again we weren’t far away.

Many congratulations to Tom Penny on joining the 100 club alongside Chick, Radwan, Blamire, Brocklebank and Connon. All have been at the Falcons for quite some time, have come through the development programme and now form the backbone of the squad and  “senior player group” even at their young ages. Let’s hope that those younger players in the age grade international set up go on to do the same.

There are no easy games in the premiership but let’s see if we can get an even bigger crowd for the Bath game and make the differences and help them to that elusive league win. The atmosphere at KP this season has been fantastic, and against Exeter in particular with Wor Flags in attendance KP really looked the part as well as sounding the part. Wor Flags will be back for our final home game of the season against Bath so come along and be a part of what promises to be a great night.

6 Nations

I still can’t quite believe that there were no Falcons’ players in the England matchday squads and only 2 in the England A squad, though good to see them both starting. The A team game was shown live on the England rugby YouTube channel and around 15,000 turned up to watch the game at Leicester so I’m not alone in thinking it’s about time these fixtures were reinstated as they have a valuable part to play. A serious mis-match in terms of size, weight and power but you can only play what’s in front of you so full credit to England for not easing off and full credit to Portugal for sticking at it and good to see them cross the whitewash. Lots of very good performances (including Blamire and Pepper) and quite a few players players put their hands up for inclusion in plans, not just looking towards the next world cup but for the tour later this year, the big question as always though is would they be allowed allowed to play their own game?

It wasn’t just the lack Falcons’ players, but no Mercer or Sleightholme either and how McGuigan has been overlooked the past few years is beyond me but I’m sure every fan has their own list players for the squads and own views of how to play.

I thought it was good for the competition that Ireland didn’t have it all their own way, that Italy at last got some reward and looked competitive, England showed a bit more of what they are capable of. France eventually found a way to play without Dupont, The Scots will probably be scratching their heads and the Welsh have a bit of work to do, lots of effort but nothing to show for it in terms of results which i’m sure we can all relate to.

As always some games have had some controversial decisions, the Scottish disallowed try against France for one. To me it looked a try but could I say 100% I could see the player grounding the ball then no…I could see the ball on someone’s foot and then on the ground but couldn’t see if anyone’s hand was on it. I think the key factor was the on field decision of no try, if it had been try was there concrete evidence to the contrary, I don’t think so. It also shows that no matter how many angles you have or how much you slow things down that some things just aren’t 100% clear, the officials can only go with what they see as we don’t want to get into the realms of probability…who would be a ref or TMO!

This also showed up in the Wigan v Penrith rugby league world club challenge game, 2 key decisions that went with the onfield decision as there was no clear evidence to overturn them, again some things just aren’t clear no matter how much technology you throw at it so the refs have to go with what they see.

One thing the tournament has shown clearly is that there is always a place for real, pacey wingers who are given a bit of freedom to play what they see and who are used for more than just kick chasing.

I really enjoyed the U20s games and if you haven’t seen any they are well worth a watch., England’s final game in France that saw them clinch the Championship was excellent as was the game against Ireland the week before. France were vastly more experienced and even called back Tuilagi from the senior squad so that showed how seriously they took the game. Players seem to play with a bit of freedom and expression which is good to see. There are some seriously big units so who knows what size they will be once fully grown!! A close tournament and each nation has a crop of talented youngsters coming through which is good for the game and future of the 6 Nations. Games were live (and are still available) on BBC iplayer. Falcons had 4 players involved with England and winning the Championship is a very special thing so many congratulations to them. Even in these results driven times, it isn’t all just about winning but also the experience, hopefully a good, enjoyable and positive experience for all of them which will benefit them moving forward in their careers.

left to right: Ben Redshaw, Ben Douglas, Jacob Oliver and Oli Spencer

Jacob Oliver continues his 6 Nations experience after being named, along with Isaac Keller in the England U19s squad, could he get his hands on 2 Championship medals in the same season’s tournaments? Maybe, both players helping England to a 40-10 victory against Italy in L’Aquila

Luke Coulston came off the bench to make his debut for Scotland U20s in their game against Italy so many congratulations to him and also to Patrick Hogg and Joe Davis who made their U18s England debuts against France. Patrick Hogg and Sam Graham have been included in the England U18s squad for the 6 Nations Rugby festival being held in Parma with Patrick Hogg being named as captain for the Scotland game. Both started in the 26-19 win over Georgia with Graham one of the try scorers. The U18s isn’t a full competition with each team playing 3 games, England return home having won their 3 games.

A really good interview with Ben Redshaw on the RUCK website, to read it click here

Not 6 Nations but congratulations to Ollie Fletcher and Max Pepper for their inclusion in the England Students squad to take on the French Universities in Coventry on May 4th.

The women’s tournament kicked off with results pretty much as you would expect. Even with the early red card England didn’t look like they were the team with 14 against Italy and looked far fitter and better coached. A perfect example of what we all know, finances in rugby are not equal and England with their professional set up in place for longer showed that, but you have to credit them for sticking to their game plan and imposing themselves on the Italian side. They were also far too strong for Scotland, Wales, Ireland  and even France but full credit to England as they can only play the team in front of them and are continuing to improve and develop their game so are a continually moving target for those trying to catch up.  France again at Kingsholm and New Zealand coming to Twickenham in September as warm ups for the WXV 1 tournament will I suppose be a better indication of just where England are but they have been fantastic to watch and great for their fans and for growing the game.

End of an Era

Being a Falcons fan is always a bit of a rollercoaster ride but last season provided perhaps even bigger peaks and troughs than usual and not just on the pitch but behind the scenes also.

With Will Welch, Alex Tait and even Smithy (from Newcastle radio) retiring, Mark Wilson, Scott MacLeod (welcome back Scott!)  and of course Dave Walder leaving along with senior players like McGuigan, Davison, Young, Graham, Robinson, Peterson and Mulipola, it really does feel like the end of an area. Thanks Dave, Mark and Scott  and thanks and good luck to all who have pulled on the Falcons shirt and are moving on.

There were some great games and scintilating tries, some really gritty performances, it was such a stop start season with really long gaps in the calendar so add to that all the rumours and uncertainty and a lot of credit has to go to the team and coaching staff for getting through and being up for the challenge and of course to the management side for keeping us in business which as we know some other “bigger” clubs sadly couldn’t manage.

As always there were things that didn’t gone our way, a few “if onlys”…if only a few more passes had stuck, if only a few more bounces of the oval ball had gone our way,  if only a few more decisions had gone our way, if only we had a few less injuries, but we also have to be realistic and over the course of the season the league table doesn’t lie, the points columns don’t lie.

Recently I’ve seen interviews with Alex Sanderson and Ronan O’Gara and both mentioned pretty much the same thing, which in a nutshell boils down to no excuses, find solutions and solutions was something Steve Diamond also mentioned in his video interview, that seems the perfect philosophy to have.

It’s always disappointing to lose players but we have always had big players leave and always will, as has again been proved with the announcement that Carreras is leaving with immediate effect. Our best players are always going to be targeted by the bigger, wealthier clubs, it’s just a fact of life for us in the north east. Although disappointing I’m a firm believer that the Falcons policy of letting go anyone who wants to take up a better offer or no longer sees their future at the club, is the right one and it’s up to the club to unearth/develop the next Mateo.

It’s such a shame we hardly saw Mateo this season but thanks for everything and good luck at Bayonne. With the break for the 6 Nations and Dimes talking about having the longest pre-season ever looking forward to next season, then I can see the logic in letting him go now (especially if it was financially beneficial and meant we could sign Alex Hearle) and concentrating on building towards the next campaign with players who will be here.

Playing careers are short, offers come along, not just financial but the chance of a new and different challenge and life experience, that in turn gives opportunities to those coming through the ranks and to those coming into the club to make their mark and become regulars and fan favourites in their own right. 

Also honesty and realism have to come into play, apart from the players sought by other clubs, some players, some systems don’t quite work out so you can’t sit back and just hope things will change but have to take action, and be brave enough to take drastic action if needed, as I’ve mentioned before, the league table and points columns don’t lie over the course of a season so do you sit back and just hope, or change? Although, this does raise the question of what happens if that plan doesn’t bring the expected results? I suppose we have part of the answer to that with Steve Diamond coming in, another part with Scott Macleod back and Alex Hearle on his way, no doubt the rest of the answer will unfold in due course. We also have to remember the club is a business so decisions have to be taken to make sure it is a viable business, London Irish, Wasps, Worcester and Jersey…need I say more!

10 Team Premiership

With the Premiership consisting of just of 10 teams this season, is this plan for the future or just the easy option for this season?

I want to see the best international team we can put out (whether or not we actually saw that on a regular basis with Eddie’s teams or if we will get that with Steve Borthwick is a debate for another time) but should that come at the expense of the club game?

Many clubs struggle to build their fan base, especially in the current economic climate and personally I don’t think it helps for top players to be taken away for weeks, even months on end, even more so when they aren’t used in any match day squads. Fans quite rightly want to see their best players run out for their club and also to see them up against top players from visiting sides. With world cup games, 6 nations and the player protocols in place after these it usually means some clubs only have some of their top players available for a handful of games throughout the season and with all the talk of hybrid contracts how much club time will players get? Ok rugby is a squad game and when players are away it gives an opportunity to someone else but this happens anyway throughout a season and it’s better if clubs can choose when to rotate and bring in others rather than be forced into it, after all that happens enough with injuries.

Having international players obviously helps raise the profile of any club and it also shows younger players coming through that they can achieve their international ambitions without being at a so called “glamour club” but there has to be a better system and I think the 10 team league, no relegation, (although I have read that Doncaster’s ground has been approved for Premiership rugby so if they win the Championship we could be involved in a play off ) in a season that includes the world cup and of course 6 nations is an easy option and to a large extent just shelving the whole issue again.

I don’t like to use the F word but football seems to handle the club v country dilemma much better.

Los Pumas

A quick mention and congratulations to our Geordie Pumas for reaching the RWC semi finals and commiserations at the way they went out at the hands of what is a pretty formidable All Blacks team, but coming away ranked 4th shows it was overall a very positive and succesful campaign. Mateo rightly grabbed the headlines with a hat trick in the Japan game, of course we in the north east, along the rest of the premiership won’t be surprised by this but now the rest of the world knows exactly what he is about.  To do something like that on the world stage is pretty special so I think that qualifies for a thumbs up emoji, which we know is the highest form of praise there is nowadays. Some pride was restored in the 3rd place play off game against England, some very strong carries from all, Mateo running straight over Smith, Ford any anyone else in his way, aggressive defence and high work rate, which gave us a reminder of just what they can add to our team.  I suppose it was inevitable that being in the “shop window” of the world cup that offers would come in, I’m sure the club does it’s best to hang on to players but as we know finances in rugby are not a level playing field.

When is a card not a card

Although not strictly Falcons or Supporters Club news, the controversy surrounding the cards given to Steward, Vunipola and Farrell in particular in the world cup warm up games and the subsequent overturning of the Farrell upgraded red and the intervention of World Rugby and the overturning of that overturning does have a knock on effect and affects all clubs. We are doing our best to promote rugby in a positive light and attract more people but the the powers that be seem intent on making rugby look inept, just look at the way and when the world cup pools were decided, ok if you are going to win you will have to beat the best teams but there really shouldn’t be 3 top teams in one qualifying group or such a concentration of top teams on one side of the draw.

I’m not jumping on the bash Faz (or any player or match official) bandwagon, it’s the situation I’m bashing.

If you slow things down enough then I’m sure there comes a point when most tackles look dodgy. After all rugby is a collision sport played at pace and that has to be remembered and “real time footage” given top billing when viewing incidents but player welfare, rightly, has to be the main consideration. There are always going to be incidents but to me it doesn’t seem a fair playing field and that some players are almost treated differently and some games are seemingly played under different rules, just look at the opening weekend of games in the world cup…three seemingly very similar incidents… Tom Curry gets a red, Martin Sigren (Chile captain) gets a yellow but the South African centre Jesse Kriel’s challenge doesn’t even warrant a review of any kind, even in the final, how much difference was there in the Cane and Kolisi “tackles”…very fine margins.

Maybe there are differences in how games from the different competitions around the world are refereed but world rugby should have had a clear message for officials as to how all games at the world cup were to be refereed.

Wherever you stand on the whole tackle height, technique and what is just a rugby incident debate, this situation really needs clarification.  If world rugby are attempting to eliminate the bolt upright and shoulder to head type of tackles then how can similar challenges meet with different decisions? After all the time, all the camera angles and reviews that go to help make these decisions on the day, situations like this should not happen. Ok we all see things differently but it should not come down to individual interpretation, laws are laws and there are already mitigation criteria in place, but when there are no grounds for mitigation how can there be different outcomes? There is too much at stake and some teams are losing players but others not. Could Tom Curry just have shown footage of the other incidents as his defence?

With an audience of millions worldwide looking on there was a huge opportunity to promote our sport so we really need to get these things right as at the moment world rugby is shooting itself in the foot and adding to the confusion rather than solving it.

Let’s just hope for clarity and consistency in  coming season so everyone knows where they stand, are treated the same and that the talking points are therefore all about what a great game rugby is and not about the cards or discilinary procedures.

On a positive note I’ve found my “get out of jail free card”, the phrase “a change in dynamic in the contact area” will now be my excuse for everything! 

7/1 Split

On the bench in the world cup pool game against Ireland, South Africa had a split of 7 forwards and just 1 back, something they repeated in both the semi final and final. I really don’t know if anyone has ever just put 8 forwards on the bench or even if that’s allowed? I can’t see why it isn’t allowed, if you want to firmly put all your eggs in one basket, which South Africa did then that’s up to them. Firstly I will say they were involved in some great games that summed up exactly what rugby is about, each team trying to impose their style and game plan on the other. You know exactly what you are going to get with South Africa and they have a proven winning tournament formula so I suppose you really can’t argue with their tactics but it isn’t just tactics, they are all fully committed and back themselves and take risks, after all a 7/1 split is something that can easily go very wrong.  No-one can accuse them of having an easy route to the trophy either and they have found a way to win in every game. Rugby has always been a game for all shapes and sizes and for different skill sets and long may that continue, so personally even though I appreciate forward play I don’t want to see huge forwards that can only play for 40 or 50 minutes then be replaced by virtually another full pack of equally huge forwards with talented backs just on the pitch to chase kicks and to make the numbers up. The thing that concerns me is that if South Africa keep winning  then some other teams think you have to play the same way to be successful (England in the semi final for example) and that size is the only option, as is having the same number of forward interchanges as they have. They aren’t going to change a winning formula, as with all teams they play to their strengths, set their stall out and say beat us if you can, so it’s for other teams to take up the challenge and do what Ireland did in the first group game, which is obviously easier said than done but as has been shown, is possible. I find it encouraging to see developing teams like Portugal, Chile and Uruguay etc trying to play an allround game and looking to score tries…so I live in hope.

England tried to beat South Africa at their own game with no Plan B, ok you play to the conditions and your strengths and it was an edge of the seat game, full of commitment BUT England never looked like they were capable of threatening the South African try line or even put themselves in positions to keep the score board ticking over and kicked 91% of their possession, so in the end it came down to needing a zero mistakes game and matching their forward power for the full 80 minutes and just coming up a fraction short. If that had been a premiership league game and not a world cup semi final would people be raving about it or more likely complaining at the lack of ambition and all the kicking?

The conditions at KP for the game against Gloucester were far worse than in France for the England v South Africa game but look at the try Adam Radwan scored, the lift in the crowd when players like that get the ball and it proves that even in the most atrocious conditions  a player who can do something unpredictable in broken play is a real bonus, surely England need someone who can create something from nothing but who is also given the freedom to “play what you see” and back themselves.

 

I’m sure every fan in the country can list players from their club they feel should be in the England set up, players who light up the premiership week in week out, stand out performers, players of the season, all often get overlooked or discarded without really being given a chance, so with some of the older players retiring from international rugby maybe now is the time for a reset and change, sadly I have my doubts that will happen.

Premiership Cup

I think the addition of Championship clubs to the Premiership Cup is long overdue (although renaming the competition might be in order) and there will be some really tricky games as some early results have already shown. Ambitious teams like Ealing, Jersey, Doncaster, Coventry and Pirates have a point to prove as I’m sure they think they have been unfairly treated and these games are like cup finals to them. In my opinion they all have proved to be well run and viable outfits, although I seem to have spoken too soon with the  news about Jersey which is obviously very worrying for the Championship as a whole…with covid and funding cuts and no chance of promotion how are the more ambitious clubs going to survive? Will clubs need to be part time to survive? what effect would that have on the standard of rugby not just in Championship but at all levels? Anyway, as far as promotion from the championship goes does it really matter if their grounds hold less than the specified capacity? I don’t think so, after all how often is the full capacity of a ground reached? So why not give them a chance, see if they can compete and survive in the Premiership first and give extra time to address the ground issues instead of multi million investment in a stadium that possibly could only be a Premiership ground for one season, but what do I know? These decisions are made by people well above my pay grade who know what they are doing (allegedly).

As for the Falcons the Premiership (and European) cup games are a great development tool providing the opportunity to give everyone a competitive run out, give some real game time to those coming through the ranks, those coming back from injury, give players a real chance to stake a claim for a starting place in the coming league season as well as the chance to try out training ground moves in a match environment. All in all the Prem Cup games have been an ideal springboard into the league campaign. Good to see Ben Redshaw starting against Sale, Louie Johnson, Ollie Fletcher, Marcus Tiffin, Phil Brantingham, Ben Douglas, Iwan Stephens and Zach Kerr all getting game time, Guy Pepper, Ben Stevenson and Callum Chick fit again, George Wacokecoke back on the bench and back in action in the Caldy game and Oliver Spencer, Sam Clark and Finn Baker making their debuts and another chance to have a look at Max Pepper after his appearance in the Origin game. A shame we didn’t get to see the likes of Nathan Greenwood due to injury but hopefully all those on the injured list will be back soon. There have been some promising debuts for quite a few our new signings, a special mention to Adam Brocklebank on getting 100 up and to Louis Brown for the best Radwan impression with this finish.

apologies if I’ve missed anyone out.

For the first time in a few years I thought the Premiership Cup was something we could have a good go at but the result at Leicester has put paid to that and also served up a humbling reminder about what awaits once the Premiership starts, hopefully lessons learnt but good experience for everyone taking part in the competition.

 

While on the subject of player development, bringing in Tom Williams from Jersey as a transition coach is such a good idea. Players coming through our system really are our future so everything that can be done to make sure the steps from age grades to senior rugby are successful should be done. We have some amazing talent coming through so need to make sure they are as prepared as possible for all the demands of the game at senior level and also see their future at the Falcons, we want and need to hold on to our talent and not be an academy for other clubs.

EPCR Challenge Cup

Everything you need to know about the Challenge Cup this season click here

Our competition kicked off against Montpellier at KP and in many ways perfectly represented our season so far. Some bright attacking play but again some lapses in defence and concentration which really cost us, runners like Lam and Simmonds don’t pass up opportunities like that so yet another game we could have won but let slip and again just a losing bonus point to show for all our efforts.

A trip to South Africa to take on the Emirates Lions at the iconic Ellis Park was next, this was always going to be a difficult trip with the logistics of travelling and squad juggling with the Bristol game just 5 days after. I only saw the briefest of highlights so it’s not fair to comment but hopefully good experience for those that made the trip, especially the younger players.

The way our season is going and the logistics of this competition now that South Africa has officially relocated to Europe could be seen as an unnecessary extra in our season but if we as a club have ambition and our players also have ambition then European competition  has to be something we embrace and find a way to navigate. We need to be playing these games and testing ourselves and enjoying the experiences.

The Benetton game started with lots of attacking intent and great promise but after 20 mins they took complete control. It didn’t help losing Iwan Stephens after 35 minutes as he looked very sharp as he has done all season. Maybe the biggest difference between the teams was the way they didn’t panic and stuck to their plan, they were very accurate and clinical. There are periods in any game when the opposition have more of the ball and more of the territory, we struggle to regain control after those periods and maybe chase the game a bit and errors creep in which then give the opposition an easy way out. They didn’t do that, as I said they stuck to their game knowing it would come good…it’s something that comes with winning.

I know lots of people looking at our final pool game away at Perpignan saw it as a “dead rubber” but it certainly wasn’t as far as the Falcons were concerned. Although we couldn’t progress from the pool the pressure wasn’t really off as we were still searching for our first win and more complete performance and full credit to Micky Ward and the coaching team along with the squad for delivering just that. Hopefully it will give us a bit of a jump start for the rest of the league season.