Falcons At 10 - 2000/01 Review - Our Cup At Last
Always, THAT try
By Mark H
August 3 2005
After the calamity that was 1999/2000, Falcons would start the first full season of the millennium with four home games in the first five, and a great deal of changes.
Liam Botham had already signed at the end of the previous season, and was joined by back row forwards Jim Jenner (Worcester) and Andrew Mower (Irish), Tongan international centre Epi Taione (who had helped Tynedale to a 22 out of 22 win record in winning North One), and new full-timers Jamie Noon, Tom May, Dave Walder, Michael Stephenson, Hall Charlton, Allen Chiltern, Gareth Maclure, Mike Howe and Ross Cook.
Unfortunately, there were exits as well, the main ones being Peter Walton and Stuart Legg, both part of the championship winning side. In Walton’s case, he was advised to retire by the specialist after neck surgery; for Legg, the chance of a new career and life in
Another new points system came in (four for a win, two for a draw and bonus points for four tries or losing by seven or less points), and the season started at home to the European champions.
And then, a chink of light. Wasps, so often the thorn in Falcons’ side since Rob Andrew came north, turned up at
Andrew’s post match comments of “…I do think we are not far off the Baths and Leicesters of this world, the players just have to believe it themselves, but it’s no good just winning today, you have to do it next week, next month, next season” could be seen as slightly fanciful, with the side having won just ten of the previous thirty league games, but there was no doubt that the team were growing up together and developing into a better side.
September ended with the eighth league game of the season, and a 20-18 win over Quins at the Stoop to go into third place. As we’ll see later, the biggest margin between the two sides in their four games of this long season was just five points, and the games would get more thrilling.
Europe now took over, with Falcons drawn in Pool One of the European Shield, with
Before that though, two more weeks of cup ties had to be got through before the league restarted. The fourth and fifth rounds of the Tetley’s Cup were scheduled for consecutive weekends, and both were successfully negotiated, a 25-13 win at Rosslyn Park being followed by a 32-16 win over Bristol in one of the four all-Premiership clashes.
When the league restarted on 18 November, a full seven weeks after the Quins victory, the momentum that had been built up was thrown out by an indisciplined performance in the lunchtime kick off at
All of the old inconsistencies were back. A 32-27 win over Sarries at
In between the Irish and
Lunchtime kick off, Sky cameras, and a record crowd of 6,257 shoehorned into
Wilkinson stretched the lead just after the break, before the combination of Tuigamala and May combined to extend the lead into a winning one. Inga dumped Going on halfway, and as Bryan Redpath tried a kick clear, may caught the ball from no more than two yards away and outpaced three players to extend the lead to 31-10. JW missed the conversion, but his penalty shortly afterwards sealed the win – even late tries from Duncan Bell (described in one report as scoring “with a slow motion dance”) and Steve Hanley couldn’t spoil the party atmosphere and a final penalty made it 37-25. For the second time in three seasons, Falcons were into the cup final.
All eyes now turned to the Stoop, and the inevitable Tigers win Wrong. Inspired by Will Greenwood against his old club, Quins made it through to the February final. Time now to forget the final and push on for qualifying for the Heineken Cup through the league, but first,
The match against
The draw had worked out well. Falcons were third seeds, and ended up with a home draw a week later against French minnows Mont de Marsan, whose job was made a whole lot harder by the loss of Waisale Serevi to the World Cup Sevens. As it turned out, Falcons coasted through the game as the French shot themselves in the foot. Botham want over early on before blindside flanker Philippe Alaqui was sent off after just eighteen minutes for punching. Noon and Walder also scored first half tries, and the 23-8 lead provided the ideal base to cut loose in the second half, with further tries from Armstrong, Marius Hurter, and Walder again in the first twenty minutes. Mont de Marsan scored two consolation tries, but injury time efforts from May and Gareth Maclure saw a final score of 61-23.
The ten day wait for the draw seemed like forever, and when it came, Falcons ended up with Quins – again – whilst
One game had to be fulfilled before Twickenham, and the 24-23 victory over
Indeed, even though the conversion attempt hit the post, Quins started to take over, with only a last ditch Armstrong tackle denying full back Ryan O’Neill a try with the ball already over the line. Worrying times, especially when Burke increased the gap with another penalty. Wilkinson pulled three points back with one long range effort, but then missed another from 45 metres, and Burke made the last kick of the half count to extend the lead to 14-10; a deserved score simply for the efforts of his forwards.
Wilkinson and Burke exchanged penalties at the start of the second half, before Rob Andrew made the first changes – Ian Peel and Hugh Vyvyan replaced Micky Ward and Doddie Weir. Jonny then missed his third kick of the day, before Burke made it a personal five out of five and 20-13. With the kicking game not working, it had to be tries for Falcons, and Walder sent May clear to go through two tackles, sidestep O’Neill, and score a wonderful solo try. The chance to even the score up via the conversion was missed, and it looked to be costly missed when Ben Gollings,
With four minutes of normal time left, the slenderest of lifelines was created when Jim Jenner squeezed over right in the corner to make it 27-23. Conversion missed again. The kicks would be costly as the game went into injury time and beyond. Falcons charged, but the Quins held out. And then…
Ian Peel was bundled into touch five metres short of the Quins line, but somehow (and I still can’t see how from the video), touch judge Steve Lander gave Falcons the lineout ball. The cynic in me would say that even though it was Ed Morrison’s last game at Twickenham, Lander had to make sure that he had the attention on him. Like I say, that would be cynical. Lineout ball into Grimes’ hands. Armstrong flung the ball out. Wilkinson created space. The ball found its way out to Noon, who created more space. And then, in an acre of space, Dave Walder. Metres that seemed like miles before the ball was grounded, and everyone of a Geordie persuasion erupted. As if to rub the drama in, Wilkinson finally kicked a conversion – when it didn’t matter. Morrison signalled the end, Quins slumped to the turf, and the cup, in the huge hands of Doddie Weir, was coming north.
The cup win didn’t bring with it an automatic spot in the Heineken Cup, so in a way it was surprising that the league results for the rest of the season tailed off. Ironically, it was Quins who were the first visitors post-final to
The countdown was now on to the European semi-final, and with Irish vanquished on April Fools Day 42-35 (this time with five first half tries), things looked to be back on track – something confirmed by a 39-36 win at relegated
It was an historic occasion, as it would be the first time a non-French side made the final (in the tournament’s fifth season), and it was the first Shield match to be shown live on British television, as the Sunday Grandstand audience looked forward to an epic similar to the three games between the sides that had preceded it. What they got was epic alright, but to be watched through hands as the teams battered each other in midfield and managed not to entertain but bore. With the Wilkinson shoulder still sore, he then managed to pick up a neck injury very early on, but carried on at a lot less than 100%. In Quins’ case, they had been forced to put an injured Keith Wood on the bench just to avoid a forfeit, as ERC dug their heels in over a replacement hooker, with both Wood and Tana Fuga (who played the full eighty minutes) patently unfit. Wilkinson kicked two penalties in the first half before Craig Chalmers, playing his first match in three months, scored a penalty to make it 6-3 at the interval. Both captains exited just before that whistle for fighting, which seemed to be a case of referee Jim Fleming getting fed up with the pettiness of the game.
Chalmers then dropped a goal just after half time, and then scored a try from
Was this the start of the problems for Jonny? An injured shoulder followed by a neck injury a week later may not have seemed that significant at the time, and may not have been the “cause” of his long lay off, but the (over?) reliance put in him, by Rob Andrew, Clive Woodward and – at that time – Graham Henry, as well as Jonny’s own indestructibility at that point, would not have helped what happened in the future.
The season was over. Yes, there were still the play-offs to come, but that defeat at Sarries had left a trip to
Elsewhere, Leicester won both the Heineken Cup, 34-30 over Stade Francais, and the play-off final, 22-10 over
Four years before, five Falcons went on the British and Irish Lions tour to
Around the corner lay a first crack at the Heineken Cup…pqs: qs: