Falcons in the land of the Eagles
By King Zak
September 14 2017
Premiership rugby finds yet another new home ground on Saturday as Saracens and Newcastle Falcons head to Philadelphia in what is nominally a Falcons home game. It will be an interesting experience for those travelling, of which my wife and I are two, as well as for those ‘left behind’; facing a challenging 10pm kick off.
The previous Premiership game in the US saw Saracens take on a relegation bound London Irish in New Jersey. On that occasion, Saracens ran out winners and had an enjoyable week with plenty of ‘team building’ thrown in; whilst their opponents found themselves immersed in media & promotional duties during the preceding week, something that hindered their match preparations. I find it hard to imagine that Dean Richards will allow such frivolous matters get in the way of preparing for this week’s encounter.
Falcons have made a fine start to the season and will undoubtedly see this as an excellent opportunity to beat the stuttering European Champions. In round one they comfortably disposed of Worcester Warriors with an impressive 35-8 bonus point win on opening night. In round 2 they achieved a one point win at the AJ Bell stadium against Sale; whilst it may not have been the most entertaining game of rugby, it was a mightily impressive win.
Since the installation of the ‘plastic’ pitch at Kingston Park, Falcons have developed into a more all- round team and are more than capable of a top six finish; they’re my outside tip for top four too. They are a very entertaining and exciting team to watch but Friday night showed that they still possess the ability to roll up their sleeves and battle it out when required. Last season’s match-up at Kingston Park in March was a wonderful game of rugby to which Falcons fully contributed; it was something of a travesty that they ended up ‘pointless’ following a 27-35 defeat.
They possess pace and skill all across the backline; Simon Hammersely, Alex Tait, Juan-Pablo Socino, and Chris Harris are all capable of creating mayhem, ably supported by Vereniki Goneva. Joel Hodgson at fly-half is an exciting talent who is now able to relax a bit more and concentrate on his own game since the arrival of Sonatane Takulua. The Tonga scrum-half has been a fantastic addition to the team, bringing assured goalkicking and an added dimension of physicality and pace at the breakdown. The recently returned Toby Flood is yet to make an appearance but he again will bring experience and leadership that will strengthen their challenge (as well as possessing one of the best names in rugby!)
In the forwards, they possess a solid front five with Rob Vickers, Scott Lawson, Jon Welsh, Calum Green and Will Witty starting at Sale. The backrow brings pace, power and pilfering skills provided by Mark Wilson, Will Welch, Callum Chick and Nili Latu. If the latter can stay fit this season, he could prove to be the catalyst for that top 6 (or even 4) finish. This is a team to be underestimated at your peril. Their future and strength in depth was highlighted in the recent ‘A’ league encounter away to Wasps, demolishing their hosts 21-67!
For Saracens, it’s been a now rather traditional stuttering start. The first 40 minutes of the season was quite remarkable but it was a half of rugby to which Northampton contributed as much to their own demise as anything Saracens did exceptionally well. The first 40 minutes at The Rec in round 2 was a total antithesis to that first 40. We shouldn’t be surprised by what we’ve seen; in recent years Saracens have rather eschewed ‘pre-season’, seemingly working on the theory (developed a few years ago by Wasps) that the first few weeks of the league season from part of pre-season, particularly for those teams anticipating a lengthy European campaign and aiming for a game at Twickenham in the final week of May. Accuracy and intensity will be much improved when the European games come round rather than that witnessed at Bath.
Saracens are also trying to manage re-integrating several British & Irish Lions players plus a returning Billy Vunipola. It will be interesting to see who Mark McCall decides to ‘unleash’ in Philadelphia. It’s possible we may see Mako Vunipola start for the first time this season, perhaps alongside France International Christopher Tolofua. Itoje must surely be due a rest (given that he wasn’t due to play in round 1), so we may see Nick Isiekwe partner Dom Day in the second row with Michael Rhodes, Jackson Wray and, if rumours are to be believed, Billy Vunipola in the backrow.
The halfbacks have been a bit hit and miss so far this season; Richard Wigglesworth has started both games with Ben Spencer getting very little game time. I suspect it will stay the same this weekend with Alex Lozowski retaining his place at fly-half but he’ll need to show far better game management and leadership than was evident at Bath; I imagine that McCall would rather not have to utilise Owen Farrell again this week! In the centres, perm any two from four to start; Brad Barritt, Nick Tompkins, Marcelo Bosch and Duncan Taylor. Similarly, at the back select three from Liam Williams, Alex Goode, Sean Maitland, Chris Wyles & Nathan Earl.
Whatever the outcome, if the game matches the entertainment of that encounter in March, then it will be a fantastic advert for Premiership rugby in the US. This is a critical time for US rugby. The game has now been given full college sport status, thus giving access to increased funding at that level; combined with the launch of Major League Rugby in spring 2018 there is real potential for USA rugby to become a major force.
I don’t imagine there will be many travelling from these shores, but if you are going, have a great time and I hope to meet up with a few ‘Brits abroad’ (get it?)pqs: qs:
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Thanks King Zak for the Falcons preview, safe travels to those going!
Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2017:09:24:17:47:15 by Darraghgirl.
also the opportunity for decent enough rugby players from the UK to get a college education for free and indeed be slightly paid for
I was unaware of the granting of college sport status. That could have a dramatic effect on the playing resources available to the national team.
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