Newcastle won their fourth game out of five and hit the top of the Aviva Premiership table with a win over London Irish on Friday night. The Falcons took a big early lead before dealing with some late Irish pressure to secure the win. It is the best start to a season for Newcastle since they won it all 20 years ago. Here are five things we learned while watching the match unfold:
Intimate grounds are best for rugby
There is nothing worse than watching a sporting event in a super modern stadium that is half empty. This is one of the huge issues in Super Rugby right now as stadiums that hold 40,000 people plus are routinely the sites of games played in front of 10,000 fans. This is much less of a problem in the Aviva Premiership, mainly because the stadiums involved are the right size for the crowd that wants to be there.
Kingston Park in Newcastle is a great example of that. From the hard camera view, the stadium looks tiny. The ground though is incredibly atmospheric and when the Falcons are rolling the noise there is fantastic. The artificial surface may be of the newest design, but the stadium feels much older than its build date of 1990 and that – in this case – is a great thing.
London Irish don’t wrap up the ball well
The second Newcastle Falcons try was a terrible one for the Exiles to concede, but it pointed to a problem they had all game when Newcastle had the ball. The attack started well inside the Newcastle half and the Irish had no less than three different chances during the phase to stop Newcastle dead in their tracks. Each time a London Irish player was committed to the tackle, hitting the Newcastle player but failing to either bring them to the ground immediately or – crucially wrap up the ball in contact.
This wrapping of the ball has become massively important in rugby because of how dangerous a late offload is for the defence. If the inside man isn’t working hard, and this was a problem for the Exiles during the match, then it will be almost impossible to stop long-range tries. It was a great finish from Vereniki Goneva, but he should never have been in a position to score in the first place.
The Irish defence was too inconsistent
The first half of this match got out of hand in a hurry. London Irish went from 3-0 ahead to 24-3 down in the space of about 15 minutes. It was a strange turnaround too because for the first period of the game the Exiles were defending well, especially when they could attack the Newcastle ball carriers by using outstanding line speed.
There were three or four instances early in the game where an Irish defender would come up fast on the edges of the midfield and catch a Falcons player well behind the gain line. It was surprising that the Irish weren’t able to turn over more ball from these hits – which is a credit to the Newcastle scramble rucking game – but the defence was on point. The problem is that this line speed was inconsistent and when the Exiles sat back instead of playing attacking defence, they had no answer to the running lines and power of the Newcastle ball carriers.
The Premiership is a big step up
Every team out there should aim to play in the top division possible. That step up in class though can be difficult to prepare for. London Irish won the RFU Championship last season at a canter. They finished with 19 wins from their 20 league matches, amassing an impressive 91 points and finishing 17 points ahead of the second-placed team (Yorkshire Carnegie.) Even more impressive was their points difference, which was a ridiculous +422 at the end of the year.
This shows they were routinely outclassing their opponents, winning games by 20 and 30 point margins. To go from that euphoric sense of victory and comfort, to often being behind in matches is a difficult mental hurdle to get over. When the first Newcastle try was run in, the Exiles seemed shell-shocked and they could not immediately regain their composure. Two quick tries later and the game was over.
Nili Latu gives Newcastle an X-factor
The way the game is played in 2017 you have to have a player or two that can do something a little out of the ordinary. Newcastle has such a player in back rower Nili Latu. The Tongan captain may not have scored on Friday night, but he played a huge part in the build-up for Goneva’s first try and his ability in the loose is something that really sets Newcastle apart from the other contenders at the top of the table.
Latu has that ability to either be a brute or a creator depending on the situation. He is just as happy throwing a deft flick-pass as he is squaring up and trying to run over a defender or two. When you add in the force, he is on defence – he is one of those players you never want to take a squared up hit from – then you see how vital he is to the Falcons’ aspirations of Premiership success.
What did you see in the match? Let us know below!
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