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Falcons Fly The Flag With English 22



Newcastle Falcons will make Guinness Premiership history at Kingston Park on Saturday, when the first ever all-English 22 takes the field against Leeds Tykes (kick-off 3pm).
As well as all being English, 12 of the Falcons’ starting XV have come through the club’s academy, with all seven replacements also being English.
Fly half Jonny Wilkinson returns to captain the side as he makes his 12th appearance of the season, while Aussie fullback Matt Burke is rested, allowing Anthony Elliott to slot in at 15.

In all there are four changes from the side which lost 35-27 at Worcester last weekend, with Micky Ward starting at tight head prop for Robbie Morris and Andy Buist in at No.8 as Cory Harris drops out and Ben Woods reverts to openside flanker.

On the bench one Falcon set for a first team debut is Durham University back row Greg Irvin, who was player of the season for England Students this year as well as representing the Falcons Development Team.

Openside flanker Ed Williamson is in line for his maiden first team appearance of the season, while fly half Toby Flood is also named among the replacements after picking up a knock to the shoulder at Worcester last Saturday.

Explaining his ground-breaking selection, director of rugby, Rob Andrew, said: “It’s just the way it’s turned out, and because we wanted to give Matt Burke a rest.

“He’s played virtually every game this season, and plus he took a bit of a knock to the neck last weekend so there’s no point in risking him. Mark Mayerhofler has struggled for the last couple of months with his calf and Achilles, but this 22 is a reflection of what the club is about. Right from day one we’ve strived to establish a club which is fundamentally based on developing our own young players.

“Of course you are going to bring in quality people from outside and overseas, and over the last decade we have had some of the biggest names in world rugby here like Matt Burke, Inga Tuigamala, Mark Andrews, Gary Armstrong and Colin Charvis. You’re not going to produce players every year in every position, that is unrealistic, but fundamentally we are about developing our own youngsters.â€

With a chance to finally have a look at what many believe to be his strongest midfield combination, Andrew said: “It’s a bit ironic that it’s taken us until the last game of the season to start with the Wilkinson/Noon/Tait axis, all of whom were developed within our academy and have gone on to represent England in full Test matches. In a way that sums up some of the frustrations we’ve had this season.

“Clearly we would have loved to play Jonny, Jamie Noon and Mat Tait together for much more of the season, but for Noony and Taity they are both keen to go on the summer tour and Saturday is another chance for them to show what they’ve got.â€

With Tait’s stock on the rise in recent months following his Sevens successes Andrew urged a note of caution, saying: “People just have to be a little careful with Taity, because he’s been through a lot and we need to be sensible with him.

“You can’t chuck him in to a Test match against Australia and expect him to tear defences apart like in the Commonwealth Games, he’s still learning the game and hasn’t actually played a lot of 15-a-side rugby at senior level.

“It goes without saying he is an exceptional talent, but people shouldn’t be thinking ‘oh, Mat Tait has been picked, England’s midfield problems are all over’ because that wouldn’t be fair on a very young lad.â€

Explaining a number of his other selections for Saturday’s final match of the Guinness Premiership campaign, Andrew said: “We have given a chance to some of our good young players on the bench like Greg Irvin and Ed Williamson, who will both be part of our senior academy squad next season, and we can have a look at them in the first team environment.

“I’ve been trying for a while to see Anthony Elliott playing fullback because I believe he offers a lot there, and Saturday represents a great chance to do just that. Burkey has been outstanding from the moment he signed for us, but he’s played pretty much every game this season, and if we’re expecting to get another two years out of him we have to be realistic in terms of his workload or else he’ll just break down.â€

In what is a dead rubber in terms of honours this season, Andrew insisted: “There is still plenty to play for, you try telling the likes of Ollie Phillips, Anthony Elliott, Greg Irvin and Ben Woods that this is a meaningless game. There’s no such thing.

“Jonny Williams at prop is another youngster who has really stepped up since the New Year, and I reacted as badly as I did to Dave Wilson’s injury with the England U21s because I could see just what a prospect he was, and what a young front row he could have formed with Jonny over the tail end of the season.

“I wanted Davey to play the last six weeks of the season for us, and it’s just sod’s law that he will be fit in a couple of weeks to play for England U21s in the World Cup. But for Jonny this is yet another Premiership start under his belt and a fantastic chance to show us what he can do.â€

Looking back on a year of highs and lows, Andrew said: “Some of our problems this season have been personnel issues, which we have looked at, and some of them have been trying to tie up all the loose ends of our game at the same time.

“I’m not a big one for stats because they can generally say what you want them to say, you can use them to prove or disprove any argument, but if you look at the table we’ve beaten all four of the top sides and our defensive record is up there, if not better, than the very best in the league.

“Over the course of the season we’ve actually been very close in almost all of our games, but not close enough.â€

With Saturday’s opponents already consigned to relegation, Andrew said of the continual debate on the issue: “I know there are people who argue that relegation creates a vibrant league, and that Worcester and Bristol are examples of how the system works, I have to admit that there are merits to that argument.

“However, I have been saying for the last ten years, and still maintain, that for the long term development of elite English rugby, from the top down, we are best served by having a set number of teams in the top flight and allowing them to develop long term strategies without having to continually buy in short term fixes from overseas to avoid the drop.

“Leeds have gone through the trap door this year, but they are a good side and it could quite easily have been any of us. They have been committed to developing their own young local players, they have an excellent track record in doing so, but what message does it send when they get relegated?

“All it means now is that the English county with the biggest and arguably most talented player pool is now without a Premiership club. It’s a ridiculous situation, but I don’t think there’s anyone in the game’s governing body with the intention or the means of sorting it out. We can talk about it until the cows come home, nothing will ever happen.â€

Tickets for Saturday’s game are available by calling 0871 226 60 60 or calling at Kingston Park during office hours and on match day.

Newcastle Falcons:

15 Anthony Elliott
14 Tom May
13 Mathew Tait
12 Jamie Noon
11 Ollie Phillips
10 Jonny Wilkinson (captain)
9 Hall Charlton

1 Jonny Williams
2 Matt Thompson
3 Micky Ward
4 Andy Perry
5 Geoff Parling
6 Mike McCarthy
7 Ben Woods
8 Andy Buist


16 Robbie Morris
17 Andy Long
18 Greg Irvin
19 Ed Williamson
20 Joe Shaw
21 James Grindal
22 Toby Flood
I think the Dragons were the first Welsh region to field an all Welsh qualified 22 a few weeks ago.
Commendable, but I doubt whether it would happen if Falcons were playing Leeds for their Premiership survival.
That is why rob andrew is trying out some of the academy players tomorrow
Which is think is commendable
Some of the academy games have been really good this year,
so the likes of ed williamson,greg irvin deserve there chance to prove themselves
Well, it paid off for them, mainly because Leeds had totally checked out. Still think it was a Rob Andrew stunt, though. He wants an England job, imo.
Originally posted by robbinho@May 10 2006, 09:58 AM
Still think it was a Rob Andrew stunt, though. He wants an England job, imo.

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