Round 19 of the English Premiership saw some games moved to midweek slots, accommodating the return of fans to stadiums. The game between Newcastle Falcons and Northampton Saints at Kingston Park may not have been the most head-turning of ties, but proved to be a tightly-fought game where both sides had to resort to tactics to break each other down, which this analysis will examine. We will see how Newcastle Falcons played with plenty of creativity, forcing spaces to open in front of them, as well as how their personnel changes in the second half helped them to keep control of the game. We will also look at Northampton Saints’ tactics, and how they were let down by a lack of accuracy at key stages of the game.
Newcastle Falcons Northampton Saints
15. T. Penny 15. G. Furbank
14. A. Radwan 14. O. Sleightholme
13. M. Orlando 13. M. Proctor
12. L. Burrell 12. R. Hutchinson
11. G. Wacokecoke 11. T. Freeman
10. B. Connon 10. J. Grayson
9. L. Schreuder 9. T. James
- A. Brocklebank 1. A. Waller (co-c)
- G. McGuigan 2. S. Matavesi
- M. Tampin 3. P. Hill
- G. Peterson 4. D. Ribbans
- S. Robinson 5. A. Ratuniyarawa
- W. Welch 6. T. Wood
- M. Wilson (c) 7. L. Ludlam (co-c)
- C. Chick 8. T. Harrison
Northampton Saints’ tactics
Northampton Saints are one of those teams who, when they play well, are a joy to watch, but also have a really bad day when they are even remotely off the pace; they don’t seem to have a mid-point on the scale. This game highlighted that point, with a lack of accuracy in possession meaning they conceded easy penalties to their opponents.
It took the visitors around half an hour to get into the game, with this image showing one of their first advances into Newcastle’s half of the pitch. However, from this attacking lineout, hooker Sam Matavesi throws the ball too far, and it is caught by his opposite number George McGuigan, in the black circle, who passes to fly-half Brett Connon to clear his lines. Given their struggles to get out of their half, these were the opportunities Northampton needed to make count, but couldn’t.
This was one of two errors in quick succession for the visitors, with the ball being picked up at the back by winger Tommy Freeman from Connon’s kick, but his pass to full-back George Furbank was poor, with the ball being knocked forward as a result. It was raining at this stage, making the ball incredibly slippery, but Northampton found it hard to build any momentum, and these moments highlighted that.
This image shows another pass going wrong. Northampton looked to move the ball around the pitch at speed, trying to create a gap in Newcastle’s defence, but that led to them making mistakes with it. Here, Scotland centre Rory Hutchinson, in the blue circle, has received the ball from scrum-half Tom James, before swivelling and offloading to Furbank, all in one move. However, his pass is not sharp enough, and is again knocked forward.
This comes from the second half, and, whilst Northampton looked an improved side after the break, it was moments like these that prevented them from turning that early promise into anything substantial. Newcastle’s resolute defending also needs to take some credit for this, but Northampton generally lacked composure with the ball, which let them down in this match.
For the majority of the second half, they did look better in possession, but the closing stages saw more errors made and poor communication, bringing us back to their low levels of accuracy and quality.
That is not to say that everything was poor; they did have some good moments during the match. With Newcastle keeping the ball in Northampton’s half for the majority of the first half, the visitors needed to be strong defensively, and we can see here how they closed the home side down as often as possible. Newcastle’s USA lock Greg Peterson is being tackled here by Lewis Ludlam, whilst the other Northampton players are organised behind the England flanker in a diagonal line. This takes time away from Newcastle, allowing Northampton to press whichever attacker receives the ball, constantly keeping Newcastle back.
The number of penalties conceded kept Northampton under constant pressure, but this type of play demonstrated how they did have a game plan, even when forced to defend their own try line for large parts of the first half.
We have already mentioned their general lack of accuracy and fluidity, but the reason they are such a difficult team to play against is because, when they get it right, they play some outstanding rugby. Here, we see the build-up to their only try of the game, scored by tighthead prop Paul Hill. Fly-half James Grayson delays his pass until the last moment, enabling his teammate to run through with little opposition. The delayed offload draws the Newcastle defenders towards Grayson, and this is in contrast to the quick play we saw from Hutchinson earlier, showing how they got the timing right and it paid off for them.
Overall, Northampton Saints will have been pleased with their second half reaction, but will also be aware that their lack of quality in so many areas was a major reason for them taking no points and their play-off hopes being virtually over. Therefore, it highlights how there is still work to do in preparing the team for next season.
Newcastle Falcons finding spaces
Newcastle Falcons, playing in front of their own fans for the first time in 14 months, looked much the better team, and were on the front foot from the first whistle.
A key part of their tactics was finding spaces, which wasn’t easy against Northampton Saints’ organised defence. Full-back Tom Penny has delayed his pass here to winger George Wacokecoke, waiting for Northampton winger Ollie Sleightholme to commit to the tackle. This leaves the space open for Wacokecoke to make the run behind Northampton’s defence. Whilst this didn’t come to anything, it was good early thinking from Newcastle to create and use the space, and was a key reason why they looked more likely to score in the first half.
Wacokecoke was Newcastle’s biggest threat in the first half, with this image showing another run he made through Northampton’s defence. This time, he is on the inside, and dummies a pass out to McGuigan. This takes Sleightholme slightly towards the wing, as the blue arrow shows, creating the gap for Wacokecoke to then run through. Newcastle gained a lot of ground from this move before Northampton cleared their lines, demonstrating how their creativity helped them to maintain control of the game and keep Northampton in their own half for the majority of the first 40 minutes.
They continued to create spaces in the second half, with options always available around the pitch. Here, centre Luther Burrell, formerly of Northampton, is looking to pass towards the nearside wing, with substitute Joel Hodgson, Argentina centre Matias Orlando and winger Adam Radwan all available as passing options. Burrell finds Orlando, in the yellow circle, taking time away from Northampton in getting across to close off the space, although they do manage to prevent Radwan breaking through here. This showed Newcastle’s intent, always looking for chinks in Northampton’s defensive line that they could exploit.
Newcastle Falcons’ second half substitutions
Newcastle Falcons were helped by their second half substitutions, who had a big impact on the game and helped to seal the win.
Here, substitute props Kyle Cooper and Rodney Ah You and replacement flanker Carl Fearns are in the black square, with all three being important players after half-time.
Fearns only joined Newcastle in April from French second division side Rouen, but was central to all of their good play in the second half, getting over the top of breakdown situations and helping his team to keep possession. From this brief showing, he looks an astute signing by Director of Rugby Dean Richards, adding an extra element to their play on the ground.
Here, Newcastle and Northampton are engaged in a scrum, with Northampton putting the ball in. However, Newcastle drive forwards and force them off it, with number 8 Callum Chick picking it up from the back of the scrum. Three passes later, it is in the hands of another substitute, utility back Chidera Obonna, who scores in the corner for their second try of the game.
This would not have come about if Cooper and Ah You hadn’t had the strength to push the visitors backwards in the scrum. It wasn’t only in set-pieces that they were important, though, as they constantly supported their teammates on the ground, helping to prevent jackal attempts from Northampton’s players.
In conclusion, we can see how this game, whilst not a high-scoring affair, had quite a few tactical features to it, with both sides scrapping for ground and trying to win small battles around the pitch. Newcastle had more quality with the ball and generally looked more likely to score at 0-0, and Northampton will know that their individual errors meant they struggled to get into the game. They realistically needed to win to keep alive their hopes of reaching the play-offs, but it now looks like it is over for them in that respect.