By Richard Grainger

A dose of the yips for the falcons?

“ANYONE WHO thinks that life is fair,” Richard M. Nixon once said, “has been seriously misinformed.” A view held, amongst others, by many of the Newcastle Falcons squad who, after 22 games, had won stage one of the Championship, by 24 points.

Now Newcastle must defeat Leeds by a margin of at least six points at Kingston Park on Sunday, or fail to regain Aviva Premiership status at the first attempt.

Head coach Dean Richards said: “We performed at only around 40 per cent of our potential.”

For Leeds, Monday’s 24-19 win over the runaway division leaders was as well deserved as it was deemed achievable by head coach Diccon Edwards and his charges.

To reach the play-offs by the skin of their teeth, Carnegie, who finished the regular season 31 points below the Falcons, had to win the last six games. And they have struck a rich vein of form at the precise moment that the illustrious north-easterners are experiencing, what in sporting terms, is referred to as ‘the yips’, or ‘focal dystonia’, according to Mr Wikipedia, ‘… a facetious excuse for muffing a seemingly easy athletic task.’

Newcastle, who lost their final game of stage one to Bristol, appear to have forgotten how to close out a game.

Last Saturday they came perilously close to losing to Bedford in the semi-final of the British & Irish Cup, when they leaked two late tries allowing the Blues to recover from an 3-18 deficit to put themselves within a three-pointer of extra time.

But Richards was quick to dismiss any suggestion that Ryan Burrows’ pick up and up-field gallop to score virtually unopposed might sway the final outcome: “We’ve got five points to make up, but it’s half-time and home advantage counts for a lot,” he said.

However, what will undoubtedly concern him is that his side were never really in control at Headingley, and having established a 13-19 lead going into the final ten minutes, they proceeded to ship 11 points in as many minutes.

The warnings signs were there for the Falcons when Fred Burdon, who had made a nuisance of himself throughout the first quarter, picked a neat line through the Newcastle defence to give Stevie McColl a simple run in.

Joe Ford converted and added two penalties to Jimmy Gopperth’s one before Ali Hogg pinched a Carnegie lineout and scrambled over at the corner. Gopperth was on target and then added another penalty to tie things up at 13 points apiece at the break.

Ford and Gopperth traded two further penalties in the second period as the visitors established the upper hand.

19-19 looked the likely final score until, following a Falcons knock-on just inside their own half, Burrows picked up from the base, sprinted 45 metres then wriggled though the last defender, convincing the TMO that he had done enough to ground the ball.

Ironically, the last win Carnegie enjoyed over the Falcons at Headingley was in March 2008, the season that Newcastle replaced them in the Premiership.

Bedford 26 – 17 Nottingham
There was a touch of drama at Goldington Road as well on Saturday as a last minute penalty try kept Nottingham firmly in the hunt for a place in the final.

The Blues appeared to be in control of things leading 26-10, thanks to converted tries from Mark Atkinson and Ben Ransom and four Myles Dorrian penalties.

However, James Arlidge had charged down Ben Ransom’s clearance and collected to score before the interval to spoil a first period dominated by the hosts.

But when fortune smiled on Atkinson as he charged down Arlidge’s kick in the 41st minute to score, it looked as if the home side’s dominance had been restored.

However, the Green and Whites had the ascendency in the set pieces, and this told when replacement prop Phil Boulton was carded by referee Mr JP Doyle for pulling down a maul.

Mr Doyle quickly tired of Bedford’s spoiling tactics and ran beneath the uprights in the final minute. Arlidge converted to reduce the arrears that Nottingham must wipe out at Meadow Lane on Friday night from 16 to nine points.

For details of the forthcoming return semi-final fixtures, click here…