Going into this match, both teams had already began to tell their tale of the season pretty early. The Falcons started the season in scintillating form, being regarded as plucky underdogs who do the basics expertly well and make life hell for their opposition through grit and attrition. Gloucester however are on a completely different trajectory. With their half back pairing going through a big transformation process, some key injuries to key starters and questions about their discipline off the pitch, Gloucester look like prime relegation candidates. Did it go according to plan?
An Exercise in Fundamentals
It is lazy to boil down the Falcons to a team that 'just do the basics well', but that seems to be a big part of their game whilst others try to over compensate in other areas. With an abrasive and experienced back row, Newcastle aim to dominate the collision and then turn the breakdown into an absolute mess, leaving gaps around the fringes and the referee sweating on his interpretations. Although their front row lacks star power, their handling is always consistent, they are fit and get around the park from minute one onwards. Their 9, 10 and 12 axis is very clearly modelled on England's current setup, choosing playmakers and difference makers in each position who can kick, play, take a hit and tackle well. Then you look at that back three, what a wealth of talent! Penny put in an incredibly gutsy, reliable and electric performance; pretty much the perfect three traits you want in your fullback. Adam Radwan on the other hand...
Well if you want a set of fixtures to shake the international foundations up, this weekend would be your choice. Adam Radwan had an absolute blinder from start to finish, scoring a try of the season contender, putting in some brave tackles when it mattered and bumping May into the 5th dimension in the final few minutes to create the Falcons last score. May certainly didn't play poorly and scored a try of his own, but he looked entirely second best to Radwan all game. With Bassett putting one over Watson, Odogwu putting in the performance of the season and Radwan making a potential Lions-starter look like a rookie, maybe it's time to start looking at some new options...
What's the Problem?
Skivington was pretty frank in his assessment of Gloucester's last few fixtures; something isn't clicking. Gloucester looked tough in patches throughout this game and in the first 20 they started really well. I think it's a mixture of poor game control and a disfunctional backline. Gloucester's territory kicking is very erratic and they seem to choose the wrong time to attack at key moments of the game. Running it out from your own 22 in a snow-sodden Newcastle over and over is a poor game plan and one I can't imagine Alex King would have reccomended. They also seem to struggle at identifying space and exploiting it. LRZ got hospital balls all game, May looked for gaps where he could but his side couldn't read him and Atkinson made some great half breaks with no one cutting a line off of him. Chemistry might be the issue, but Gloucester do look especially bad in the final ten minutes. Maybe that's fitness, but I think it's more down to a bench that have little to no experience playing alongside each other when they come on.
Adam Radwan: Like Odogwu before him, he's just put in a breakthrough, star making performance. Aggressive in the contact and showed real wheels to burn May for the first score.
Gary Graham: What a beast! He hits like a freight train and tackles like a man possessed, he really beat up Gloucester throughout this game.
Tom Penny: Full back is perhaps the weakest position in the Premiership currently, but Penny looks to be a standout performer. Brave, aggressive and fantastic match intelligence, he looks like he has the full package.
Lloyd Evans: Poor decision making throughout, unable to identify space and got himself into trouble on a lot of occasions.
Louis Rees Zammit: Not necessarily his fault but he looked under real pressure all game. Showed glimpses of what he can do, but his wing became a bit of a problem defensively.
Photo Copyright Credit @ BBC 2021