Doddie Weir during the 1999 Tetley's Bitter Cup final

All our yesterdays: Cup semi-finals part two

Tuesday 15 March 2022

This week attention once again switches from the Gallaghers Premiership to the Premiership Rugby Cup. Kingsley Hyland’s article in the week of November’s cup game against Wasps looked at the three semi-finals won by Gosforth en-route to the cup finals in 1976, 1977 and 1981. This week he looks at the three semi-final victories in 1999, 2001 and 2004, and draws some parallels between the two periods.

RICHMOND 3-20 NEWCASTLE FALCONS – APRIL 3, 1999

After the euphoria of winning the league at the first attempt the previous season, the 1998-99 campaign proved something of a disappointment for the Falcons as they finished the season placed eighth out of 14 clubs. They took some consolation from a cup run which saw them beat Bath (25-22), West Hartlepool (32-21) and Saracens (15-0) before travelling to Reading on Easter Saturday to face Richmond.

They had lost 29-41 at Richmond on the opening day of the season, and whilst they would gain revenge in the return fixture at Kingston Park (47-14) the semi-final was expected to be a tight affair. In the event they produced what was probably their most dominant performance of the season, leaving their hosts flattered by the margin of defeat.

Despite that dominance the opening quarter was score-less but the Falcons eventually got the scoreboard moving with a try from winger Inga Tuigamala. Having secured lineout ball Rob Andrew switched the point of attack, the ball was recycled and Gary Armstrong’s one-handed reverse pass put Inga through for the score. Jonny Wilkinson converted, but left the field six minutes later with a golf-ball-sized lump over his right eye, to be replaced by Jim Naylor. An Andrew drop goal on 32 minutes was the only other score of the opening half as the teams turned round with the Falcons leading 10-0.

Richmond’s only score came four minutes into the second half with a penalty from Earl Va’a, who was later to have a brief spell at the Falcons. Newcastle went close to scoring on several occasions before Andrew restored the ten-point advantage with a penalty, and two minutes later Tuigamala effectively killed off the game with his second try. Gary Armstrong was again heavily involved, starting things with a break from his own half before releasing Naylor, who took the ball into contact to set up a ruck. Quick ball enabled Armstrong to feed Andrew who sent in Tuigamala, now in the centre following Wilkinson’s withdrawal, from 30 metres, taking three tacklers over the line with him.

Just as in 1981 when Gosforth’s pack had destroyed Moseley in the semi-final to make them hot favourites for the final against Leicester, the dominant nature of the victory at Richmond saw the Falcons installed as favourites for the final against Wasps. As in 1981 it was not to be, as the team under-performed, leaving Wasps more comfortable victors than the 29-19 score-line might suggest.

The Falcons team at Richmond was:

S.Legg; T.Underwood; M.Shaw; R.Andrew; V.Tuigamala; J.Wilkinson (rep. J.Naylor); G.Armstrong (capt); G.Graham; R.Nesdale; I.Peel (rep. S.Best); G.Archer; D.Weir; P.Walton; R.Beattie (rep. H.Vyvyan); R.Arnold.

NEWCASTLE FALCONS 37-25 SALE – JANUARY 6, 2001

As in 1976, Sale were the club’s semi-final victims in front of a then-Kingston Park record crowd of 6,257. The Falcons had kicked off their cup campaign with a hard fought 25-13 victory at Rosslyn Park, after which the draw was kinder, with three home ties. Bristol were brushed aside 32-16, followed by London Irish (33-20) in the quarter final.

Against Sale Tom May and Inga Tuigamala were the stand-out performers, the former for his two tries and the latter for his devastating defensive hits, one of which was on Apollo Perelini, one of his many nephews. Jonny Wilkinson’s boot accounted for a further 22 points, from six penalties and two conversions.

The opening score was a Ross Beattie try from a line-out drive after a Michael Stephenson break had won a penalty. The second try was not long in coming as a Tuigamala hit on Going won another penalty. Full-back Dave Walder took it quickly and fed Andrew Mower, who sent in May for the first of his two tries. Wilkinson added both conversions and kicked three penalties in response to one from Charlie Hodgson, but the visitors got a foot-hold in the game when Hodgson went over for their first try just before half-time.

Leading 23-10 at the break, May’s second try again owed much to a Tuigamala hit on Going. Sale managed to retain the ball legally on this occasion but Brian Redpath’s rushed clearance attempt was charged down by May, who broke through three attempted tackles as he stormed in from 45 metres. Wilkinson missed the conversion but added two further penalties as Sale mounted a late fightback with tries from Duncan Bell and Steve Hanley. Wilkinson had the final say with his third penalty.

By this time the Falcons’ Premiership-winning team had been largely dismantled, with only Tuigamala, Wilkinson, Nesdale, Graham, Weir and Arnold surviving. The replacements were a youthful lot who played an adventurous brand of rugby, as would be evidenced in their memorable comeback win in the final over Harlequins seven weeks later.

The Falcons team was:

D.Walder; M.Stephenson; J.Noon (rep. R.Cook); T.May; V.Tuigamala; J.Wilkinson; G.Armstrong; I.Peel (rep. G.Graham); R.Nesdale; M.Hurter; D.Weir (capt.); S.Grimes; R.Arnold; A.Mower; R.Beattie (rep. J.Jenner).

NEWCASTLE GOSFORTH 53-3 PERTEMPS BEES – MARCH 14, 2004

The 2004 semi-final was something of a journey into the unknown for the Falcons as they faced the exotically-named Pertemps Bees at Kingston Park. The Bees, in what is now the Championship, were formed in 1989 following the merger of the Birmingham and Solihull clubs, and caused a sensation in the quarter-final by winning 28-24 at Wasps - beating bookmakers’ odds of 250/1 in the process.

Prior to that they had won away at Coventry (28-21), Wharfedale (24-14) and Waterloo (40-27) before defeating Wakefield (17-10) at home. The Falcons meanwhile had the luxury of not being required to enter the competition until the sixth round, when they won at Rotherham (38-12) before seeing off London Irish (24-12) in the quarter-final.

There was to be no repeat of the heroics at Wycombe as the Falcons saw off early spirited resistance to reach a half-century of points in front of the Sky Sports cameras. In the absence of Wilkinson, Dave Walder racked up 28 points with two tries, three conversions and four penalties. There were also tries for Mark Mayerhofler (2), Michael Stephenson, Ben Gollings and Stuart Grimes.

The final even outdid the 2001 final in terms of entertainment value, as Newcastle maintained their impeccable cup record against Sale with a 37-33 victory.

The Falcons team was:

J.Shaw (rep. D.Lilley); T.May; J.Noon; M.Mayerhofler; M.Stephenson (rep. B.Gollings); D.Walder; H.Charlton (rep. J .Grindal); I.Peel; N.Makin (rep. M.Thompson); M.Hurter (rep. M.Ward); G.Archer (rep. C.Hamilton); S.Grimes; J.Dunbar (rep. P.Dowson); H.Vyvyan (capt.); W.Britz.

Whilst there is a common belief that modern-day rugby players move clubs more frequently than their amateur predecessors, it is worth noting that, excluding replacements, Gosforth used a total of 27 players over the semi-finals of 1976, 1977 and 1981, whilst they used just two more over the three semi-finals of 1999, 2001 and 2004.

That said, five Gosforth players – Brian Patrick, Richard Breakey, Malcolm Young, Colin White and Terry Roberts, played in all three of their semi-finals, whilst only Ian Peel started all three of the semi-finals in the professional era.

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