NEWCASTLE Falcons’ Kingston Park ground will play host to a pair of prestigious international matches later this season.
The Tongan national team will be in the North East on Tuesday, November 13 for a tour match against the Falcons, with kick-off at 7.45pm.
That will then be followed on Friday February 1 when England’s second-string national side, the Saxons, play host to Scotland A at the same venue, kicking off at 8pm.
The club’s decision to seek out the games continues their growing ambitions on and off the field, with the last international side to play at Kingston Park being the RFU President’s XV which opened the venue in September 1990.
Despite the title it was an England team in all but name, with current Newcastle director of rugby Dean Richards scoring one of six tries in a 32-6 victory against Newcastle Gosforth, as they were known then, in front of a crowd of 3,000 at the newly-constructed ground.
Age-group internationals and matches against touring Super 15 sides have been staged there since, but the visit of Tonga will provide a particularly mouth-watering contest.
The Ikale Tahi (Sea Eagles) remain one of the most physically destructive sides on the planet, and boast considerable connections to the Falcons.
Former Newcastle wing Epi Taione is now chairman of the Tonga Rugby Union after beating the country’s Prime Minister in an election to secure the post, and the Falcons’ current squad boasts Tongan pair Suka Hufanga and Tane Tu’ipulotu.
Tu’ipulotu has already played once against his homeland for New Zealand’s second-string national side, the Junior All Blacks, in their victorious IRB Pacific Nations Cup campaign.
Hufanga scored the winning try for the island nation in their historic Rugby World Cup win over France last year, a habit he regained last week with a second-half score in last Saturday’s 52-5 win over Cross Keys.
The scheduling of the game slots in nicely for both teams, with Tonga already in Europe for their November tests against Scotland and Italy.
The Falcons are without a game the following weekend as the league season takes a breather after their home date with Nottingham on Friday November 9, although they will almost certainly lose a couple of players when an RFU Championship XV takes on the New Zealand Maori All Blacks in Doncaster on Saturday November 17.
Securing the England Saxons game, too, represents a considerable coup for the Falcons, with The Journal exclusively revealing back in August that the Kingston Park club were lobbying for the fixture.
Commercial director Duncan Edward said at the time: “We hear a lot about the RFU wanting to support rugby in this region, and this is the ideal time for them to turn those words into deeds.”
England Saxons will certainly be hoping for better fortunes than their last match against Scotland A in February of this year, when they suffered a 35-0 hammering in Galashiels.
Newcastle’s geographical positioning should help ensure a healthy attendance from both sides of the border, with the Saxons squad for this season including the likes of Barnard Castle old-boy Calum Clark plus former Falcons Tom Biggs and Rob Miller. Scotland A’s squad could well include current Newcastle prop Grant Shiells, who had been selected for last year’s fixture before being forced to pull out through injury. The loose-head still qualifies for both countries, but has already represented Scotland at Under-20s level.
The North East as a region seems well-placed to enjoy hosting rights at the next Rugby World Cup, too, with both St James’ Park and the Stadium of Light having been named on a long-list of venues for the 2015 show-piece.
The final list of venues is set to be whittled down ‘early next year’ according to tournament organisers.