Newcastle secure vital win over Saracens
February 20, 2009
Newcastle scrum-half Mickey Young clears his lines at Kingston Park
© Getty Images
Newcastle produced an outstanding second-half display to record a third consecutive Premiership victory for the first time since the 2005-06 season. Saracens continue to flatter to deceive on the road and a play-off place looks increasingly unlikely as Newcastle made their top-flight status more assured after Bristol's earlier loss to Sale.
Sarries enjoyed the better of a scrappy first period, which contained glimpses of quality from both sides, although the visitors looked more cohesive. On a crisp evening at Kingston Park, a soft pitch, bearing battle scars before kick-off, did not help either side as Sarries went into the break 9-3 up.
However, the hosts raced out of the blocks second time round and wing Tom Rudd's try and fly-half Tom May's boot made the points safe.
Newcastle named an unchanged line-up following last Friday's bonus-point 35-3 triumph away to bottom side Bristol although fly-half Jonny Wilkinson remained a high-profile absentee as he works his way back from a knee injury.
Saracens made three changes from last Saturday's defeat at Northampton. They had a new centre pairing in Brad Barritt and Adam Powell, who replaced injured pair Andy Farrell (ankle) and Kevin Sorrell (knee) while wing Kameli Ratuvou came in for Noah Cato.
Saracens attacked from deep early on, full back Alex Goode breaking in midfield, leading to a straightforward penalty from which New Zealand-born fly-half Glen Jackson put them ahead after three minutes. Newcastle put pressure on their opponents with a couple of kicks through but Saracens cleared their lines successfully on both occasions.
Both sides continued to probe, Falcon May darting into Sarries' 22 and Goode releasing Richard Haughton down the right. However, neither could convert pressure into points as Jackson skewed a long-range penalty attempt. But in the 21st minute Jackson made no mistake after England centre Jamie Noon infringed in front of the posts, making it 6-0. The visitors came close to extending their lead immediately after when Ratuvou kicked accurately down the left but pressure from Newcastle skipper Phil Dowson caused the Fiji wing to knock on with the line beckoning.
Newcastle were reduced to 14 men in 26th minute when wing Rudd was sin-binned for what appeared a reckless tackle on Justin Marshall. Sarries kicked to the corner and, from the line-out, won a penalty in front of the sticks that Jackson converted to make it 9-0. The hosts did not seem to suffer from their numerical inferiority and May reduced the arrears with a penalty from the left five minutes before the break.
Newcastle were revitalised after half-time and had a sustained spell of pressure in Saracens' 22. The visitors initially defended manfully, holding up a drive over the line, but the pressure told when Micky Young's quick penalty led to Rudd going over on the right in the 51st minute. May added the extras to nudge his side in front for the first time.
Tempers flared shortly after and referee Wayne Barnes had to break up a scuffle, but he chose to keep his cards in his pocket as Saracens kicked into opposition territory from the resulting penalty. The hosts retained the upper hand but squandered an opportunity to extend their lead when May missed a kickable penalty from the left.
Saracens countered but suffered a severe blow when Barnes showed former All Black scrum-half Marshall a yellow card with little over 10 minutes remaining. May made his side's advantage tell, kicking a penalty from the right with five minutes to go to force Sarries to go for a try in the dying minutes. Their efforts were in vain as the Falcons held on for a notable win.
"We said all week that the great support we got in Bristol was really influential and I know there were a lot of people thinking of us," said Newcastle boss Steve Bates. "They deserved us to put in a massive performance and I thought the first half just wasn't that.
"I thought the first half was pretty dire and I'm pleased we had the character to turn it round in the second half. We played the conditions on the pitch much better. We were much more disciplined in terms of the referee and in terms of the way we played and I thought on our second-half performance, we deserved to win it."
Saracens boss Eddie Jones knows that his side need to start stringing together some results if they are to secure a playoff berth.
"We've got to start putting some wins together haven't we? We've still got plenty of games to go and that's a good thing," said the former Australia coach. "It was very disappointing. I just can't work it out. The first 40 was pretty good. The second half we gave away two penalties at tackles that allowed them to get some momentum. They held the ball, they're in front and that's the end of the game."
Newcastle Falcons: Alex Tait; Danny Williams, Jamie Noon, Tane Tu'ipulotu, John Rudd; Tom May, Micky Young; David Wilson, Rob Vickers, Carl Hayman, Tim Swinson, Geoff Parling, Phil Dowson (capt), Ed Williamson, Adam Balding
Replacements: Matt Thompson, Jon Golding, Andy Perry, Brent Wilson, Hall Charlton, Rory Clegg, Spencer Davey
Saracens: A Goode; Haughton, Powell, Barritt, Ratuvou; Jackson, Marshall; Lloyd, Cairns, Johnston, Ryder, Vyvyan, Van Heerden, Saull, Skirving.
Replacements: Kyriacou, Visagie, Smith, Barrell, M Wilson, Ross, Penney
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September