Newcastle leave it late to seal Cup triumph
February 24, 2001
Dave Walder scored the winning try for Newcastle at Twickenham
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Harlequins 27 - 30 Newcastle
It was the third minute of injury time, definitely Newcastle's last chance. They were trailing by four points after a thrilling see-saw battle. Man of the match Inga Tuigamala, now definitely portly but still mightily effective and wonderfully competitive - the old head in a back division of thrilling young bloods - made one last burst down the left, Ian Peel carried it on and Quins forced the ball into touch a couple of metres short.
Just time for the line-out and, controversially, Newcastle were awarded the throw. They won it cleanly spun the ball right at pace and Dave Walder, Jonny Wilkinson's understudy at fly-half but picked at full-back, timed his run perfectly to make the extra man and crash over - fairytale stuff.
It was a fitting climax to a marvellous game and any body who tries to say the Tetley's Bitter Cup no longer has a place in the English calendar had better think again. This was by far the biggest occasion in the English club season so far and 71,000 people were prepared to buy tickets between two internationals to see it.
Picture: Doddie Weir, the Newcastle captain lifts the Tetley's Bitter Cup (Allsport)
For a long time it appeared as if this would be a tale of two kickers with Jonny wilkinson coming off second best to Paul Burke returning to action in great form after breaking his arm back in October. Burke scored a superb try, kicked five penalties and a conversion to give Quins a 27-18 lead with just over five minutes left while Wilkinson was out of sorts missing four kicks in all.
You had to feel sorry for Quins. They are a transformed team since Mark Evans put his tracksuit on again and had answered everything Newcastle threw at them with with marvellous spirit and courage.
But this Newcastle back division is nothing if not full of belief. Tuigamala and the equally heroic Gary Armstrong, who probed and prompted for the full 83 minutes, are more than ten years older than any other member of the back division and the youngsters grew stronger and stronger as Quins began to tire.
It was a fascinating contest. Right from the start the Harlequins forwards appeared to have the edge in the loose while the Newcastle back division looked dangerous every time they got the ball in space and after eight minutes they scored a try which must have given them enormous confidence.
They moved the ball left, Tuigamala took the tackle and released Walder who set up the ruck when he was tackled 10 metres short. Tuigamala made another short charge and suddenly Tom May was bursting between Paul Burke and Jon Dawson, probably Quins' weakest tacklers, for the try. Jonny Wilkinson's conversion was a formality.
Quins fought straight back. They were struggling in the set pieces but created a tremendous driving maul from the restart and Newcastle were forced to drag it down jiust short of the line. Burke made no mistake with the kick.
Three minutes later they were in the lead. Twice the forwards almost drove over and when the ball was released on the short side Will Greenwood sucked in the defence before slipping a clever little pass to his skipper, David Wilson, who cantered over at his leisure. Burke's conversion attempt struck the post.
The Quins forwards were now on fire. It needed a superb tackle from Wilkinson to stop the charging Keith Wood before the pack drove Newcastle back fully 20 metres only to be held up over the line. From the scrum Ryan O'Neill crashed over but could not ground the ball and the Falcons were penalised at the next maul. They were happy to escape having conceded only three points.
Wikinson reduced the arrears with a penalty and had the chance to regain the lead when Quins were offside just inside their own half. For once we saw that rarest of sights - a totally fluffed Wilkinson kick - and the half ended with Burke showing him how from the right touch-line at the other end to give Quins a 14-10 lead.
When Burke struck another pearler from just inside te Newcastle half immediately after the restart it looked ominous for the Geordies. Wilkinson got one back immediately afterwards but there was proof that his kicking was not quite on song when he missed again on the hour.
Burke stretched the lead again with his fifth penalty but just when you thought Quins had the game under control May brought Newcastle right back into it with a marvellous solo effort. Taking the ball at pace he beat his man and raced through the middle then swerved around O'Neill for a glorious second try. Wilkinson failed again with the kick.
There is a new tenacity about Harlequins these days though and they responded with a wonderful try of their own. Burke sent Wood racing through the middle, the hooker stepped inside one man and then found Burke again with the perfect pass and the fly-half was over. He converted to give Quins a nine point lead - surely that was that.
Not a bit of it. The old warhorse Tuigamala barreled his way almost to the line and when he set up the ruck No. 8, Jim Jenner, drove himself over.
There were still five minutes to go plus three minutes of injury time as it turned out. Quins defended heroically until that final unstoppable thrust from Walder and Wilkinson converted just to rub salt into the wound.
Having failed at the final hurdle two years ago Rob Andrews' young side now have their hands on the cup.