Falcons stun title-chasing Gloucester
January 11, 2009
Newcastle's Danny Williams races away to score the Falcons' try at Kingston Park
© Getty Images
Tom May eased Newcastle's relegation fears with a penalty 10 minutes from time to earn them a precious victory over high-flying Gloucester at a blustery Kingston Park.
Despite surviving on scraps, Newcastle took a seven-point lead into half-time following Danny Williams' fourth try in his last four starts. Scrum-half Rory Lawson replied immediately after half-time as a swing in momentum looked inevitable with the change of ends.
But Newcastle's defence was resolute and May grabbed the decisive penalty for Falcons. Gloucester, who could have gone top with a win, suffered the further blow of injuries to England hopefuls Mike Tindall and Olly Morgan.
Rather than the big freeze that affected yesterday's sporting fixtures, Kingston Park was beset by a mighty breeze, which set the posts jangling along with the players' nerves. Newcastle's young fly-half Rory Clegg was the first to be affected by the conditions, sending two kickable penalties wide in the opening eight minutes.
And when Gloucester were presented with a penalty on the 22, they opted for the scrum instead but to no better effect. With kicking from hand a lottery and spinning it wide even more risky, both sides had few options but to keep the ball at close quarters and launch largely ineffectual raids around the ruck.
But after 25 minutes the hosts found an opening and showed a cutting edge rarely seen this season. Jamie Noon ran fearlessly into the heart of Gloucester's defence and when the ball was recycled Clegg fed the returning Williams who burst through two tackles before cantering in from 20 yards. Clegg had learned his lessons and slotted the conversion.
The visitors' best opportunity came when they flooded through following a mix-up between Clegg and scrum-half Micky Young but inevitably it only led to their own error. However after the break the visitors hit back swiftly.
Finally their grinding forward play paid off and Lawson plunged over from close in. Olly Barkley added the conversion to level the scores. But it was not all good news for Gloucester as they lost Morgan to a hand injury a few minutes later.
It was a cruel blow for the fullback who has been tipped to be named in Martin Johnson's England elite players squad on Wednesday. The hosts had a chance to regain the lead but Steve Jones, who had replaced Clegg, fired his penalty wide of the wobbling posts.
Gloucester's hopes were dealt a further blow as captain Tindall hobbled off the field. It was further bad news for England manager Johnson who has been preparing to welcome back the World Cup winner to the international stage.
Newcastle seized on Gloucester's confusion and a scampering run from Young put Newcastle on the brink on the line. Repeated drives came to nothing but a few minutes later they took the lead as May drilled a penalty through the posts.
Crucially Gloucester turned down a kickable penalty with five minutes remaining and it back-fired as Newcastle recorded a vital win ahead of a potentially decisive relegation clash with Bristol next month.
Newcastle coach Steve Bates admitted his side's victory eased the pressure on the relegation threatened Falcons. "We have got to take those points and say that is a major result and the way we got them doesn't really matter too much at this moment in time. It will give us some confidence for the end of the season and perhaps a little bit of breathing space so we can relax a bit. We have now got to take this result and take it forward. It takes the pressure off a bit for the game in three or four weeks' time."
Gloucester head coach Dean Ryan refused to blame his players for blowing their chance of at least sharing the spoils. "I will support their decisions," he said. "Those decisions are not right or wrong. We did, so we have to live with it. It was always going to be a game that with 60mph winds out there was going to be very difficult," he continued. "When a wind is that dominant you are going to sit on a 7-10. It was decided on a penalty to Newcastle and we have to take that on the chin and move on."
Ryan also admitted that the injury to Morgan could be costly. "It is obviously very serious for Olly (Morgan). I think there is some tendon damage, but I don't know how long he will be out for."
Newcastle: May, Williams, Noon, Tu'ipulotu, Visser, Clegg, Young; D Wilson, Vickers, Hayman, Swinson, Parling, Dowson (captain), Williamson, Balding.
Replacements: Thompson, Ward, Sorenson, B Wilson, Grindal, Jones, A Tait.
Gloucester: Morgan, Watkins, Tindall (capt), Barkley, Foster; Walker, Lawson; Dickinson, Titterrell, Nieto, Bortolami, Brown, Strokosch, Satala, Narraway.
Replacements: Azam, Wood, James, Eustace, Lewis, Lamb, Allen.