GARY Gold admitted his Newcastle Falcons side had rode their luck in securing a potentially life-saving Aviva Premiership victory.
Saturday’s first league win of 2012 left the director of rugby and his team six points adrift of London Wasps at the foot of the table with seven games to go, although they were made to battle through the last quarter with 14 men following Adriaan Fondse’s dismissal.
The South African lock was shown a straight red card for flooring Delon Armitage with a punch around the fringes of a ruck, leaving countryman Gold to admit: “We were lucky – and I use that word deliberately – that we were not made to pay a dearer price for that.
“The character of the other 14 guys was what really got us through in fighting as hard as they did.
“It was a sign of spirit from the players to come away with the win from that situation, but we just should not be putting ourselves in those positions.” Ironically enough it was Fondse’s dismissal which seemed to spur the Falcons into action, trailing 10-9 as they did at the time.
Putting in a massive defensive display in the opening hour, they had failed to match the same standards in attack as an injury-ravaged back-line looked short on pace and penetration.
The key intervention came with 11 minutes to go when Kiwi wing Ryan Shortland clawed in Delon Armitage’s attempted pass on his own 22, racing 80 metres down the left touch-line to dot down for the winner.
Gold said: “We were lucky at that stage because Irish were asking massive questions of us, but any win at this stage is important and I am very proud of the character we showed.
“It was a relieved changing room after the final whistle because we made very heavy weather of it against a good Irish team, but it was ultimately a happy one.”
It was the significance of the result rather than the manner of the performance which made the biggest impact, with the Falcons chasing hard against a Wasps side beaten 15-12 at home to Exeter the same day.
The Falcons finish their season at Wasps’ Adams Park ground on May 5, and they will have to improve on Saturday’s showing to be in with a chance of securing a 16th successive season at English rugby’s top table.
Sloppy line-out ball, slow delivery at the base of the ruck and a shortage of incision behind the scrum were all on show, but huge defence and heart were ultimately enough. They were made to work mind, battling back from 10-3 down after Samoan wing Sailosi Tagicakibau had mopped up loose ball for a try on 22 minutes.
The respective boots of Jimmy Gopperth and Tom Homer nudged the half-time score to 10-6 in the Exiles’ favour – the latter striking a first drop-goal of the calendar year – before a second Gopperth penalty reduced the deficit to just one. Fondse’s red mist produced a card of the same colour before Shortland’s interception, with a late Gopperth penalty taking the gap to two scores. Gold said: “When our backs were against the wall we displayed incredible resilience, and the half-way line was the try-line in defence.
“That was one of the things I was most proud about – the way we defended against one of the best attacking teams in the Premiership. London Irish use the full width of the field, they have an outstanding back three and they were always going to ask questions of us with the way they held on to the ball.
“We stuck to our guns defensively, even on the three or four occasions where they broke through us. They had more than a dozen phases, but we worked at it and kept them out.”
Leicester away on Saturday offers little respite for the Falcons, but their snowball is now rolling down the mountain and growing bigger by the week.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: G Goosen, T Bedford, J Helleur, J Fitzpatrick, R Shortland (R Sheriffe, 73), J Gopperth (captain), C Pilgrim (W Chudley, 60); G Shiells (J Golding, 52), R Vickers, E Murray, A Fondse, T Swinson, A Hogg (A Wells, 78), W Welch (T Tu’ifua, 69), M Wilson.
Red card: A Fondse (59). Sin-bin: J Golding (77)
Scorers – Tries: R Shortland. Conversions: J Gopperth. Penalties: J Gopperth 3. Drop-goal: J Gopperth.
LONDON IRISH: D Armitage, T Homer (M Yarde, 73), J Joseph, J Spratt, S Tagicakibau, D Bowden (A Jarvis, 73), P Hodgson (R Samson, 52); M Lahiff (C Dermody, 60), D Paice (J Buckland, 67), F Rautenbach (P Ion, 62), N Kennedy (captain), B Evans (E Siggery, 40), M Garvey, K Roche, R Thorpe. Sin-bin: E Thorpe (77)
Scorers – Tries: S Tagicakibau. Conversions: T Homer. Penalties: T Homer.
Referee: JP Doyle Attendance: 5,813