Grove inflicts a painful blow on Newcastle Falcons

NEWCASTLE Falcons lurched one step closer to relegation as Scottish centre Alex Grove scored the only try in an otherwise dour Aviva Premiership encounter.

NEWCASTLE Falcons lurched one step closer to relegation as Scottish centre Alex Grove scored the only try in an otherwise dour Aviva Premiership encounter.

Even the consolation of a losing bonus point eluded them as Andy Goode struck a penalty two minutes from time, and there was no masking the disappointment as an eminently winnable game passed by.

The early signs had looked promising for the visitors as lock James Goode pinched prime line-out ball in Worcester’s 22, and Newcastle’s composed forward play saw them camped in home territory for the bulk of the opening period.

Scrum-half Peter Stringer dictated the tempo on his debut with slick service and crafty kicking in behind, and the patient approach paid dividends as Jimmy Gopperth’s golden boot sent over the first penalty of the evening on 13 minutes.

Territory and risk aversion seemed to be the order of the day in a pragmatic but unadventurous game-plan. Scrum domination was not maximised by sloppy hands further out, but a panicky home side heaped pressure on themselves with repeated scuffs and slices in attempting to clear their lines.

Alex Tait’s charge-down of a Goode punt bounced fortuitously into touch within inches of the left corner post, although a wobbling Newcastle line-out saw them failing to capitalise.

Half-time parity was assured four minutes from the interval as Goode slotted a straightforward penalty from 15 metres out after failure to release the tackled player, and it was more chess than draughts as both teams continued to probe and counter-probe without any real sharpness.

Hopes for a more eventful second half seemed to be growing as Ally Hogg manoeuvred himself brilliantly to claim a turnover from a rolling maul just a minute after the restart, and his craftiness was turned into points as Gopperth drilled over a long-range penalty from the resulting play. The sides were soon level as Goode dinked over a second of his own, and the wound was self-inflicted as Adriaan Fondse needlessly dived over a ruck within seconds of his introduction as a blood replacement.

Gopperth struck the post with a chance to nudge his side back in front with half an hour remaining as an over-eager Worcester defence failed to support their own weight at the breakdown, but the bouncing ball fell the wrong side of the upright.

The sense that both teams were primarily concerned with avoiding costly mistakes continued into the business end of the evening, and it was not hard to see why they remain by far the Premiership’s bottom two try-scorers.

Defences drilled by Phil Larder and Mike Ford ensured few doors were left open, and it was to the boot once again as Gopperth’s third penalty swayed the balance Newcastle’s way once more.

A Marcel Garvey foray forced the visitors to infringe at a ruck on the 22, with Goode making easy work of the resulting penalty for 9-9.

A disintegrating Falcons’ line-out bailed the Warriors out of trouble in their red zone, and the weight of defensive exertion was starting to tell on Newcastle’s three-quarters as Grove scythed through a gap to score in the left corner.

Goode added the extras from the touchline and Newcastle’s mole-hill had become a mountain.

Even Gopperth’s boot was feeling the strain as a kickable penalty was pushed right of the target. Throwing on rugby league recruit Rikki Sheriffe in a desperate bid to add some pace, it proved an irrelevance as Goode’s late penalty took the margin to double figures.

The mathematicians may not yet agree but, on last night’s evidence, this is a Falcons team which will be playing Championship rugby come September.

SCORERS: Worcester – Tries: A Grove. Conversions: A Goode. Penalties: A Goode 4. Falcons – Penalties: J Gopperth 3.

WORCESTER WARRIORS: C Pennell, M Garvey, A Grove, D Rasmussen, M Benjamin, A Goode, S Perry (captain, J Arr, 62)); M Mullan, A Lutui (E Shervington, 73), T Taumoepeau, J Percival, C Jones, S Betty, J Abbott (B Cowan, 19), K Hortsmann.

NEWCASTLE FALCONS: J Manning (G Goosen, 74), C Uys (R Sheriffe, 69), J Helleur, J Fitzpatrick, A Tait, J Gopperth (captain), P Stringer; J Golding, M Thompson (J Graham, 64), E Murray, T Swinson, J Goode (A Fondse, 69), T Tu'ifua (M Wilson, 73), W Welch, A Hogg.

Referee: JP Doyle Attendance: 11,192


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