London Wasps 44 Newcastle Falcons 38: Falcons safe as Warriors tumble

Premiership survival assured for Newcastle despite the Falcons falling to another defeat in an 11-try thriller at Wasps

Scott Wilson of London Wasps tackles Tom Lindsay of Newcastle Falcons
Scott Wilson of London Wasps tackles Tom Lindsay of Newcastle Falcons

Two years ago Newcastle Falcons won at London Wasps and were relegated. On Saturday they lost there but stayed up thanks to failures elsewhere.

Worcester’s defeat at Saracens consigns the Warriors to Championship rugby next term, the Falcons keeping their heads above water despite having not won a league game in more than six months now.

A 15th successive Premiership loss makes this by far their worst ever season in the top flight, but they gave it a heck of a go in a manic game including 11 tries, three sin-binnings and in which the lead changed hands four times.

The Falcons went 17-0 up, trailed 29-17 at half-time, led 31-29 on the hour mark and ended up with a pair of losing bonus points after shipping two late touchdowns.

Making sense of it all must be like untangling a room-full of wire coat-hangers for the club’s management.

Where do you even start?

“There was some outstanding play from both sides, although the defence coaches might not see it that way,” mused Dean Richards, nursing a coffee in his post-match press conference.

A year earlier it had been a can of cider as he toasted the RFU Championship title, but celebrating a defeat has never been the director of rugby’s style.

He added: “It was that end-of-season type game where both sides wanted to throw it around, and some of our boys did exceptionally well on the day.

“We went 17-0 up pretty easily, to be honest, but Wasps have a back-five in their pack which would grace any international side.

“They started to make in-roads, and when we sat down at half-time it was a case of where are we and what do we need to do?

“The boys went out and competed well in the second half, but when Wasps used their big runners they caused us problems.”

Newcastle had gone into the game knowing a victory of any kind would be enough to keep them up regardless of what Worcester did at the league leaders, and less than 20 seconds in they were already a try up.

It was quick footwork from Sinoti Sinoti that opened up a hole from the kick-off, the winger’s dazzling side-step beating two men in an instant.The Samoan must be a dab hand at the hopscotch, and with midfield hands working the play wide it was an inside supporting line from Mike Blair that put the Scot away.

Joel Hodgson converted, and the fly-half was soon applying the extras to a try of his own when Alex Tait ended a bout of kick-tennis by running the ball back, breaking the defensive line and feeding Hodgson for a two-on-one to the right corner.

The young stand-off’s performance was later labelled “outstanding” by a director of rugby who waited until last month to hand him his first Premiership start.

The wind might finally be changing direction in terms of Richards wanting to retain the 21-year-old, but either way his attacking spark was undeniable. As too was the efficient manner with which Wasps went about getting back into the game, Hodgson by this stage having added a penalty to his pair of conversions.

The home side spurned a pair of kickable shots to gamble on attacking line-outs, giant No 8 Nathan Hughes rumbling over from a rolling maul down the left and back-row partner Ashley Johnson doing the same shortly after.

Newcastle had simply switched off, their drop in intensity and Wasps’ hard running seeing the hosts snatch back the lead through Hughes’ second try in support of Johnson and James Haskell’s breaks.

Fleet-footed scrum-half Joe Simpson collected an inside pop from a chip ahead for the bonus point and a 29-17 intervel lead, the Falcons regaining their focus in a hugely dominant half-hour which saw them camped in Wasps territory.

“Mike Blair orchestrated a lot of stuff, and Joel had the best game I have seen from him in a long while,” said Richards.

“James Fitzpatrick was outstanding, Gonzalo Tiesi is a rock in that midfield and the back-row worked hard.

From one to 15 we offered ourselves, and despite the result it was a good all-round performance.

“There were two sides having a go on a lovely spring day, and if I had been playing it would have been a nightmare for me!

“I felt for the big boys in that heat and at that pace, but I was pleased with the ambition we showed.”

He was right to be enthusiastic, even if the comeback did not last.

By the time Noah Cato crossed in the right corner on 55 minutes his side had been pressing for some time, Mark Wilson close to a try after quick hands down the blindside and Sinoti going within a whisker of hot-stepping his way over.

It took a sublimely-lobbed miss pass from Hodgson to take three defenders out of the equation, Cato sliding under an attempted tackle to dot down before a quickfire second score as the former Northampton man hit a hard line at first receiver to smash over.

As soon as they had the lead they lost it, Will Helu collecting Goode’s cross-field kick to score in the right corner and Charlie Hayter taking a short pop from his fly-half for Wasps’ sixth.

Replacement hooker George McGuigan did his burgeoning reputation no harm with a late consolation for Newcastle, who huddled together on the final whistle to hear the news of Worcester’s relegation.

Asked if Richards felt relief, the England and Lions great pondered: “I don’t know if it is relief. Is it?

“Yeah, I suppose maybe it is, but I never really look at it that way.

“I had said to the boys I didn’t want to know what was happening in the Saracens v Worcester game, because for me it was all about how we played on the day.

“I guess at the end of the match there was a bit of a sigh of relief, but what it does more than anything is just give us that ability to prepare for next season far more than we were able to last summer with finishing so late in the Championship.”

NEWCASTLE FALCONS: A Tait, N Cato, G Tiesi, J Fitzpatrick (L Smith, 71), S Sinoti, J Hodgson, M Blair (W Fury, 71); R Vickers (K Brookes, 75), S Lawson (G McGuigan, 40), K Brookes (O Tomaszczyk, 40), S MacLeod, D Barrow (H Spencer, 71), R Mayhew (A Saull, 65), W Welch (captain), M Wilson.

Sin-bin: J Fitzpatrick (32)

Falcons scorers – Tries: M Blair, J Hodgson, N Cato 2, G McGuigan. Conversions: J Hodgson 5. Penalties: J Hodgson.

LONDON WASPS: A Masi, W Helu, E Daly, C Hayter (captain), T Varndell, A Goode (J Carlisle, 71), J Simpson (C Davies, 61); M Mullan (S McIntyre, 65), C Festuccia (T Lindsay, 55), P Swainston, J Launchbury (J Cannon, 71), T Palmer, A Johnson, J Haskell, N Hughes (S Jones, 40).

Sin-bin: C Hayter (79), J Haskell (79)

Wasps scorers – Tries: N Hughes 2, A Johnson, J Simpson, W Helu, C Hayter. Conversions: A Goode 3, C Hayter. Penalties: A Goode 2.

Referee: D Richards. Attendance: 6,003.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer