Newcastle Falcons continued their quiet accumulation of Premiership points, even if it took a bizarre incident right at the death to secure them.
Leading by two points against London Irish, the visitors’ replacement fly-half, Shane Geraghty, lined up a match-winning penalty from 40 metres out, straight in front of the Kingston Park posts.
With the ball blowing off its tee, the former England international signalled team-mate Darren Allinson to hold it in place, blowing over a second time due to strong winds.
Amid the chaos, referee Greg Garner signalled for the Exiles to get on with it, Allinson forced into an American football-style holding of the ball as Geraghty swung in vain, his impromptu swing landing short.
The Falcons celebrated a third win from six league outings to rise to eighth in the table and, even if London Irish director of rugby Brian Smith felt an injustice had been done, he was not whingeing about it.
“It was unusual to say the least but we are big boys, we will suck it up and crack on,” he said. “The Falcons boys put a lot of pressure on the official, who was saying get the ball away. You push the boundaries as far as you can. Our team would have done the same.” Richards had little truck for any suggestion his players had done everything wrong in advancing towards the ball, the Newcastle boss stating: “I don’t think you can run the clock out so that, if you do kick the goal, the other side doesn’t have time to restart.
“It is quite fair that our players were making sure there was no sharp practice from London Irish in running the clock down, so we couldn’t have a chance of scoring again.”
Such a dramatic climax followed 79 minutes of fairly uninspiring entertainment, although the blame for that can be laid largely at conditions which made running rugby a virtual impossibility. “When you get the rain that we have had, and a howling gale, then it was never going to be a pretty game,” said Richards.
“The selection of the sides gave an indication of how the game was going to be played, but our consistency throughout the year is what we are really looking for.”
To that end his side are in no bad fettle, although they trailed 5-0 on 12 minutes when Samoan flanker Ofisa Treviranus’ supporting run down the left was rewarded by a scoring pass from Ian Humphreys.
An error-strewn half saw balls hitting the floor regularly from both sides, Adam Powell the exception as the former Saracens centre rose above a tepid contest to pick some shrewd attacking lines. Midfield partner Danny Barnes looked sharp in defence despite six weeks out with injury, and Fraser McKenzie’s inclusion in the second-row was rewarded with an industrious hour before being clattered by serial offender Chris Hala’ufia. “Well, you expect that from Chris,” said Richards, a former coach of the Pacific Island hit-man during his time at Harlequins. “I have the utmost respect for him, and he is a really hard player. Fraser is fine. He took a blow, he felt a bit groggy coming off, but we will see how he is.”
The pace of the game never really got beyond a jog, although the lead changed hands on the half-hour when the second of Rory Clegg’s penalties bisected the uprights – Hala’ufia the culprit of a high shot once again.
Humphreys’ penalty with the final play of the first half had the Exiles in front 8-6 at the break, but Powell’s class ended a turgid scoreless quarter when sustained pick-and-go play was finally worked away from the breakdown.
Having been screaming for the ball for a good minute, Powell was thrown a peach of a pass by Mike Blair from under the shadow of the crossbar. Expertly arcing his run to match the flight of the ball, he out-foxed the blitz defence and raced through the gap to score.
Replacement fly-half Phil Godman added the decisive extras and, for all of the focus on the drama around Geraghty’s late penalty, by that stage the Falcons had shown plenty in defence. Dom Barrow’s line-out steal on his own 22 marked another promising performance from the Under-20s World Cup winner, Ally Hogg’s crafty work at a close-range rolling maul saw crucial turn-over ball and there were few backward steps taken in the tackle.
For a side bracketed by the betting offices as relegation fodder it was precisely the sort of solid team performance to push such sentiments out of the window.
Yes, they want more tries, and yes, they want to win by more. But, as Richards is fond of saying, they are quietly going about their business.