Newcastle Falcons' season is going to be defined by how they do against the teams around them – and by that score they are doing OK. As they found out yesterday, however, the top sides are an altogether tougher proposition.
Beaten four tries to nil by serial contenders Harlequins, the Falcons have now gone three league games without finding their way over the whitewash and don’t look like doing it any time soon.
A day of dejection was not altogether without its positives, a rampant home scrum dominating a visiting pack containing seasoned internationals.
Again there was plenty of doggedness in defence, but that was about it.
Kicking away a fair weight of their position and failing to utilise what ball they held on to, their director of rugby Dean Richards was understandably frustrated.
Making no attempt to sidestep a sub-standard showing, he said: “We didn’t perform today.
“I don’t know why, and if you looked at last week’s performance you wouldn’t have seen this coming at all given the endeavour and hard work we showed.
“The players probably thought it was going to be equally as physical as it was at Northampton, but there was a lot more skill from Quins which we couldn’t adapt to.”
The scriptwriters had their moment as early as 10 minutes in when Tom Williams, the player at the centre of the Bloodgate scandal, raced down the right wing to open the scoring.
The Newcastle added said: “I couldn’t give a toss who scored the first try – I was just disappointed they scored a try at all. That is what upset me.”
His side’s supporters were similarly frustrated by a display in which they created little, Phil Godman slotting a pair of first-half penalties to Nick Evans’ one to trail 13-6 at the break.
Less than a minute of the second half had elapsed when Evans’ break allowed Sam Smith to sniff out a try in the left corner, Godman’s 44th- minute penalty completing the home side’s scoring for the day. Richards, whose line-out was one of a number of facets to mis-fire, said: “There is a lot of frustration in the changing room because we have a lot of skillful players who can perform on the big stage.
“We are a newly-promoted side and we don’t seem to have the confidence to play without worrying about the outcome.”
Bar the occasional sortie from Ryan Shortland there was little to enthuse a season-high crowd of 6,017, a second Evans penalty and Danny Care’s sniping try from a close-range ruck putting the outcome beyond any lingering doubt.
It was simply the ability of class players to play heads-up rugby which was making the difference, Care sniffing out his opportunity when many would have simply seen a sea of bodies in front of them.
Richards added: “They are no different to anybody else and we need to impose our game on them rather than the other way round.
“We just sat back and allowed them to come on to us.”
The closing quarter provided no change in momentum, Ally Hogg enduring a frustrating afternoon on his 100th club appearance as his attempted offload to Shortland found the West Stand crowd rather than the Kiwi winger.
James Fitzpatrick’s late burst of attacking umph raised the volume from silent to a murmur, but aside from a power-packed scrum and the occasional big hit there was little to get excited about.
Sam Smith’s 69th-minute try answered the only remaining question as Harlequins secured their bonus point with an 80-metre burst, Newcastle beaten and in need of their Amlin Challenge Cup respite.