London Irish rode the absence of three key players through international duty to inflict a fourth successive defeat on a listless Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park.
England full-back Delon Armitage was one of a trio of big names not available for the Exiles’ return to the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP, but his younger brother Steffon stepped in to score the try that broke the Falcons back early in the second half.
Newcastle’s wretched record of five defeats in six matches coming into this game heightened the anticipation surrounding the debut of Tane Tu’ipulotu.
The Tongan inside centre made his Falcons bow after helping Wellington Lions to victory in the Ranfurly Shield in New Zealand.
A Junior All Black, 27-year-old Tu’ipulotu was expected to add verve to the Newcastle midfield alongside long-serving Tom May, but they were easily nullified by a well-drilled Irish.
For all their eventual dominance, Irish looked tentative at the outset and Peter Hewat’s kick-off failed to cross the 10-metre line.
By contrast, Rory Clegg, the 18-year-old with the task of filling in for the injured Jonny Wilkinson and Rob Miller at fly-half, looked assured.
Clegg coolly collected a misplaced pass and kicked into touch five metres out, where lock Mark Sorenson stole the Irish lineout.
Brent Wilson spotted a gap on the blindside and forced over for the first try.
The visitors’ response was immediate. When Newcastle were penalised for hands in at the ruck, captain Mike Catt chose to go to touch 10 metres out.
This time Nick Kennedy won line-out ball, and the result was inevitable.
Chris Hala’Ufia was stopped under the posts by a combination of Wilson and Micky Ward, but when Irish recycled Richard Thorpe burrowed under for the try. Hewat converted well for a two-point lead.
The game was marred by a series of misplaced passes in the second part of the half, but Irish had the chance to take more of a stranglehold two minutes before the switch.
Elvis Seveali’i’s pop-pass to Topsy Ojo on the right wing was clearly forward, but it escaped the attention of the officials, and from there, Irish attacked.
The Falcons were penalised for holding on and Hewat’s kicked from just short of halfway to stretch the Exiles’ lead to five at the switch.
The Falcons emerged a different side, and they outwitted Irish with an overthrown line-out gathered by Ed Williamson.
Clegg pivoted away from a tackler and made 10 yards before being held up, and Irish were penalised for not rolling away.
The England Under-18 international kicked the resulting goal, and Newcastle were back within two points at 8-10 three minutes into the second half.
Newcastle’s rally was extinguished when their scrum was turned over eight metres out, and replacement flanker Armitage spotted a clever line to go under the posts. Hewat converted.
Any hopes of a Falcons comeback were killed off when Armitage crashed through on the left and set up Seveali’i. His raking pass found Declan Danaher who crashed over in the corner and Hewat added the gloss.
Irish surged forward in search of the try that would have sealed a bonus point, but Shane Geraghty’s ambitious pass flew over Seveali’i’s head with the line at his mercy.