Tom May eased Newcastle’s relegation fears with a penalty 10 minutes from time to earn them a precious GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP victory over high-flying Gloucester at a blustery Kingston Park.
Despite surviving on scraps, Newcastle took a seven-point lead into half-time following Danny Williams’ fourth try in his last four starts.
Scrum-half Rory Lawson replied immediately after half-time as a swing in momentum looked inevitable with the change of ends. But Newcastle’s defence was resolute and May grabbed the decisive penalty for Falcons. Gloucester, who could have gone top with a win, suffered the further blow of injuries to England hopefuls Mike Tindall and Olly Morgan.
Rather than the big freeze that affected yesterday’s sporting fixtures, Kingston Park was beset by a mighty breeze, which set the posts jangling along with the players’ nerves.
Newcastle’s young fly-half Rory Clegg was the first to be affected by the conditions, sending two kickable penalties wide in the opening eight minutes. And when Gloucester were presented with a penalty on the 22, they opted for the scrum instead but to no better effect.
With kicking from hand a lottery and spinning it wide even more risky, both sides had few options but to keep the ball at close quarters and launch largely ineffectual raids around the ruck. But after 25 minutes the hosts found an opening and showed a cutting edge rarely seen this season.
Jamie Noon ran fearlessly into the heart of Gloucester’s defence and when the ball was recycled Clegg fed the returning Williams who burst through two tackles before cantering in from 20 yards. Clegg had learned his lessons and slotted the conversion.
The visitors’ best opportunity came when they flooded through following a mix-up between Clegg and scrum-half Micky Young but inevitably it only led to their own error.
However after the break the visitors hit back swiftly. Finally their grinding forward play paid off and Lawson plunged over from close in. Olly Barkley added the conversion to level the scores. But it was not all good news for Gloucester as they lost Morgan to a hand injury a few minutes later.
It was a cruel blow for the full-back who has been tipped to be named in Martin Johnson’s England elite players squad on Wednesday.
The hosts had a chance to regain the lead but Steve Jones, who had replaced Clegg, fired his penalty wide of the wobbling posts.
Gloucester’s hopes were dealt a further blow as captain Tindall hobbled off the field. It was further bad news for England manager Johnson who has been preparing to welcome back the World Cup winner to the international stage. Newcastle seized on Gloucester’s confusion and a scampering run from Young put Newcastle on the brink on the line.
Repeated drives came to nothing but a few minutes later they took the lead as May drilled a penalty through the posts.
Crucially Gloucester turned down a kickable penalty with five minutes remaining and it back-fired as Newcastle recorded a vital win ahead of a potentially decisive relegation clash with Bristol next month.