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Falcons win but Wasps still stay up

05 May 2012
Falcons win but Wasps still stay up

Newcastle face relegation from Aviva Premiership Rugby despite their crunch basement battle against fellow strugglers Wasps ending with a hard-earned 14-10 victory.

The Falcons finished bottom by a point following a 22-game regular league season that saw them win just six matches. They needed a bonus point triumph over 11th-placed Wasps – and also deny their opponents a losing one in the process – but that fanciful script never seriously looked like unfolding at a packed Adams Park.

Wasps, relieved to start putting an injury-ravaged campaign behind them, saw wing Christian Wade claim his ninth league try of the campaign, while fly-half Nicky Robinson added a conversion and penalty.

Centre James Fitzpatrick touched down for the visitors midway through the second period, a try that Jimmy Gopperth converted, yet a game suffocated by tension had no chance of breaking into the free-scoring spectacular that Newcastle needed.

Even when scrum-half Peter Stringer touched down late on, with Gopperth adding the extras, there was no obvious sign of any further late drama.

Falcons' fate now rests on the outcome of this season's second-tier Championship title race, which will not be concluded until May 30th.

Bristol, London Welsh, Bedford and Cornish Pirates are all contesting silverware, although it is thought only Bristol of that quartet categorically meet Aviva Premiership Rugby entry criteria.

Newcastle were crowned champions of England 14 years ago after a Rob Andrew-led rugby revolution on Tyneside that was bankrolled by Sir John Hall's millions. But all they can hope for now is that Bristol come unstuck, with Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Football Union set to issue a statement on promotion eligibility later this month.

The smart money will be on Dean Richards – interim boss Gary Gold's successor next term – inheriting a squad destined to play Championship rugby.

That will not, though, be an unfamiliar experience for the former England number eight, whose three-year worldwide coaching ban imposed following the infamous Bloodgate saga expires this summer.

Richards led Harlequins back into English rugby's top flight at the first time of asking in 2006, and Newcastle should encounter few problems making a rapid return. But that prospect will not ease the pain for Gold and his players, who are now set to go their separate ways.

South African Gold is poised to succeed Sir Ian McGeechan at Bath, heading up a coaching team that could also include former England defence coach Mike Ford and ex-London Irish prop Neal Hatley.

In the end, Newcastle came up short, despite posting a second successive Aviva Premiership Rugby away win that followed their victory at Gloucester three weeks ago.

Ultimately, it was simply too big a task for them as Wasps, inspired by the earlier-than-expected return to action of their captain Marco Wentzel, finally banished their relegation fears.

Wentzel led a Wasps team that featured a rejigged back-row that saw Joe Launchbury and Sam Jones fill the flanker positions, but Newcastle were unchanged from the side beaten 9-3 at home by Saracens last time out.

Rival goalkickers Robinson and Gopperth were both wide with early long-range penalty attempts, and they proved the most notable scoring opportunities during a forgettable first 30 minutes.

Wasps lost scrum-half Charlie Davies with a hamstring injury – Nic Berry replaced him – but the Falcons established territorial control as the opening half drew to its close.

Despite looking threatening with ball in hand, Newcastle lacked the finishing touch, and Wasps took advantage when Robinson landed an angled 37th-minute penalty. And there was worse to come for the visitors during injury time as full-back Richard Haughton's slicing break from deep inside his own half scattered Newcastle's defence.

Robinson acted as a link man, and then floated a superb pass to Wade, who sprinted clear for his eighth try of the league campaign. Robinson slotted the touchline conversion, and Newcastle were effectively down and out in terms of their pre-match target, trailing 10-0.

Wasps prop Ben Broster was sin-binned by referee Wayne Barnes for a technical offence early in the second period, but Newcastle again sacrificed a kickable penalty for an attacking scrum. And such an approach was rewarded when Fitzpatrick crashed over for a try that required confirmation from television match official Graham Hughes, before Gopperth added the extras.

Stringer then crossed in the final seconds, with Gopperth converting to give Newcastle the win they required, but with insufficient tries, to leave them facing an uncertain future.

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