Jimmy Gopperth missed four penalty attempts on his Newcastle debut as Leeds Carnegie claimed a share of the spoils on their return to the Guinness Premiership.
The highly-rated New Zealander, 26, has been tasked with filling Jonny Wilkinson’s kicking role following the England fly-half’s move to Toulon. Yet Gopperth failed to match Wilkinson’s accuracy with the boot as he converted only three of seven penalty kicks in a bitterly disappointing encounter which saw precious little freeflowing rugby.
All of Leeds’ points came from the boot of fly-half Ceiron Thomas, who landed three penalties of his own but still managed to miss two, and despite a late rally the Yorkshire side could not conjure a precious victory.
There has been much change at both clubs during the summer with Newcastle having allowed 25 players to leave and brought in 18 new ones. Five of their new recruits – Gopperth, Gcobani Bobo, James Hudson and former Leeds pair Rob Vickerman and Tom Biggs – were handed starting roles.
Gopperth, despite his failings with the boot, showed enough glimpses of quality to suggest he is capable of making a positive impact on the Guinness Premiership this season. The Kiwi looked to orchestrate affairs at every opportunity during the opening exchanges and illustrated his class with a stream of probing kicks.
He missed a penalty in the second minute but moments later then Falcons drove at the heart of the Leeds defence in a fine move which almost harvested a try. Bobo broke from halfway and embarked on a fine run down the left flank and, although his progress was halted, Biggs collected possession 20 metres out. He spotted Gopperth in support to his right but his pass was wayward and the opportunity spurned.
Gopperth did get the visitors off the mark with a routine penalty soon after and, with the Falcons superior up front, Leeds initially looked to be there for the taking. Yet Leeds head coach Neil Back and his old Leicester team-mate Andy Key have fashioned a side with guts.
After Gopperth missed another penalty from distance, Leeds began to enjoy a brief bout of sustained pressure and Thomas landed a long-range penalty in the 23rd minute having missed one three minutes earlier. Gopperth failed with the boot again in the 33rd minute and Thomas then did likewise in first-half injury-time to cap a thoroughly underwhelming opening period.
The pattern continued four minutes after the restart when Gopperth missed his fourth penalty from five attempts, yet Newcastle began to build up a head of steam. A forward pass denied them a try in the 56th minute after they fashioned a fine move which stretched Leeds to breaking point down the left flank.
Gopperth claimed his second penalty on the hour mark and then Thomas did likewise four minutes later. Gopperth struck again in the 69th minute to put Newcastle 9-6 ahead but Leeds drew level with six minutes remaining when Thomas landed his third penalty from five attempts.