Jonny Wilkinson was subjected to another public humiliation as Newcastle’s faltering GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP campaign hit a new low with a 16-15 defeat at rock-bottom Leeds.
The iconic fly-half – ignominiously dropped by England for last weekend’s RBS 6 Nations victory against Ireland – returned to the Falcons side after international duty along with Jamie Noon, Toby Flood and Mathew Tait.
The quartet could be forgiven for wishing they had not bothered as spirited Leeds kept their slim survival hopes alive and set a new record for the fastest try in Premiership history through Lee Blackett after 8.28 seconds.
Wilkinson registered the 24th Premiership try of his career and also claimed five points with the boot but there was little else to cheer on an otherwise miserable evening at a bitterly cold and windswept Headingley.
An abject surrender saw the Falcons lose 28-8 at home to Bristol last weekend in what ranked as their worst performance of the season. This latest effort was of a similar ilk and will bring owner Dave Thompson’s decision to sack director of rugby John Fletcher and forwards coach Peter Walton under further scrutiny.
Steve Bates was placed in charge until the end of the season but has now presided over two straight defeats.
Leeds, meanwhile, claimed only their second win in 17 Premiership outings and remain rock bottom. But if they go down, they will go down fighting.
The Yorkshiremen, backed by a biting, swirling wind in the first half, could not have asked for a better start as they breached Newcastle’s line after only eight seconds.
Straight from the kick-off by Leeds fly-half Alberto Di Bernardo, the Falcons allowed the ball to bounce and Blackett advanced forward at pace to collect possession and ground under the posts.
It was the first Premiership try of the centre’s career and set a new record for the fastest Premiership score, beating the mark set when Tom Voyce touched down for Wasps against Harlequins in November 2004. Moreover, it gave the Yorkshiremen the platform for an improbable victory.
Di Bernardo missed a penalty from distance moments later but Newcastle began to establish a stranglehold and by the 13th minute Wilkinson got them off the mark.
A period of sustained pressure led to hooker Lee Dickson taking control from behind a scrum close to the Leeds line before delivering a rapier-like offload to Wilkinson to his left. He still had work to but Leeds wing Apo Satala’s pitiful attempt at a tackle counted for little as Wilkinson burrowed his way over the line.
The wind ensured his conversion attempt missed by some distance but he did not err from under the posts with a penalty midway through the half to edge his side 8-7 ahead.
Newcastle by now were in control and several promising breaks threatened to cut Leeds apart.
That it did not happen was largely down to the hosts’ spirited resistance and obstinate defence, and after Noon departed groggily midway through the first period, Di Bernardo landed a penalty to give his side further breathing space.
Newcastle were dealt another blow when Alex Tait – who had replaced Noon minutes earlier – was forced off through injury.
Di Bernardo converted his second penalty shortly before the break to give his side a 13-8 interval lead.
Leeds dominated for the first 20 minutes of the second period but had only another Di Bernardo penalty to show for their efforts. Newcastle slowly crept back into contention and giant prop Carl Hayman bundled his way over the line from close range shortly after the hour mark.
Wilkinson converted as Newcastle claimed a bonus point but Leeds held on in a tense final few minutes for a famous success which was rapturously received at a jubilant Headingley.