Jonny Wilkinson came through his latest comeback but was unable to help Newcastle make match of it as they were outplayed by new GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP leaders Leicester.
Injury-dogged Falcons fly-half Wilkinson was an impressive performer in a lost cause as he gave England coach Brian Ashton a timely nudge for next Saturday’s Calcutta Cup clash.
England’s World Cup-winner, out for 12 weeks with a lacerated kidney, went on for only his fourth appearance of the season in first-half injury time as a replacement for full-back Anthony Elliott.
Toby Flood, the man expected to wear the number 10 shirt for England against Scotland, switched to centre and then to full-back to accommodate Wilkinson – who slotted effortlessly back into his old routine.
He added much-needed structure to the Falcons attack, distributed intelligently and demonstrated full commitment to the tackle.
Wilkinson could now be ready to put three years of disappointments behind him, with a place on the bench at Twickenham and a first England appearance since his match-winning drop goal in the 2003 World Cup final.
But that will be of little consolation to Newcastle, whose failure to take even a point from today’s clash leaves them precariously placed near the foot of the Premiership.
Leicester, conversely, were able to make 13 changes to the side that won in Munster and still comfortably claim a bonus-point win to go back to the top of the table.
The highlight for the visitors came on 26 minutes when their England trio of Flood, Mathew Tait and Jamie Noon combined to get Elliott over for their only try.
But little went right for Flood, who landed a dramatic last-minute penalty in Newcastle’s 31-29 win over the Tigers at Kingston Park earlier this month.
He was short with an ambitious 50-yard penalty after five minutes, narrowly missed a touchline conversion attempt and struck an upright with a second penalty early in the second half.
Leicester fly-half Paul Burke, on the other hand, was imperious on his first start since November – landing five goals from as many attempts, including two penalties in the first 10 minutes.
The Falcons paid a heavy price for their indiscipline, Leicester scoring their first try while their visitors were down to 14 men and a second when they had just 13 players on the pitch.
Impressive flanker Shane Jennings, one of only two players to keep their places in the Tigers starting line-up, was driven over within seconds of Newcastle lock Jason Oakes being shown the game’s first yellow card.
When Russell Winter joined his team-mate in the sin bin in first-half injury time, Leicester number eight Jordan Crane strolled through the threadbare Falcons defence for the killer score.
Burke’s fourth goal gave his side a 20-5 half-time lead, and Wilkinson was unable to stem the tide in the second half – when England pair Martin Corry and Harry Ellis made cameo appearances for the Tigers.
Prop Marcos Ayerza was driven over for his first try for the club on 59 minutes, and England wing Tom Varndell went over twice in four minutes as Leicester finished well on top.
With Burke taking a well-earned rest, Ian Humphreys took over his role and landed one conversion from his two attempts.