Walder does not receive too many plaudits as Jonny Wilkinson’s long-serving understudy at Kingston Park but he scored a neatly-taken try and stroked over a pair of drop-goals which Wilkinson would have been proud of to increase the gloom for Northampton boss Budge Pountney.
The Saints have plenty of backline talent – led by Spencer, Bruce Reihana and Ben Cohen – but had a nightmare afternoon at the line-out and in the loose where some thrilling counter-attacks were ruined by needless turnovers. All they could manage were three Reihana penalties – the last a superb late effort to earn a bonus point – after having an early score disallowed.
Pountney was forced to make changes in the pack going into the match, calling-up Academy prospect Mark Easter to replace Daniel Browne, while England hooker Steve Thompson was on the bench.
Newcastle – beaten 23-22 here last season – had problems of their own to overcome. Wilkinson is one of half-a-dozen important casualties, with Stuart Grimes, Phil Dowson, Matt Thompson and Anthony Elliott all missing. They look potent in the back-row, though, where former Australia flanker Owen Finegan made his first Premiership start as part of a big ball-carrying double act with skipper Colin Charvis.
The advance billing for the game was that all the fireworks were supposed to be detonated by All Blacks legend Spencer, involved three times in a ferocious opening attack which put Mark Robinson over the line only for referee Roy Maybank to rule out the score for crossing in the build-up.
Newcastle, though, edged the forward battle and it was their all-round fluency, prompted intelligently by Walder, which built a potentially match-winning lead by half-time.
Winger Matt Tait unstitched Northampton down the left and sucked in defenders in the 11th minute, allowing Walder to chip into open space and recover the ball to beat Sean Lamont to the line for the try with full-back Matt Burke converting. Reihana responded with a long-range penalty five minutes later but missed with two other eminently kickable chances before the break.
By contrast, Newcastle were taking their chances, with Walder adding a neatly-taken 25th minute drop-goal after Finegan had hammered his way through the middle. Burke added another three points on the half-hour after another well-executed attack forced Northampton to concede a penalty to establish a 10-point advantage at the break.
Thompson appeared at the start of the second half to galvanise Northampton’s struggling forwards and his side closed the gap with Reihana’s second penalty after 43 minutes.
Failings at the line-out continued to plague them, though. They lost the ball on their own throw twice in quick succession – the first time five metres from the Newcastle line, the second dangerously close to their own.
Spencer and Reihana continued to provide a threat going forward, one promising attack at the start of the final quarter ending when they turned over the ball needlessly in the Newcastle 22.
The Falcons, though, soaked up the pressure and nearly scored again when Tait raced Robinson to the ball and was ruled to have knocked on after referee Maybank called for the television match official’s adjudication. But Northampton were haunted again by another line-out failure. Walder kicked beautifully for position, then drilled over a second drop-goal in the 68th minute after his side had been gifted the ball.
They had not quite put Northampton away though and Reihana claimed a bonus point and then briefly kept alive hopes of something more with a nerveless penalty from close to the right-hand touchline in the closing moments.