Jonny Wilkinson’s second-half appearance failed to inspire victory for Newcastle Falcons in an exciting clash against Worcester. It was Wilkinson’s third run-out after a long battle with a groin problem and there were fears he had aggravated the injury when he was attended to by medics after 58 minutes.
However, the fly-half carried on and appeared to have run off the problem.
The match had little riding on the result, although Newcastle had the slightest of chances for Heineken Cup qualification if other results went their way.
Worcester centre Thomas Lombard led the team out after the 30-year-old announced he would return to France for family reasons, and his side were quickly into their stride.
Newcastle’s downfall began with two sucker punches. Both incidents saw big number eight Kai Horstmann heavily involved, firstly finishing off a great move where scrum-half Nick Runciman darted up middle before the ball was moved via a long pass from fly-half Shane Drahm. Horstmann was on the wing to finish things off.
With only 13 minutes on the board, Horstmann gave a pass to wing Gary Trueman who swatted two weak Newcastle tackles away before sprinting unopposed from 35 metres to the line. Drahm’s conversion put Worcester 12-0 ahead.
Drahm added another penalty before Runciman was sin-binned for putting hishands in a ruck as Newcastle at last got into the game.
However, coach Rob Andrew’s hopes of a comeback for his side were compounded when centre Jamie Noon was sent through only to be denied by Trueman when touching down for the try.
The extra-man advantage eventually told as Newcastle fly-half Toby Flood, watched closely by Wilkinson, made a nuisance of himself and put in a neat grubber kick, reclaimed it and beat Drahm to the touchdown. Full-back Matt Burke converted.
However, Mathew Tait was sin-binned and Worcester reached half-time 25-7 in front when a tremendous move saw full-back Thinus Delport surge to within 10 metres of the line on the right wing and his captain Pat Sanderson crossed. Drahm adding the extras.
Wilkinson came on and set up a try by Burke, although England’s World Cup hero failed to convert.
Worcester sealed the bonus point when Runciman dummied to throw out a pass from a ruck and darted two metres over the line.
Replacement fly-half James Brown added the conversion before flanker Mike McCarthy had bulldozed over for Newcastle’s third touchdown, from three metres.
The Falcons were again reduced to 14 men when lock Andy Perry flattened Trueman with a high tackle and they were further punished when Brown landed a 38-metre penalty.
More drama was to come on the scoring front as, having looked dead and buried, Newcastle stormed in for a try bonus point as Burke latched onto an overhead pass from Ollie Phillips on the left to get his second.
And, when Tait went on a great run, he cut inside but flipped the ball out to wing Tom May to go over.
That put Newcastle just eight points in arrears at 35-27 with still 10 minutes left and having scored five tries. In fact, if they had kicked the four conversions they missed in the second-half, the teams would have been level.
Worcester were not ready to give up their hard-worked advantage easily and turned the screw in the final quarter, holding on for the victory.