Home from home for Fal­cons as they cling on to hold off Saints

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union - By Richard Bath at St James’ Park

They wore black and white stripes, they played in front of 30,000 scream­ing Ge­ordies at St James’ Park and when Vereniki Goneva scooted over for the Fal­cons’ first try he ful­filled his prom­ise to cel­e­brate Shearer-style in front of the Gal­low­gate End. That, though, was where the sim­i­lar­i­ties with the usual res­i­dents of this sto­ried sport­ing arena ended.

Where United have turned los­ing close games into an art form, the Fal­cons have done the op­po­site. Once again, with the bustling Sinoti Sinoti car­ry­ing with com­mend­able ag­gres­sion and Toby Flood con­trol­ling the game beau­ti­fully from stand-off and scor­ing 20 points, the home side de­servedly shaded a game that was in truth more about the oc­ca­sion than the rugby.

The way New­cas­tle found a way to win a con­test in which they con­ceded three tries and scored just one was an ob­ject les­son in how Dean Richards has trans­formed a side that was in­volved in an an­nual rel­e­ga­tion scrap into one now sit­ting third in the Premier­ship.

“St James’ is a fan­tas­tic sta­dium and the at­mos­phere was ab­so­lutely bril­liant,” said the Fal­cons di­rec­tor of rugby. “We were a lit­tle bit frus­trated by our ac­cu­racy but I think we just about de­served to win. It was galling that we kept let­ting them back into the game but then ev­ery time they scored we went straight back and put points on the board, which hit them hard. We were dogged and dis­ci­plined through­out, which they weren’t.”

For Northamp­ton, who were un­done by their own ill-dis­ci­pline, there was a dread­ful sense of deja vu. New­cas­tle have now won the last four matches be­tween th­ese two sides, all of them close af­fairs char­ac­terised by the pre­vi­ous en­counter when Nili Latu’s in­jury-time try fol­lowed by Sonatane Takalua’s touch­line con­ver­sion set­tled the tight­est of con­tests. De­spite the change of venue, this match fol­lowed that script to the let­ter, with nei­ther side ever be­ing more than a score ahead.

“Ill-dis­ci­pline cost us again, which has been a com­mon theme over the past three or four games,” said Saints di­rec­tor of rugby Alan Gaffney. “We con­ceded too many easy penal­ties and to give Toby Flood seven kicks at goal isn’t good enough. Three penal­ties em­anated from restarts – school­boy stuff. We scored three tries to one but in the last 20 min­utes with the penal­ties we con­ceded we had no field po­si­tion, had no ball and spent no time in their half.”

Only three min­utes had been played when Northamp­ton strayed off­side at a ruck and Flood kicked his first penalty.

New­cas­tle were dom­i­nant, so it was a sur­prise when Northamp­ton scored. Some neat in­ter­play be­tween the backs saw Ge­orge North set up a ruck on New­cas­tle’s line. David Rib­bans picked up, handed off hooker Kyle Cooper and crashed through Goneva and Evan Olm­stead for the soft­est of scores.

An­other Flood penalty re­stored the Fal­cons’ lead be­fore Sinoti pro­vided the cat­a­lyst for their first try, the wing’s charge set­ting up a ruck near the Saints 22, with Goneva pick­ing up and strolling over un­chal­lenged.

If the Fal­cons sub­se­quently strug­gled to cre­ate try-scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, Northamp­ton de­fied a lack of pos­ses­sion to score three. The sec­ond came af­ter they were un­der the cosh for a pro­longed pe­riod, stand-off Stephen Myler putting in a huge cross­field Gar­ry­owen which Goneva should have taken. In­stead, chal­lenged in the air by Ge­orge North he spilt the ball, and Horne hacked on to touch down.

New­cas­tle ended the half with a Flood penalty and started the sec­ond pe­riod in the same way for a 19-12 lead, yet they could never quite shake Saints. When Myler kicked a scrum penalty to the cor­ner, the Saints drove be­fore un­leash­ing their backs, Nafi Tuitavake squeez­ing over in the cor­ner for a try which Myler con­verted from the touch­line to bring Saints back on level terms.

Flood and Myler swapped penal­ties, but New­cas­tle were play­ing all the rugby. Although Flood’s next penalty ric­o­cheted back off a post, the stand-off just dusted him­self down and sec­onds later smacked over a huge penalty to make it 25-22 with 13 min­utes left.

Northamp­ton were lucky to re­tain all 14 men when Rib­bans took out Fal­cons full-back Si­mon Hammersley in the air, yet with Flood pen­ning Saints in their own half and con­trol­ling events, they would prob­a­bly have been un­able to change the re­sult with 20 men.

Just no stop­ping him: Stand-off Toby Flood con­trolled the game for New­cas­tle Fal­cons and proved his kick­ing abil­ity by con­tribut­ing 20 of their 25 points

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