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