THE question has been asked before, and is sure to be raised again, though so far no one can give a reasoned answer when queries are raised about the purpose of the Sanyo Challenge Cup. Although professionalism is still in its infancy, this end-of-season match between the Allied Dunbar champions, Newcastle, and a World XV at Twickenham is a game too many, just as it was in each of its two previous runnings.
In a futile search for a reason why, Bob Dwyer, the coach of the World XV, said: "It is an opportunity for Newcastle to appear before their public as champions, and show people that they are worthy of the honour."
Sorry, Bob, that one won't wash. The Newcastle public were across the road at The Stoop Memorial Ground last Sunday, to see Dean Ryan's team as they clinched the title by defeating Harlequins. That was when a visit to London by Newcastle really did mean something.
If there is a place for a game like this, it is in late summer, before the league season starts. Better still, why not a home-and-away contest between the champions of England and France? In fact, Newcastle have almost concluded arrangements to play this season's French Champions, Stade Francais, in August.
For all the pre-match hype, attendances have declined since the first of these Sanyo games, and there were only 18,500 to witness a surprisingly competitive match. There was plenty of running, especially from the electrifying Philippe Bernat-Salles - who scored three exilirating tries before the break - and some delightful handling.
Inevitably there was some candy-floss stuff with several players returning as replacements having earlier been replaced themselves. But this came in the third quarter when it became apparent that Newcastle badly wanted to win.
Within six minutes of the restart, Newcastle had looked out of it when Agustin Pichot scored two tries to leave Newcastle trailing by 22 points. But from then on, Newcastle took control as George Graham and Gary Armstrong crossed for tries. Rob Andrew, who had come on for Jon Wilkinson, slotted both conversions to put theFalcons back in the frame at 41-33.
They still had plenty to do, especially as Francois Pienaar and Hannes Strydom returned to bolster the World XV pack. But a brilliant burst by Pat Lam - crowned the Allied Dunbar Premiership Player of the Year - and a third Andrew conversion set up an explosive last 10 minutes.
The loudest bang was made by Va'aiga Tuigamala smashed under the posts for Newcastle's seventh try. Andrew converted, so Newcastle went one better than Leicester and Wasps by becoming the first English team to win the Sanyo Cup.
Newcastle: S Legg; J Naylor, V Tuigamala, M Shaw, A Tait (capt); J Wilkinson, C Simpson-Daniels; G Graham, R Nesdale, P Van-Zandvliet, R Beattie, D Weir, P Lam, P Walton, R Arnold. Replacements: G Armstrong for Simpson- Daniels, 40; R Andrew for Wilkinson, 40; D Barnes for Van-Zandvliet, 40; S O'Neill for Arnold, 47; N Frankland for Nesdale, 58; G Childs for Shaw, 64; R Horton for Walton, 69.
World XV: P Vaccari (Italy); P Bernat-Salles, P Sella, S Glas (both France), C Williams (South Africa); D Knox (Australia), A Pichot (Argentina); C Blades (Australia) R Ibanez (France), M Hurter (South Africa), H Strydom (South Africa), W Waugh (Australia), M Giovanelli (Italy), T Strauss, F Pienaar (both South Africa). Replacements: T Coker (Australia) for Strydom, 40; G Leaupepe (Western Samoa) for Sella, 40; S Latu (Japan) for Pienaar, 40; R Cockerill (England) for Ibanez, 40; E Rush (New Zealand) for Vaccari, 50; D Garforth (England) for Hurter, 56; Pienaar for Gionvanelli, 58; Sella for Glas, 58; Strydom for Waugh, 58; A Thomas (Wales) for Knox, 66.
Referee: S Piercy (Goole).Reuse content