Rugby Union: Bristol battered by Armstrong tactics

Bristol 8 Newcastle 50
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The Independent Online
Newcastle Falcons soared to the top of the Allied Dunbar Premiership in style, running up a half-century against hapless Bristol. While they hold top spot only by virtue of a superior points difference over Saracens, on this form they look worthy leaders.

Their forwards ruled in all phases of the game, shoving the Bristol pack all over the place. Their domination culminated in a strike against the head for Ross Nesdale late in the match which led to the second of the Scotland scrum-half Gary Armstrong's hat-trick of tries.

Bristol, a leaky vessel when compared to their former glory, barely got up a head of steam and by the end had run out of any they may have possessed, worn down by the big, mean Newcastle machine. They stumbled off the pitch having suffered their worst home league defeat ever. The line-outs were another one-way street. Newcastle fielded Richard Metcalfe, at 7ft 1in the tallest man playing top-class rugby in Britain, and Doddie Weir in the second row and they plucked possession from the ionosphere at will.

It did not stop up front, though. Despite the blinkered rantings of one frustrated Bristol fan, who accused Rob Andrew of being boring if he so much as looked like kicking out of hand, the former England fly-half launched his dangerous threequarters far too frequently for the home side's liking.

He did have a bad time with his conversions, but since seven of the eight attempts were made in the second half into the teeth of a tricky wind it was probably more remarkable that he landed one at all.

As things turned out the extra points were not vital, and if careless spills and dodgy decisions, as well as moments of unadulterated selfishness when certain players were in sight of the Bristol line, had not entered Newcastle's otherwise exemplary approach then they might well have reached three figures.

Their colossus, Va'aiga Tuigamala, playing on the wing in the absence of Tony Underwood (injured) and John Bentley (dropped), drew enough defensive cover to leave gaping holes elsewhere and his colleagues in the backs benefited hugely. Tuigamala did get on the scoresheet eventually with the penultimate try.

Bristol had got off to a dashing start thanks to Andrew's seasonal generosity. His long pass, intended to find either Tuigamala or Stuart Legg, was sufficiently obvious to allow Dave Tiueti to read the telegram, screw it up into a ball and sling it into a wastepaper basket before he intercepted the ball some two metres inside his 22. It took the Tongan only around 15 seconds to pound upfield and cover the remaining 80 metres to the line, but to the Bristol fans it must have seemed like an eternity.

But, with the exception of a penalty late in the first half, that was all Bristol managed in a one-sided match. Once Newcastle had countered with Armstrong's first try they settled into a destructive pattern of play which sucked Bristol in and then left them floundering when they opened up. Andrew's two penalties and his conversion of the flanker Pat Lam's try took them into the interval with a 10-point cushion; the floodgates then opened in the second half.

A long sequence, with Lam playing a critical role and involving most of the rest of the Newcastle side, saw play swing right then left before Graham Childs crashed over.

It started a procession. Newcastle had arrived in the West Country needing a margin of 21 points to leapfrog Saracens - in the end they polevaulted past the north London club. The mercurial and clever centre Alan Tait, chief tormentor of the Bristol backs, and the wing Jim Naylor completed the scoring.

These Falcons are flying high. The question remains, is anyone game enough to keep in touch?

Bristol: I Jones (J Lewsey, 79); D Tiueti, P Hull, K Maggs, D Yapp; P Burke, R Jones (capt); M Worsley, K Dunn, K Fullman (M Morgan, 22), P Adams (S Pearce, 69), T Devergie, D Corkery, J Brownrigg, C Short.

Newcastle: S Legg; J Naylor, A Tait (J Wilkinson, 76), G Childs, V Tuigamala; R Andrew, G Armstrong; G Graham (N Popplewell, 40), R Nesdale, P van Zandvliet, R Metcalfe, D Weir, P Lam, D Ryan (capt), P Walton.

Referee: C White (Cheltenham).

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