Rugby Union: KO for Coker and his team

Newcastle 43 Saracens 12
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The Independent Online
NEWCASTLE HAD all the tricks while Tony Underwood provided a farewell crowd at the Gateshead Stadium with a hat-trick treat at a Hallowe'en party Saracens are unlikely to forget in a hurry.

Though if Saracens woke up yesterday morning feeling that there was an element of witchcraft about the way Newcastle punched a big hole in their title aspirations they had better think again. So, too, can Troy Coker, whose punch left Ian Peel looking like the victim of a motorway crash.

Coker was deservedly dismissed for his folly. But, by the time the Australian weighed in with his unwanted contribution, Saracens had all but been counted out. They were 24-7 adrift and wobbling badly as the Newcastle forwards had taken control of the match well before Coker had taken leave of his senses. Coker and the rest of the Saracens' pack had no legitimate answer to the ferocious driving and clinical finishing of their opponents, who handed Saracens their biggest league defeat since Sale beat them 52-3, in their Second Division days, back in 1993.

Newcastle will not be sorry to see the back of the elegiac athletics stadium south of the Tyne. Their next home match will be back at Kingston Park in a fortnight, when they face Northampton, on a weekend when the Premiership will be disrupted by England's World Cup qualifying match against the Netherlands.

If Newcastle win at Harlequins on Saturday, and celebrate their return to more familiar surroundings with victory against Saints, it may be safe to say that retaining the title is well within their grasp.

For the moment, they can reflect on a performance which was as good as anything they produced last season. In the tight and in broken play Doddie Weir, Garath Archer, Dean Ryan and Richard Arnold delivered a display straight out of the textbook.

In midfield, Jonny Wilkinson and Martin Shaw provided Va'aiga Tuigamala and Tony Underwood with all the ball they could wish for. Underwood showed his gratitude by running in three sparkling tries. While there was one each for Martin Shaw, Richard Horton and an ebullient Gary Armstrong.

Saracens will have to go to work if they are to save their season. They have conceded 14 tries in their three defeats, and were off the pace throughout this match.

Newcastle: Tries Underwood 3, Horton, Shaw, Armstrong; Conversions Wilkinson 4, Andre; Penalty Wilkinson. Saracens: Tries Hill, Johnson. Conversion Johnson

Newcastle: S Legg; V Tuigamala, M Shaw, J Wilkinson (P Massey, 79), T Underwood (J Naylor, 76); R Andrew, G Armstrong; G Graham, R Nesdale (R Horton, 63), I Peel (S Best, 60), G Archer, D Weir, P Walton (R Beattie h-t), R Arnold (S O'Neill, 71), D Ryan (capt).

Saracens: G Johnson; R Constable, J Thomson (B Taylor, 60), S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; A Penaud, K Bracken; A Oliver, G Chuter, W de Jonge (B Reidy, 62), T Coker, D Grewcock, F Pienaar (P Johns, 34), R Hill, T Diprose (capt).

Referee: C White (Cheltenham).

Allan Bateman has been ruled out of Wales' November Test matches against South Africa and Argentina. The Richmond centre underwent a shoulder operation on Saturday.

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