Rugby Union: Legg clears way for Newcastle

Newcastle 20 Wasps 13
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NEWCASTLE had to reach deep within themselves to resist a Wasps team who were looking more like their old selves than a side facing the possibility of relegation or the play-offs. Newcastle needed every ounce of resolution and self-belief to claim a victory which enables them to move two points clear at the top of Premiership One, with a game in hand over their nearest rivals, Saracens.

Given that Wasps had managed just four league wins since they clinched the title at Northampton last April, they travelled north more in hope than expectation.

At least they were virtually at full strength which was a godsend after their injury-wrecked campaign, with only Simon Mitchell, Rob Henderson and Simon Shaw missing from the Londoners' first-choice team. Notionally, that promised a match closer than anticipated, especially as Newcastle were without Garath Archer, Va'aiga Tuigamala, George Graham and Ros Nesdale.

So it proved. Indeed, had Wasps made more of their advantage at the set- pieces and been as clinical in their finishing as Newcastle, it might well have been closer. Ultimately, Newcastle were breathing heavily by the close of a pounding confrontation, if not exactly clinging on.

"The thing about Newcastle," the Wasps captain, Lawrence Dallaglio, said, "is that they are very patient. Then, when they get into scoring positions, they finish well. We out-scrummaged them and gave them nothing in what was a very muscular contest, except the two points."

Before the muscular stuff had crossed the border which separates the inadvisable from the unacceptable - earning yellow cards for the Wasps lock Mark Weedon and the Newcastle captain, Dean Ryan - Rob Andrew had taken the home side into a seven-point lead.

On an evening which revealed more of January than April, in driving rain, Andrew eschewed the opportunity to shoot for goal, preferring instead to kick for a line-out in the corner. When that turned to scrum, Andrew turned the Wasps defence inside out with a sublime dummy for a delicious try, which he then converted.

After only three minutes Newcastle were rolling, even though the conditions made expansive rugby far too hazardous. Or so we thought, until Stuart Legg demonstrated that risk can have its reward.

Two tries by the Newcastle full-back turned the match as half-time beckoned, with the only other scores being a penalty apiece by Andrew and Gareth Rees. The first of Legg's tries was the conclusion of a sweeping move down the left flank. For the second, Legg chipped over the advancing cover before gathering the slippery ball for a brilliant individual try.

Wasps enjoyed by far the better of the third quarter in an intensifying forward grind as Newcastle conceded a plethora of penalties, one of which Rees converted. Newcastle, however, weathered the storm until the end of normal time, when they allowed Alex King to stroll over for a soft try, which Rees converted.

Newcastle: Tries: Andrew, Legg 2. Conversion: Andrew. Penalty: Andrew. Wasps: Try: King. Conversion: Rees. Penalties: Rees 2.

Newcastle: S Legg; J Naylor, J Wilkinson, A Tait, T Underwood; R Andrew, G Armstrong; N Popplewell, R Horton, P Van-Zandvliet, R Metcalfe, D Weir, P Lam, R Arnold (P Walton, 59), D Ryan (capt).

Wasps: G Rees; S Roiser, N Greenstock, M Denney, L Scrase; A King, A Gomarsall; D Molloy, T Leota, W Green, M Weedon (D Cronin 79), A Reed, L Dallaglio (capt), M White, P Scrivener.

Referee: A Rowden (Thatcham).

Race for the title

Allied Dunbar Premiership One

P W D L F A Pts

Newcastle 15 14 0 1 455 267 28

Saracens 16 13 0 3 433 296 26

Bath 14 11 0 3 431 282 22

Leicester 15 9 1 5 403 305 19

Remaining fixtures

BATH: 10 April Saracens (H); 13 April Richmond (A); 18 April Gloucester (A); 25 April Sale (H); 28 April London Irish (H); 2 May Northampton (A); 11 May Newcastle (A); 17 May Wasps (A)

NEWCASTLE: 11 April Gloucester (A); 19 April Saracens (A); 22 April Wasps (A); 26 April Bristol (H); 4 May Leicester (H); 11 May Bath (H); 17 May Harlequins (A).

SARACENS: 10 April Bath (A); 19 April Newcastle (H); 25 April Leicester (A); 29 April Harlequins (A); 3 May London Irish (H); 14 May Northampton (H).