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Rugby Union: Newcastle face quick test of place in high society

Bristol 8 Newcastle 50
Bristol 8 Newcastle 50

Rob Andrew, Newcastle's director of rugby, was sparing with his elation after his Falcons had soared to the top of the Allied Dunbar Premiership.

The annihilation of Bristol, which dumped the once proud West Country club at the bottom of the heap, is one thing; winning at Leicester tomorrow night, which is the next hurdle, is quite another matter.

"Without question that will be the biggest test of our championship potential to date," admitted Andrew, who said he will not be naming a team until the morning of the game. That selection will also be another, more personal test, for one member of the Newcastle squad.

The British Lions and England wing John Bentley missed out on the eight- try rout, led by the scrum-half Gary Armstrong's hat-trick. The Yorkshireman was not even on the bench, despite the absence through injury of Tony Underwood. Question marks are hovering over Bentley's role and future at Kingston Park.

"I don't know what the situation is," he confessed yesterday. "I'm a bit disappointed and frustrated to be honest. But I hope I'm picked on Tuesday, because I need to be playing."

Unfortunately for Bentley, Jim Naylor looked sharp on the right wing and Va'aiga Tuigamala adapted effectively on the left, both men scored in the slaughter and it looks increasingly as if Bentley will be regarded more as cover than as a first choice.

His only hope might lie in the fact that Newcastle were guilty of profligacy throughout as impatience overcame common sense, and greed blinded certain players to the presence of unmarked colleagues as the Bristol defences were torn apart in a second-half points blitz. Bentley is a ruthless finisher, and there is no doubt that Leicester will not allow Newcastle as much freedom as did Bristol.

Newcastle's forwards proved far too powerful for Bristol, draining their opponents in the set pieces and running them ragged in the loose, as well as dominating the line-outs, with Doddie Weir and the giant Richard Metcalfe - at 7ft 1in the tallest man in English senior rugby - having a field day in their personal stratosphere.

That paved the way for the backs, whom Andrew launched at will. Armstrong got his first, with one from the magnificent Pat Lam, as well as a couple of Andrew penalties and a solitary conversion up to the break.

After the interval Andrew landed just one conversion from half a dozen tries. The remarkable thing was that Bristol had opened the scoring after just 63 seconds, when the right wing Dave Tiueti intercepted an Andrew pass. The Tongan forged 80 metres upfield to give the home crowd their only real moment of pleasure. After that their once shipshape team was repeatedly holed below the waterline until it sank without trace.

Bristol: Try Tiueti; Penalty Burke. Newcastle: Tries Armstrong 3, Lam, Childs, Tait, Naylor, Tuigamala; Conversions Andrew 2; Penalties Andrew 2.

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, Va'aiga 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)