Rugby Union: Newcastle fail to convert their superiority

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The Independent Online
Paul Stephens

Newcastle 37

Gloucester 27

Newcastle extended their unbeaten Allied Dunbar Premiership sequence with a victory at Kingston Park which would have been much more emphatic had they not failed to convert all but one of their seven tries, and allowed Gloucester to sucker them into conceding a penalty try by their replacement full-back Rob Jewell, deep in injury time.

The final margin was as close as it was because Mark Mapletoft converted all three of Gloucester's tries and kicked two penalties, while Rob Andrew and Stuart Legg between them missed with seven attempts on goal. If Andrew especially had been on better kicking form, Newcastle would have been out of sight at half-time instead of allowing Gloucester the encouragement of only a 20-10 deficit.

The foundations of Newcastle's splendid run, which has seen them lose only one League game at home since January of last year, is their abrasive pack. Some distinguished members of those marvellous Gloucester Eights of yesteryear would be drooling over the way the mobile Newcastle forwards go about their business.

Mind you, this current crop of Gloucester forwards showed no intention of taking too many backward steps and felt they fully deserved the penalty try awarded them after a lengthy scrummaging session on the home line, before splitting the Newcastle pack asunder.

Though by then, Gary Armstrong had scooped up a loose ball which Gloucester carelessly failed to control, and darted round the front of the line-out for the opening try. Dean Ryan collected the next as Gloucester were driven over from a five-metre scrum and the Newcastle pack - who started without Doddie Weir and Pat Lam, and were also missing Nick Popplewell through injury - were firmly in control.

Still smarting from the ignominy of the penalty try, Newcastle quickly reasserted their authority with another forward surge which brought a touchdown for Richard Metcalfe.

With Alan Tait providing the cutting edge in midfield, the Scot was the vital link in sending Tony Underwood in for Newcastle's fourth try. Having been out of action with a knee injury since the opening game of the season, Underwood inevitably lacks some match fitness. But he was still sharp enough to haul down Brian Johnson, the former Newbury speedster who is on a month's loan with the Kingsholm club.

Johnson, who scored a National League record 27 tries for Newbury last season, might well add to his reputation, but Gloucester need first to provide him with a better service. Against Newcastle they were confronted by the law of diminishing returns, as Paul Van-Zandvliet, Legg and Armstrong with a second, ran in tries to emphasis Newcastle's burgeoning supremacy.

Newcastle: Tries Armstrong 2, Underwood, Legg, Metcalfe, Ryan, Van-Zandvliet; Conversion Andrew. Gloucester: Tries Jewell, Catling; Penalty Try Conversions Mapletoft 3; Penalties: Mapletoft 2.

Newcastle: S Legg; J Bentley, G Childs, A Tait, T Underwood; R Andrew, G Armstrong; G Graham, R Nesdale, P Van-Zandvliet, G Archer (D Weir, 72), R Metcalfe, P Walton (P Lam, 66), R Arnold, D Ryan (capt).

Gloucester: C Catling (R Jewell, 66); B Johnson, T Fanolua, R Tombs, A Lumsden; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Window, N McCarthy, P Vickery, R Fidler (A Hazell, 80), M Cornwell, P Glanville (capt), N Carter, S Devereux.

Referee: S. Lander (Irby, Wirral).