Rugby Union: Newcastle forget their lines

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The Independent Online
London Irish 16 Newcastle 14

THEY MAY be as fit as paratroopers or marines, but professional rugby players miss out when it comes to self- discipline. Newcastle, the defending Allied Dunbar Premiership champions, failed to toe the line (offside and other) and allowed an invigorated London Irish to spirit away victory.

The chill wind that blew across Sunbury was as much down to the forlorn hope the self-styled Falcons harbour for retention of their title as it was a herald for a belated winter.

They seemed as resigned to their fate as they are to losing their captain and player-coach Dean Ryan to Bristol. An announcement is expected today, which will see Ryan heading West to join the Second Division club as player- coach.

The Falcons did not so much stoop, as bow before the inevitable. Even when they went ahead, albeit by a point, there was a lack of conviction. The Newcastle supporters must have realised as long as their men were prepared to risk killing the ball, hanging around offside or, worse, to mix it and generally to try the referee's patience, then they were always on a loser.

Steve Bates, the Newcastle coach, admitted his side could have won. "Our indiscipline is beginning to cost us significantly," he said. He had just seen his side throw away numerous opportunities when just a shove away from the Exiles' line, a careless straying over the offside line or a sudden eruption of temper; Irish were awarded a penalty which got them out of jail every time.

Doddie Weir, the Scotland international lock, at least had the decency to agree with his coach and was big enough to confess: "I have to lay a personal claim to matters and say I had a problem with that as well, because I gave penalties away at silly times."

But while he was not prepared to condone what had taken place, he added: "I think it is down to over-enthusiasm. And perhaps frustration when we dive in and give away a penalty. But we can't blame anyone but ourselves, we have to take it on the chin. We will have a long look at the video, Monday I would think."

Weir's international colleague scrum-half, Gary Armstrong, playing with a cracked thumb but looking as sharp as ever, was more apprehensive about today's viewing. "We'll study the video and no doubt get a bollocking." They will deserve it because there were moments in the match when the outcome could have been different.

Irish blew hot. Very hot at times. And cold at others. They have a few firebrands now and five wins in their last seven matches since the likes of Steve Bachop and Kevin Putt joined them. Dick Best, their director of rugby, said: "I was pleased we created opportunities to score. We should have put the game to bed in the first half. That was disappointing."

He patted the forwards on the back for their outstanding performance. The backs were a different kettle of fish. True they posed problems for the defence - it was just a matter of which defence. There were times when the home side found themselves stretched. But when they were good the Irish midfield were very, very good. Good enough to run with the best of the first division.

Which is what Best wants Irish to do. He knows that they have to finish in the top six or eight to stand a chance of being part of a significant competition next season, be it Europe, a British League or whatever.

And he was moved enough to say: "If we win at Northampton on Tuesday, then I will say that we have arrived. If we can go to Franklin's Gardens and sneak a result, then I think we will be in a fair position to say that we might fancy ourselves making an assault on this championship." There is nothing to stop them, except themselves. And the same goes for Newcastle.

London Irish: Try Bishop; Conversion Cunningham; Penalties Cunningham 3. Newcastle: Tries Tuigamala, Armstrong; Conversions Wilkinson 2.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Bishop, R Todd, B Venter, J Cunningham (N Woods, 76); S Bachop, K Putt; N Hatley, M Howe (R Kirke, 48), K Fullman, K Spicer, M O'Kelly, J Boer, R Gallacher (I Feaunati, 56), K Dawson.

Newcastle: S Legg; J Naylor, M Shaw, R Andrew (capt), V Tuigamala; J Wilkinson, G Armstrong; G Graham, R Nesdale, M Hurter, D Weir, G Archer, P Walton, R Beattie, R Arnold.

Referee: R Goodliffe (Sheffield).