Rugby Union: Newcastle misery deepens as Lam leads the slaughter

Northampton 37 Newcastle 5 Andrew's plans go awry in North-east while his blueprint for the future of the English game is criticised by former fellow Lion
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FORGET THE Club England job, right now Rob Andrew is rapidly looking in need of a working party to fathom what to do about Newcastle's appalling run of form in domestic rugby. Newcastle, unbeaten in the European Shield, had arrived at Franklin's Gardens without a win in the Allied Dunbar Premiership.

The two points which keep the Falcons hovering above bottom-of-the-table Bedford come courtesy of a couple of draws. They were ineffectual up front and, as Northampton's thunderous coup de grace in injury time showed, lacked pace behind.

The replacement centre Andy Northey made an electric break, blasting around the tatters of what passed for the Newcastle defence and, when he had drawn the remnants of it to him, sent left wing Ben Cohen over for a deserved try.

Victory consolidated Saints' second place in the Premiership. In contrast there was little to suggest Falcons would soar much higher, although they do seem to have unearthed another rough diamond at centre. In the future, Jamie Noon may become as polished a gem as Jonny Wilkinson. He tackled almost as well and certainly looked dangerous on the rare occasion he had the ball in hand.

The latter, quite sensibly, was rested. The presence of the England centre- cum-fly-half would not have made that much of a difference to the outcome to a match which was settled up front.

When they were not having the strength leeched from them in the set piece, the Falcons found themselves coming off second best at the breakdown where the Saints back-row trio of Don Mackinnon, Budge Pountney and captain Pat Lam were as near perfection as the cold and slippery conditions allowed. They ensured Saints had the edge in all the key areas. And the home side's driving play was a joy to watch.

If the Falcons did spin it wide it did not take a rocket scientist to work out that the ball would end up in the huge mitts of Va'aiga Tuigamala. Northampton were certainly wise to that one.

Tuigamala was never allowed to propel his bulk through the Saints cover. There were tremendous tackles made on the huge Samoan, early on by wing Harvey Thorneycroft - making his 250th appearance for the club - and later by former Falcon Lam.

It was also Lam who scored the first try of the match - Saints were already four penalties to the good by then - when he lunged like a power drill at the temporarily wooden Newcastle defence and bored through.

Although scrum-half Matt Dawson missed that conversion, by half-time he had landed five out of five penalties to leave the Falcons floundering. Saints march-past continued at the start of the second-half when the full- back Nick Beal scored their second try.

Dawson converted and then landed his sixth penalty. It looked to have finished off Newcastle but Martin Shaw showed the right spirit by catching Lam's attempted left-foot chip and racing unopposed into the right-hand corner.

Northampton: Tries Lam, Beal, Cohen; Conversions Dawson 2; Penalties Dawson 6. Newcastle: Try Shaw.

Northampton: N Beal (R Jackson, 49); H Thorneycroft, A Bateman, M Allen (A Northey, 24-27, 61), B Cohen; A Hepher, M Dawson; G Pagel (M Volland, 74), S Walter (F Mendez, 68), M Stewart, A Newman, J Phillips (R Metcalfe, 61), D Mackinnon (G Seely, 56), P Lam (capt), B Pountney.

Newcastle: S Legg; J Naylor, M Shaw, J Noon, V Tuigamala; D Walder, H Crane (H Charlton, 51); G Graham (I Peel, 68), R Nesdale, M Hurter, H Vyvyan, J Rule, S O'Neill (J Cartmell, 49), P Walton, R Arnold (capt).

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol)