Rugby Union: Newcastle's delayed entry to the comfort zone

Newcastle 46 London Irish 13
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Simon Turnbull

Newcastle 46

London Irish 13

With pints of Guinness depicted on their shirts, the question at Kingston Park yesterday afternoon was whether London Irish had the bottle to trouble the untouchables of the Allied Dunbar Premiership.

They started with a drop of the Irish, David Humphreys landing a pot- shot at the posts in the third minute, and for half an hour they had the Falcons in a bit of a flutter.

Willie Anderson's Exiles led 13-12 after 31 minutes but those searching through the record books to pinpoint Newcastle's last home defeat - against Wakefield in their second class days two years and one week ago - did so prematurely.

Irish suffered a critical attack of points failure. For the remaining 49 minutes they failed to trouble the scoreboard operator at the north end.

They were left needing to drown the sorrowful completion of another defeat, their eighth in nine Division One matches. Rob Andrew and his Falcons never soared to great heights but duly coasted into the comfort zone with a winning margin of 33 points and their 100 per cent record intact.

It was, ultimately, the kind of clinical victory you would expect from league leaders against the bottom side, though Andrew himself was less than clinical his right boot. He missed two of his six attempts at goal before going out on a limb, delegating the kicking duties to Stuart Legg, his full-back.

Newcastle's outside-half and director-in-chief could, however, be satisfied with the manner in which he and his players turned an initially irksome task into an absolute formality.

With Humphreys orchestrating operations, the Exiles had the better of the opening half-hour. Though Garath Archer and Va'aiga Tuigamala breached their try-line, Justin Bishop raced over on the right for them and Niall Woods struck the conversion and the penalty that left them with a one- point lead nine minutes from half-time.

It was then the tide turned, leaving Irish fighting a losing battle to batten their battered hatches. The bullocking Jim Naylor rode five tackles before touching down to the right of the posts and neither he nor his team-mates looked back thereafter.

The England A wing made a 30-yard break down the right for his second try two minutes before the interval and then raced from half-way to claim his hat-trick four minutes into the second half.

Gary Armstrong and Archer, for a second time, both broke through from close range before the try-count was completed, at eight to one in Newcastle's favour, with five minutes left. It seemed only fitting that the scorer was the one Falcon with a drop of Irish blood in him.

Ross Nesdale is a native Aucklander - from New Zealand that is, rather than Bishop Auckland - but happy to hook for Ireland. His grandfather was a Bantry man.

Newcastle: Tries Naylor 3, Archer 2, Tuigamala, Armstrong, Nesdale; Conversions Andrew 2, Legg. London Irish: Try Bishop; Conversion Woods; Penalty Woods; Drop goal Humphreys.

Newcastle: S Legg; J Naylor, V Tuigamala, M Shaw, G Childs; R Andrew (J Wilkinson, 75), G Armstrong; G Graham, R Nesdale, P Van-Zandvliet, G Archer, G Weir, P Walton, D Ryan (capt) (R Arnold, 75), P Lam.

London Irish: C O'Shea; J Bishop (P Richards, 75), S Burns, M McCall, N Woods; D Humphreys, N Hogan; L Mooney, R Kellam (T Redmond, 60), G Halpin (capt) (A Kershaw, 60), G Fulcher, M O'Kelly, K O'Connell, M Morahan, C Bird (D Peters, 50).

Referee: G Hughes (Manchester).