Rugby Union: Tigers trap Falcons

Newcastle 8 Leicester 18
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The Independent Online
Not since they lined up at Twickenham 16 years ago, with outright ownership of the original John Player Cup at stake, have Newcastle - or Gosforth as they were known in 1981 - been on level terms with Leicester. Trusty Dusty Hare kicked the Tigers clear of their rivals that day to claim the honour of first hat-trick winners of England's cup competition. They have been clubs apart ever since and Joel Stransky's right boot ensured that 10 points remained between them at the end of a quarter-final tie of attrition in the Tyneside wind yesterday.

Rob Andrew has spent 17 months and some pounds 3 million of Sir John Hall's money in an effort to close the gap between the old has-beens and the leaders of English rugby's new-age professional pack.

Even with pounds 1m worth of collateral waiting in the off-field wings yesterday in the shapely form of Va'aiga Tuigamala, Andrew's Second Division underdogs embarked on their acid test boasting a 12-6 advantage in full internationals on the field. When Ed Morrison blew the final whistle, though, they were obliged to settle for the consolation prize of a 1-0 "victory" in the very singular try-count. Pat Lam, making his home debut for Andrew's team, charged over on the right with three minutes left, but a prized scalp and a place in the last four were already beyond the Falcons' grasp.

The Leicester pack dominated the second half and Stransky took advantage of the indiscipline which crept into Newcastle's play. He kicked all of his side's points yesterday, as he had done for the Springboks against New Zealand on the rather more elevated stage of the World Cup final in 1995.

In his student days Andrew claimed a first-class century at Trent Bridge, but it was clear from the start that preventing the opposition approaching cricket score territory was not going to be top of his agenda. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Newcastle director led his men into the eye of the Tigers, opting to play into the teeth of the gusting northeasterly in the first half. It proved a shrewd move as Newcastle grasped the psychological initiative.

Dean Ryan and his pack made their presence felt, not that Bob Dwyer appreciated the finer points of the Newcastle captain's game, later accusing him of "making cheap shots" by "clocking guys on the way past".

Leicester threatened to break through just once before half-time, Tim Stimpson bringing the gliding Leon Lloyd to a shuddering halt. Tony Underwood, in fact, got closer to the Leicester line after an audacious Gary Armstrong steal on the 40-metre line and Andrew enjoyed the satisfaction of kicking his team ahead with a 21st-minute penalty goal.

The lead lasted a mere three minutes, though, before Lam committed the first of Newcastle's costly infringements and Stransky duly administered the punishing order of the boot. It could have been said at that stage that Leicester, without Dean Richards or Eric Miller at the rear of the scrum, were lacking punch.

But then an unseen blow floored Andrew, Will Johnson (Martin's younger brother) was yellow-carded for trampling, and Newcastle (who had already lost the concussed Graham Childs) were obliged to fight on from the 35th minute without the injured Nick Popplewell.

Stransky landed two more penalties in the five minutes before half-time and the Falcons, missing their Dubliner prop, lost their momentum up front. Three Stransky penalties, as Leicester upped the up-front pressure into the second-half wind, and the Tigers were clear of their old foe again.

"In the end they were a little more streetwise than us," Andrew lamented. "But we didn't disgrace ourselves. We've gone down 18-8 to the European finalists who smashed Bath, smashed Toulouse, and they didn't score a try." Their wings having been clipped, the fledgling Falcons had to make do with those crumbs of comfort.

Newcastle: T Stimpson; J Bentley, A Tait, G Childs (M Tetlow, 10), T Underwood; R Andrew, G Armstrong; N Popplewell (P Van Zandvliet, 35), R Nesdale, G Graham, G Archer, D Weir, P Lam, D Ryan (capt), R Arnold.

Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, C Joiner, W Greenwood, L Lloyd; J Stransky, A Healey; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), M Poole, J Wells, W Johnson, N Back.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).

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