There was no sign of a Lions selector at Newcastle yesterday, but perhaps one was lurking in a packed Kingston Park. That was where the Scotland lock Doddie Weir gave a flawless display of modern second- row play as Newcastle inflicted a comprehensive defeat on the Second Division leaders Richmond.
Weir stole ball at will on opposition line-outs and showed a sharpness in the close-quarters stuff that was eventually rewarded with a try. It was the sort of performance that could well earn the 26-year-old a place on the tour to South Africa this summer. His athleticism and handling were exemplary and he provided his team-mates with a stream of possession.
Behind the pack the old master Rob Andrew was in imperious form. His kicks out of hand were long and heart-breaking thumps that repeatedly sent Richmond scurrying back, while his usual pinpoint accuracy with goal- kicks brought him 17 points in the match, which took him past the 300- mark for the season. The rock-like Va'aiga Tuigamala, meanwhile, was ever- willing to punch his way through the opposition at every opportunity. Richmond still head the table despite their first league defeat of the season, but Newcastle, with games in hand, have made up valuable ground.
It was something of a dogfight from the outset. Unfortunately Richmond's pack lost the services of their very own pitbull, Brian Moore, the former England hooker, with a leg injury. By then, though, Newcastle's Falcons had swooped into the lead. Their captain Dean Ryan, who was carried off midway through the second half with medial ligament damage to a knee, which is expected to keep him out for several weeks, looped around to carry the ball over after Weir's superb take at the line-out. Andrew slotted the conversion and added a penalty, all before quarter of an hour had passed.
Ryan turned villain not long afterwards when he was penalised for illegal use of the boot at a ruck, but Richmond declined to go for goal. Instead they kicked for position, from where Newcastle were able to clear.
Richmond always looked threatening without actually achieving much until Allan Bateman's hack through was followed up by the right wing Jim Fallon to keep them in touch. With Weir in spring-like mood at the line-out, Newcastle had more of the possession and their driving was superior to their opponents.
The Ireland prop Nick Popplewell and Garath Archer both owed their tries to the excellent work of their colleagues. Andrew, inevitably, added the extra points on each occasion. It took some serious battering by the brothers Quinnell to breach the Newcastle line shortly before half-time. First Scott barrelled his way through then Craig continued on before sending Fallon in for his second try. Again Simon Mason failed with the conversion.
The second half was more memorable for Newcastle's defensive work than it was for Andrew's subsequent two penalties and the Richmond captain Ben Clarke's 73rd-minute try.
Newcastle: T Stimpson; J Bentley, A Tait, V Tuigamala, T Underwood; R Andrew, G Armstrong; N Popplewell, R Nesdale, G Graham, G Archer, D Weir, P Lam, D Ryan (capt; S O'Neill, 59), R Arnold.
Richmond: S Mason; J Fallon, S Cottrell, A Bateman, S Brown (E Va'a, 77); A Davies, A Moore; J Foster, B Moore (A Cuthbert, 19), D Crompton, C Quinnell, S Atherton, A Vander, S Quinnell (L Jones, 70), B Clarke (capt).
Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).