Rugby Union: Winger Inga has the power

Newcastle 15 Saracens 0
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The Independent Online
IT TOOK two moments of magic by that man mountain of a winger, Va'aiga Tuigamala, to turn this gripping Tetley's Bitter Cup quarter-final tie Newcastle's way, and a mountainous performance by the Newcastle forwards to ensure that they reached their first semi-final for 18 years yesterday. Given that the Newcastle pack were under the cosh for most of the first half, their refusal to take a backward step as Francois Pienaar and his cohorts in black threatened to overwhelm them, was sufficient to prise the Cup from Saracens' grasp.

On a day when there was only bitter disappointment for the holders, Saracens, there is likely to be a bitter row if Newcastle are drawn at home, following the announcement that games can only be staged where ground capacity is at least 8,000. As Kingston Park will hold only 6,600, Rob Andrew, Newcastle's director of rugby, has no intention of playing elsewhere if they are favoured with a home tie. "We will certainly be protesting about that," he said. "Where does this magic figure of 8,000 come from? We want to play here. We owe it to our fans."

The possibility of yet another bout of off-field wrangling should not be allowed to eclipse the memory of what was a marvellous contest played in vile weather conditions; the result of which was in doubt to the end. Neither Newcastle nor Saracens have been able to rediscover the form of their previous campaigns, which made them the two best sides in the country last season. But on an afternoon when the elements were almost certain to play an important part, the side making fewer mistakes, who were more secure in the tackle, who maintained their shape and discipline, were the more likely to prevail. Newcastle responded better to all those necessities than Saracens. And they also had Tuigamala to deliver the killer finish.

If Saracens could have sustained their first-half pressure it may have been a different story. But, on a day fit only for penguins, Alain Penaud played like one, and Saracens lost their momentum after the break, when they had the elements in their favour. From the moment Newcastle were lifted by Tuigamala's stunning 50-metre chip and chase for his first try, Sarries were in need of some control at half-back to keep the ball in front of their forwards. Poor Penaud was unable to provide it.

In the first half there was only one clear-cut scoring opportunity and Jonny Wilkinson took it by kicking a downwind penalty. Thereafter, the Newcastle pack took their cue from the remarkable Tuigamala and responded unyieldingly to the benefits provided by his inspired finishing.

Newcastle: Tries Tuigamala 2; Conversions Wilkinson; Penalty Wilkinson.

Newcastle: S Legg; V Tuigamala, M Shaw, J Wilkinson, T Underwood; R Andrew, G Armstrong (capt); G Graham, R Nesdale, M Hurter, G Archer, H Vyvyan, P Walton (S O' Neill, 79), R Arnold, R Beattie.

Saracens: G Johnson (B Lea, 75); R Thirlby, R Constable (K Sorrell, h- t), S Ravenscroft, B Daniel; A Penaud, K Bracken; D Flatman (B Reidy, 71), G Chuter, P Wallace, P Johns, D Grewcock, F Pienaar (capt), R Hill, T Diprose.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).

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