Bristol 23 Newcastle 7: Higgitt's forward flick is just the trick for Lemi and Bristol

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The Independent Online

Bristol virtually guaranteed Premiership rugby at the Memorial Stadium next season with an efficient victory over Newcastle yesterday. "I think we are safe now," said Richard Hill, whose team climbed up to eighth place in the table after completing a Premiership double over the Falcons.

However, Bristol's head coach is not going to allow his players to rest on their laurels. "The players wanted to go out for a drink tonight to celebrate but I told them 'No'," said Hill. "If they beat Bath next week to complete a second double maybe I will let them celebrate then."

Mathematically, neither Bristol nor Newcastle are safe, but the bottom club Leeds look vulnerable, needing a maximum 15 points from their last three games as well as requiring their rivals to lose here and there.

Defeat does leave the Falcons fluttering dangerously just above the bottom of the table after a somewhat nervy performance. The turning point came midway through the second half when a Bristol move saw the centre Rob Higgitt flick the ball on to Vaughan Going with a flailing left hand. The ball went forward, but neither the referee Chris White nor his touch judges saw it and Going was able to present the pacy left winger David Lemi with his second try of the match.

Jason Strange's conversion put just enough distance between the two teams and thereafter his superb kicking from hand ensured Bristol maintained control of the game.

Strange had also converted Lemi's first try scored in the 10th minute after Higgitt's mis-pass had opened up the Newcastle defence. But in fact Bristol had breached the defences after just 90 seconds but the excellent Lee Robinson was deemed to have been held up over the line. Strange also knocked over all three penalty attempts, taking him to 58 successful goal-kicks for the season to date, a new Bristol record.

The heroes of their triumph had to be the forwards. The set-piece was solid, the line-out competitive and as for the back row, Matt Salter, Joe El Abd and the No 8 Dan Ward-Smith were exemplary.

Ward-Smith was particularly impressive, whether putting in the tackles, carrying the ball up or off-loading with telling passes.

Little wonder given the stream of possession which flowed to him, that the scrum-half Shaun Perry was able to threaten the Falcons as often as he did.

He is a slippery customer, and his runs were a constant thorn in the Newcastle side. Perry has an instinct for taking the right option and does so quickly. His delivery is express, his box-kicking precise. His contribution made Strange's job of running affairs all the more easy.

Rob Andrew, the Newcastle director of rugby, was somewhat at a loss to understand how Bristol had managed to slip so far away, until, that is, he remembered the forward pass that led to Bristol's crucial second try. However, there were no complaints and Andrew remains confident. "Mathematically we are not safe," he admitted, "but I am not overly worried."

Bristol: Tries Lemi 2; Conversions Strange 2; Penalties Strange 3.Newcastle: Try Burke; Conversion Flood.

Bristol: V Going; L Robinson, R Higgitt, S Cox, B Lemi; J Strange, S Perry; D Hilton, M Regan, D Crompton, N Budgett (R Winters, 47), G Llewellyn, M Salter (capt), J El Abd (G Lewis, 80), D Ward-Smith.

Newcastle: M Burke; T May, J Noon, M Mayerhofler, J Shaw (A Elliott, 78); T Flood, H Charlton (J Grindal, 56); M Ward (J Williams, 68), A Long, R Morris, A Perry (O Finegan, 35), A Buist, M McCarthy, C Harris, C Charvis (capt).

Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).