Burke preserves Newcastle's record to propel Falcons upwards

Leeds 10 Newcastle 13
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The Independent Online

Newcastle yesterday maintained their remarkable record of never having lost to Leeds at Headingley in the Premiership with a tense victory. It was a desperately close-run thing, but the Falcons held on to repel a final assault, and edge a little further away from the danger zone.

There was very little to be taken from this game, except the result. In the week leading up to it, Phil Davies, the Leeds director of rugby, and Rob Andrew, his Newcastle counterpart, each opined that with two attack-minded teams there would be a feast of open, running rugby.

What the crowd of 11,601 - the second largest here for a union match in the professional era - were presented with was something entirely different. Both sides could not complain if they were awarded two out of 10 for approach work, the samefor execution and maybe three for finishing. The second half degenerated into a mindless kicking game, with both sides seeking to take the ball into contact, when it was not in the air. Entertaining it was not.

Not that this mattered to Andrew, who said afterwards: "This was a huge game for us and it was always going to be tight. But that was the best we have defended all season. It took us some time to get into our stride, and although the final minutes were unbearably tense, I always thought we were capable of closing out the game."

It had been widely predicted that this match would see Jonny Wilkinson back in action after surgery to repair a hernia. But there was no sign of the injury-jinxed former England outside-half, who will now target the Falcons' next match at Kingston Park, against Worcester on New Year's Day, for his latest long-awaited comeback.

If the crowd were to be treated to plenty of throw-it-anywhere rugby, Leeds initially went about providing some with all the trimmings. Their first offering saw Justin Marshall and Tom Biggs pierce the Falcons defence to set up a five-metre line-out. That came to nothing, but Leeds persisted by going through the phases; Marshall, Biggs and Roland de Marigny all came close and Newcastle hardly got their hands on the ball.

However, when the Falcons did manage some possession they used it to brilliant effect. Mathew Tait and Toby Flood almost made the line, Tait being denied by a terrific tackle from Tom Palmer. At the next time of asking, Flood's little grubber was perfectly weighted for Tait to score the opening try, with Matt Burke adding the conversion. Burke's first 50-metre penalty then made it 10-3 to Newcastle, after 26 minutes.

But Leeds fought back with Marshall, Gordon Ross and Stuart Hooper making the running for Andre Snyman to touch down. Ross then converted to make it all square, but the Falcons were not to be denied, and Burke struck again with another thumping penalty to provide the winning margin.

Leeds: Try Snyman; Conversion Ross; Penalty Ross. Newcastle: Try Tait; Conversion Burke; Penalties Burke 2.

Leeds: R de Marigny (D Doherty, 23); A Snyman, C Jones, C Bell, T Biggs; G Ross, J Marshall; K Lensing, R Rawlinson (G Bulloch, 54), R Gerber, S Hooper (capt; J Dunbar, 54), T Palmer, S Morgan, R Parks, J Crane.

Newcastle: M Burke; J Shaw (O Phillips, 14-23), J Noon, M Mayerhofler, M Tait; T Flood (D Walder, h-t), J Grindal; M Ward (J Williams, 52), A Long (M Thompson, 62), R Morris, A Perry, S Grimes, O Finegan (M McCarthy, h-t), C Harris, C Charvis (capt).

Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).