"Calamity James", a television caption mocked after Butch James' wayward shooting at goal in Bath's Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat at Leicester nine days ago. At Kingston Park yesterday the Springbok fly-half continued in the same vein, more like Sid James than Jesse James in the marksmanship department.
After drawing a blank with two seemingly straightforward penalties – the first from 35 metres out, head on to the posts, the second from 15m – the Bath pivot was withdrawn at the interval, his left leg having buckled from under him in a heavy tackle just before half-time. A scan will determine whether he will have a shot at goalkicking redemption before the season closes. When Ryan Davis, James' replacement, suffered his own case of the goal-kicking calamities, fluffing two straightforward penalties in the opening seven minutes of the second half, Bath were 14-0 down and facing the prospect of starting the final day of the regulation Guinness Premiership season outside the four play-off places.
As it was, Steve Meehan's men managed to dig themselves out of a hole with two opportunist tries in five minutes – courtesy of Michael Claassens, their driving force of a South African scrum-half, and Shontayne Hape, their former Bradford Bull of an inside centre, plus a touchline conversion and a penalty from Davis. In doing so, they hauled themselves from fifth to third in the table ahead of their meeting with Saracens at the Rec on Saturday. All of which left head coach Meehan a mightily relieved man. "This is a difficult place to come and win," he said. "Newcastle hadn't lost here since November." Indeed, they had not, claiming the scalps of Gloucester, Harlequins and Leicester in the six-game winning run that salvaged their season.
Yesterday the Falcons bade farewell in their home nest to a whole flock of players – among them, the France-bound Jonny Wilkinson, who managed a lap of honour with his team-mates at the end. Their chances of doing so with a victory looked good from the moment Mickey Young, their livewire scrum-half, hacked a loose ball upfield and angled a grubber kick into the right corner for the former Leeds Rhino Danny Williams to apply the scoring touch.
Tom May added the extras and Newcastle doubled their lead five minutes before the interval. Williams played his part, stopping Matt Banahan on the breakout, and, when Bath were penalised at the breakdown, Young took a quick tap and raced 40m up the right touchline to score. May again converted, leaving Bath with a salvage operation on their hands.
Their prospects looked bleak when Davis hooked wide those two penalties but then, with 59 minutes on the clock, the inspirational Claassens sparked the revival, bursting over from a quick tap and go to the left of the posts. Davis missed the conversion but when Hape hared over on the right five minutes later the former England Under-21 captain managed to squeeze over the conversion from tight to the touchline.
All of a sudden, Bath were back in business, just 14-12 behind. Thirteen minutes from time the Newcastle midfield strayed offside and Davis stepped up to kick what proved to be the match-winning points.
Scorer: Newcastle: Tries Williams, Young; Conversions May 2. Bath: Tries Claasens, Hape; Con Davis; Penalty Davis.
Newcastle: A Tait; D Williams, J Noon, T Tu'ipulotu, J Rudd (R Miller, 71); T May, M Young (H Charlton, 54); M Ward, R Vickers, D Wilson, T Swinson, M Sorenson, R Winter (G Parling, 51), P Dowson (capt), A Balding (R Beattie, 61).
Bath: J Maddock (M Stephenson, 45); A Higgins, T Cheeseman, S Hape, M Banahan; B James (R Davis, h-t), M Claassens; D Flatman (P Ion, 61), L Mears (R Hawkins, 61), D Bell (Flatman, 77), J Harrison ( J Fa'amatuainu, 75), P Short, A Beattie, M Lipman (capt), S Hooper.
Referee: A Small.Reuse content