Falcons rue two dropped points

Newcastle 16 Worcester 16
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The Independent Online

There were not quite drawn expressions all round at the final whistle at Kingston Park on Saturday. As Chris Latham hoofed the ball high into the east stand, bringing an end to proceedings and to a sustained period of Newcastle pressure that spilled over into several minutes of overtime, the one-time Wallaby full back punched the air with the kind of zeal that might be reserved for the securing of the Webb Ellis Cup, rather than the salvaging of a draw in the lower regions of the Guinness Premiership. The expression on the faces of the home players looked as much hung and quartered as drawn.

By the time Steve Bates made it to the press room, Newcastle's director of rugby had managed to bury his own pained feelings behind the kind of philosophical exterior that might have been drawn from the recently-published Jonny Wilkinson manual. It could not have been easy.

True, the two points gained had taken his Falcons three clear of Bristol in eleventh place in the Premiership table. The two points dropped and thrown away, though, could prove to be crucial. After all, Bates' side do have to visit the Memorial Ground in February - on Friday 13th - and with Gloucester, Saracens, Harlequins, Leicester and Bath to come at Kingston Park the Falcons are unlikely to get a better chance to feather their home nest with winning points.

They were 16-9 to the good, with eleven minutes left on the clock, when they threw away victory. They did so quite literally. In attempting to throw a line-out to himself some five metres from the home line, Rory Clegg only succeeded in juggling the ball and losing possession in the right-hand corner. Worcester spun the ball to the left and, though Chris Pennell was stopped just short, from the scrum that followed Pat Sanderson drove over for a try and Eoghan Hickey converted.

It was an error from the schoolboy department and, in fairness to Clegg, it ought to be pointed out that he has been fast-tracked from the first XV at Barnard Castle XV into the number ten shirt at Newcastle as a stand-in for the injured Wilkinson. He celebrates his 19th birthday on 6 January. It should also be pointed out that he showed some fine touches in his curate's egg of a performance, landing a conversion and three penalties and also executing the cross-field kick from which Phil Dowson, Newcastle's number Eight and captain, scored the game's other try, in the 13th minute.

“If he'd caught that ball and smashed it 40m downfield we'd be going, 'What a great player this bloke is!'” Bates reflected. “You've got to take these kind of things with young and inexperienced players.”

Bracketing Clegg with Rob Miller, the 19-year-old who deputised for Clegg at Leicester the previous Saturday, the Newcastle director added: “It's not ideal for these two young guys to have to play so much, but I think they're doing a lot of good things. You have to take the rough with the smooth.”

Newcastle: Try Dowson; Conversion Clegg; Penalties Clegg 3. Worcester: Try Sanderson; Conversion Hickey; Penalties Hickey 3.

Newcastle: T May; T Visser, J Noon, T Tu'ipulotu, J Rudd; R Clegg, M Young (J Grindal, 59); J Golding, M Thompson, D Wilson (C Hayman, 34), T Swinson (G Parling 38-40, 59) M Sorenson, A Balding, B Wilson, P Dowson (capt).

Worcester: C Latham; R Gear, D Rasmussen, S Tuitupo, C Pennell; E Hickey, R Powell (M Powell, 61); M Mullan, A Lutui, C Horsman (T Tamoepeau, 57), G Rawlinson, C Gillies (W Bowley, 57), M Talei, P Sanderson (capt), K Horstmann.

Referee: S Davey (RFU).