On Monday Steve Bates made his Newcastle players plunge into the ice-cold North Sea at Tynemouth beach.
It might have been a symbolic act by Newcastle's director of rugby but last night the water surrounding his team did not look quite so deep. Without a win in five Premiership matches, the Falcons got their beak above the rising relegation tide with their first home win since November.
A 15th-minute try by wing Tom Biggs, bound for Bath next season, plus 20 points from the boot of fly-half Jimmy Gopperth earned Bates's men only their second league win of the season on their Kingston Park patch. They remain fourth from bottom but now have a seven-point gap on Worcester, who occupy the trapdoor position.
It was in the corresponding fixture last season that Newcastle turned their campaign around, eking out a 10-7 victory in gale-force conditions, inspired by Tom May's mid-game switch to fly-half. In the bitter chill last night the Falcons had Gopperth in the pivotal position and the former Junior All Black got the scoreboard ticking in the eighth minute, slotting a penalty after opposite number, Nicky Robinson, had been pinged for failing to release Tane Tu'ipulotu in the tackle.
It was a vital nerve-settler for Newcastle but they nearly let slip their advantage a minute later. It took a thumping tackle from Felipo Levi, their Samoan lock-cum-back rower, to stop Freddie Burns, Gloucester's teenage full-back, from exploiting a half-break on the right by Robinson.
Tu'ipulotu, another ex-Junior All Black, had stretched the Cherry and White defensive line on several occasions before he broke through on the quarter-hour. His burst teed up Biggs for a rare Falcons try – only their third in eight Premiership matches. Gopperth added the extras.
Two Robinson penalties ate into Newcastle's lead before their Kiwi stand-off landed a 40th minute penalty that left Newcastle 13-6 to the good at half-time.
Three minutes into the second-half Gopperth's third penalty stretched the home advantage. His fourth, seven minutes later, made it 13-6. But then the Newcastle nerves started to jangle.
With 57 minutes gone, Alex Tait spilled a high ball and James Simpson-Daniel picked up and fed replacement Tim Taylor, who galloped through a defensive gap to score. Robinson's conversion narrowed the gap.
Fittingly, it was Gopperth who steered Newcastle home. His right boot plundered two more penalties, putting himself top of the points scoring charts and giving his team a vital cushion in the battle to avoid the drop.
*Saracens and Northampton, two title-challenging clubs, were last night embroiled in a sharp dispute over the services of the Tongan prop Soane Tonga'uiha. Edward Griffiths, the Saracens chief executive, accused the Midlanders of "demeaning the integrity of the game" after Tonga'uiha apparently had a change of mind over moving to Vicarage Road next season. "Either we have a game where contracts are respected or we don't," Griffiths said, insisting that his club had a binding agreement with the forward. "If every club behaved as Northampton have in this matter, we would have chaos. It would be the Wild West."
Scorers: Newcastle: Try Biggs; Conversion Gopperth; Penalties Gopperth 6. Gloucester: Try Taylor; Conversion Robinson; Penalties Robinson 2.
Newcastle: A Tait; D Williams, G Bobo (R Vickerman, 72), T Tu'ipulotu, T Biggs; J Gopperth, M Young; J Golding (G Shiels, 79), R Vickers (A Walker, 75), C Hayman (capt), F Levi (T Swinson, 41), M Sorenson (J Hudson, 56), B Wilson, E Williamson, J Afu.
Gloucester: F Burns (T Taylor, 36); C Sharples, J Simpson-Daniel (J May, 72), E Fuimaono-Sapolu, L Vainikolo; N Robinson, R Lawson (A Williams, 62); N Wood (A Dickinson, 41), S Lawson (D Dawidiuk, 70), P Capdevielle (R Harden, 70), D Attwood, A Brown (M Bortolami, 66), P Buxton (capt) (A Satala, 51), A Qera, A Eustace.
Referee: T Wigglesworth (RFU).Reuse content