There will be fun and games in Bath and Northampton this weekend. Desperation will seep through the pores of every Newcastle and Leeds player, blood will be spilt and tears will be shed. Salvation beckons for Alan Tait's men, whose Premiership status will be safeguarded by going to the Rec on Saturday and winning. There is every chance they will not need to.
Leeds head to Franklin's Gardens needing at least a draw and hoping that Newcastle go home empty-handed from the West Country. The odds favour Newcastle massively on what promises to be a fraught final day of the season.
The Falcons lie one point above their northern rivals and have the comfort of a far superior points difference. That slender advantage came courtesy of a losing bonus point in Saturday's defeat to Bath in a rearranged match cancelled in December owing to the big freeze.
That Newcastle have struggled this season is undeniable, but small margins make a big difference at this time of year and Tait's team have awoken to that fact. This was their sixth Premiership defeat in succession, yet in three of the past four they have collected precious, losing bonus points.
They struggle to score tries, they switch off at vital moments and at times they lack genuine quality, yet Tait has fashioned some spirit among a youthful squad slowly evolving on his watch. At 14-6 down with barely five minutes remaining, Newcastle, after showing admirable guts to defend their line for the majority of the second half, roused themselves in uplifting fashion.
Tane Tu'ipulotu, the Tongan centre, made a fine break and flighted a teasing grubber kick down the right channel, leaving wing Luke Fielden and Bath full-back Nick Abendanon in a two-way foot race. Fielden showed desire and no little pace to get a fingertip to the ball, although whether he got there ahead of Abendanon was debatable.
"At the end of the day we've got to be happy because we got a point," Jimmy Gopperth, the influential Newcastle fly-half, said. "Does this put us beyond Leeds' reach? I don't think so. Rugby is a funny old game. You don't know what sort of side Northampton are going to put out against Leeds.
"And Leeds will be fighting for their lives. Desperate teams bring something different so we're going to Bath aiming to win. We're a young team but we are talented. We just need to start showing it over 80 minutes."
Michael Claassens weaved his way through the home defence in the 33rd minute and kicked two penalties, but Bath never came close to scaling the heights which saw them annihilate Wasps at Twickenham the week previously.
The result guaranteed Heineken Cup qualification for Bath and, while a top-four finish is surely beyond them, the time for serious progress in the Premiership will come next season. Props David Wilson (ankle ligament) and Duncan Bell (rib) left the field injured in the second half, reducing Bath to 14 men for the final 10 minutes and requiring uncontested scrums.
"Davey will be out for next week but hopefully he won't be out for too long and will be back for England's World Cup training squad," Martin Haag, the Bath forwards coach, said.
Newcastle: Try Fielden; Penalties Gopperth (2).
Bath Try Claassens; Penalties James (2), Vesty.
Newcastle: A Tait (J Manning, 48); L Fielden, R Vickerman (J Fitzpatrick, 67), T Tu'ipulotu, G Bobo; J Gopperth, M Young; J Golding, M Thompson (R Vickers, 48), E Murray (K Brookes, 56), J Hudson (capt), A van der Heijden, T Swinson (M Wilson, 66), W Welch (A Gray, 51), A Hogg (C Pilgrim, 79).
Bath: N Abendanon; J Boussuge (N Scott, 56), M Carraro, S Vesty (M McMillan, 61), T Biggs; B James, M Claassens (capt); D Flatman (N Catt, 56), L Mears (R Batty, 67), D Wilson (D Bell, 51), I Fernandez Lobbe (G Mercer, 69), D Grewcock (J Ovens, 79), B Skirving, L Moody, S Taylor.
Referee: JP Doyle (London).
goode day for worcester
Worcester Warriors booked their place in the Championship play-off final after a 23-22 win over Bedford yesterday.
Worcester indiscipline allowed Bedford to convert three early penalties: they took a 19-3 lead only for Worcester to hit back with tries from both their captain Kai Horstmann and former England fly-half Andy Goode – Goode also kicked 11 points to seal the comeback.
Worcester coach Richard Hill admitted that while his side "had most of the possession and territory in the second half, we couldn't have argued if Bedford had won that game." MICHAEL BUTLER