May masters the wind to secure rare Falcons win

Newcastle 10 Gloucester 7
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The Independent Online

It was not exactly the best of weeks for Gloucester, what with Lesley Vainikolo, the Kingsholm Volcano, being ruled dormant for the rest of the season and Mike Tindall being ruled out of driving for three years.

The weekend finished badly for them too, as the Cherry and Whites were picked off by a battling Newcastle side in the teeth of a Tyneside gale, missing their chance to go top of the Premiership. They also suffered collateral damage of some significance, not just for club but also for country.

The dead leg that forced Tindall to hobble off midway through the second half might not be serious enough to preclude the in-form centre from Gloucester's crucial Heineken Cup encounter against Cardiff Blues at Kingsholm next Sunday, let alone the rejigged England squad Martin Johnson announces at Twickenham on Wednesday. Sadly, the ill-starred Olly Morgan seems certain to miss out on both. Just as his trailblazing form looked poised to sweep him back into the international frame, the dashing full-back – previously dogged by shoulder injuries since winning a pair of caps in the Six Nations Championship two years ago – finds himself back on the long-term casualty list.

The 22-year-old was having surgery last night on what Dean Ryan, Gloucester's head coach, described as "a pretty serious fracture of the finger", having departed from the fray eight minutes into the second half. An absence of six weeks would seem likely. Then, of course, there was the metaphorical bloodying of the Gloucester nose.

That was no mean achievement for Newcastle, despite the influence of the prevailing conditions: a 60mph wind that had the posts swaying violently as, with the contest squared at 7-7 and 10 minutes on the clock, Tom May stepped up to steer the one successful penalty attempt of the afternoon safely through the uprights.

It was a match-winning contribution by Newcastle's back of all trades (a winger, who started at full-back yesterday and produced a steadying performance at outside-half in the second half) and quite possibly a season-saving one too.

It earned the Falcons only their third win of the season – their first since September and their first without the inspiration of Jonny Whatshisname in the No 10 shirt – and put a seven-point gap between themselves and Bristol, who are anchored to the foot of the table. "It's a major result for us," said Steve Bates, Newcastle's director of rugby. "It takes the pressure off a bit for us going to Bristol next month."

Bates started with the 19-year-old Rory Clegg still standing in for the rehabilitating Wilkinson at stand-off and in the place-kicking department. He might as well have had Maureen O'Sullivan taking the penalties in the first-half, such was the strength of the gusting conditions. Twice in the opening seven minutes Clegg lined up potential three-pointers from the vicinity of the 22-metre line and both were gone with the wind.

For 25 minutes the scoreboard operators were untroubled, but then Newcastle forged the first breakthrough. Jamie Noon did the forging, punching a big hole up the right before Clegg shipped the ball on the short-side to Danny Williams, the one-time England rugby leaguer, who eluded a last-ditch tap-tackle by Matthew Watkins as he scooted to the line from 20m out. This time, Clegg mastered the wind, his successful conversion putting the Falcons 7-0 up.

They managed to hold on to their advantage until the interval, despite one scare when Clegg dropped a pass on Newcastle's 10m line, which necessitated some desperate defensive scrambling from the home side. It was to be the fledgling fly-half's last touch. Bates sent out Steve Jones for the second half, switching May from full-back to stand-off. It was a smart move, though the half-time changes made by Ryan had a more immediate effect

The Gloucester pack were instantly energised by the introduction of hooker Olivier Azam and prop Nick Wood. Three minutes into the second half they won a strike against the heel, went rumbling up the right, and from a ruck close to the home line Rory Lawson ferreted through a forest of legs and across the whitewash. Olly Barkley added the conversion and the Cherry and Whites were level at 7-7.

There the scores stayed until 10 minutes to go. It was far from a formality when Azam was penalised for not releasing, but May managed to dispatch it between the swaying posts. Azam departed soon after for bad-mouthing the referee, Tim Wigglesworth, and Newcastle maintained their outstanding defensive work to claim four potentially priceless points.

All of which did not make it the happiest of returns for Ryan to the club where he won the Premiership trophy as a player 11 years ago. "You can't escape the impact of a wind like that," he lamented. For Gloucester and their head coach it was an ill wind indeed.

Newcastle: Try Williams; Conversion Clegg; Penalty May. Gloucester: Try Lawson; Conversion Barkley.

Newcastle: T May; D Williams, J Noon, T Tu'ipulotu, T Visser; R Clegg (S Jones, 40), M Young; D Wilson, R Vickers (M Thompson, 61), C Hayman, T Swinson, G Parling, P Dowson, E Williamson (B Wilson, 68), A Balding (M Sorenson, 61).

Gloucester: O Morgan (R Lamb, 48); M Watkins, M Tindall (A Allen, 64), O Barkley, M Foster; W Walker, R Lawson; A Dickinson (N Wood, 40), A Titterell (O Azam, 40), C Nieto, M Bortolami (W James, 65), A Brown, A Strokosch (Titterell, 78), A Satala, L Narraway.

Referee: T Wigglesworth (RFU).

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