Newcastle 32 Northampton 22: Wilkinson enjoys perfect return to inspire Newcastle

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The Independent Online

Jonny Wilkinson's career has already contained enough Boy's Own stories to fill two lifetimes, but events at Kingston Park yesterday will almost certainly feature somewhere near the top of his anecdote list when he does come to retire. In his first match back following a summer off after shoulder surgery, the 29-year-old kicked 22 points, including a 45-yard right-footed drop goal, to defeat Northampton Saints.

The rise of others, most prominently Wasps' Danny Cipriani, may have dimmed the spotlight on the 29-year-old but yesterday he proved that reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated. "It's a great feeling when the guys get stuck in," Wilkinson said afterwards, as keen as ever to share the acclaim with his team-mates. "You get that ability to stick in the game and fight to the end and that to me is what competing at this level is all about."

He admitted he did not know which kind of Wilkinson would be wearing the Newcastle No 10 yesterday but was delighted with his performance – and, crucially, the fact he came through it unscathed. "You just have to have confidence in what you have done in the pre-season and have faith in the fact that when that whistle goes you become that game version of yourself," he said. "There are a few bumps and bruises but on the whole I am pretty good. For me that's quite something to be able to say nowadays. I don't think there is anything that is going to surprise me, not some kind of torn kidney or something else in there so I am pretty good and really pleased to come through it."

It was the Saints who dominated first-half proceedings and the visitors deservedly went into the break 12-6 up thanks to three penalty kicks from their captain Bruce Reihana and an additional one from Carlos Spencer. Wilkinson kicked the home side's two penalties to keep Newcastle in the contest.

However, following the restart, Newcastle were a changed team, culminating in second row Andy Buist crossing to score untouched before Wilkinson did the rest with a difficult conversion near the touchline.

The try settled the Falcons and Wilkinson helped that further by kicking another penalty following Euan Murray's illegal attempts to pull him back via his collar for which he was sinbinned. The Saints refused to bend entirely to Newcastle's will as another Reihana penalty kick brought them back within a point at 16-15, but a try from Ollie Phillips again gave Newcastle a further edge.

The advantage gained from the try – and Wilkinson's conversion – were almost immediately nullified as Sean Lamont broke through the Newcastle defence for a converted score which again cut the deficit to one point. Wilkinson responded with a further penalty to relieve the pressure somewhat before Reihana missed a chance of his own to again reduce the gap. A final penalty and last minute 40 metre drop-goal from Wilkinson sealed the win.

Newcastle: Tries Buist, Phillips; Conversions Wilkinson (2); Penalties: Wilkinson (5); Drop goal Wilkinson. Northampton: Try Lamont; Conversion Reihana; Penalties Reihana (4), Spencer.

Newcastle: A Tait; O Phillips, J Noon, S Davey, J Rudd; J Wilkinson, J Grindal; J McDonnell, A Long, C Hayman, M Sorensen, A Buist, A Balding, E Williamson, P Dowson (capt). Replacements: M Thompson, M Ward, A Perry, T Swinson, H Charlton, S Jones.

Northampton: B Reihana (capt); C Ashton, J Clarke, J Downey, S Lamont; C Spencer, L Dickson; S Tonga'uiha, D Hartley, E Murray, I Fernandez Lobbe, C Day, N Best, S Gray, R Wilson. Replacements: P Shields, B Stewart, T Smith, A Rae, M Hopley, B Foden, S Myler.

Referee: A Small (London).

Attendance: 4,602.

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