Newcastle left to sweat it out after heroics
Wasps 10 Newcastle 14
If only every week was a relegation decider. The final-day meeting of the Premiership's bottom two clubs attracted Wasps' first sell-out crowd of the season and if some of the rugby was as attractive as a bulldog chewing a wasp, you cannot have everything. Knife-edge finishes sell tickets, and the punters got the theatre they came for.
The home team preserved their Premiership status on the field by finishing a point above Newcastle and made confident noises off it about completing a securitising sale. There has been a panic over who would foot Wasps' bills since the club's owner, Steve Hayes, put them up for sale last autumn. Hayes provides the connection with this ground in High Wycombe and, although it is understood Wasps have an agreement to stay put until 2015, they would prefer a stadium of their own. Informed judges reckon it would take at least £20m to establish a new one anywhere near London. Over to the consortium led by the former player Ken Moss who, at the least, appear close to staving off administration and a ruinous points deduction.
The London Wasps chairman, Mark Rigby, suggested staying in the Premiership was crucial to the sale.
"I wasn't looking forward to potentially having a discussion about a club playing Championship rugby next season," Rigby said.
Whereas the US National Football League has something akin to a closed shop, with no automatic relegation and various balancing measures including a player draft, English rugby clubs are miles from being masters of their own destiny. They rely on both private investment and central funding from the governing body while playing ball with potentially conflicting interests in the national teams and cross-border competitions like the Heineken Cup.
Newcastle had not registered a try bonus all season but for a long time during a second half they "won" 14-0 they had realistic thoughts of achieving the four tries while denying Wasps a losing bonus that would have slammed the hosts into the relegation spot. Bludgeoning forwards made tries for Newcastle's centre James Fitzpatrick and scrum-half Peter Stringer, and almost another for the lock Tim Swinson. In the heat of the battle Falcons' replacement flanker Tai Tuifua clattered Wasps' fly-half, Nick Robinson, with a tackle that was more like a headbutt.
Yet Newcastle may not have their relegation confirmed until 30 May, the date of the second-tier Championship final second leg. The deadline for the audit into Championship clubs' ability to meet the Premiership's entry criteria was 31 March, but among the four semi-finalists London Welsh say they have been given more time to explore their four possible groundshares, which include the Kassam Stadium in Oxford. Only Bristol are nailed on to meet the criteria. The other two clubs – Bedford and Cornish Pirates – have said they do not want to be promoted, so if either wins the final Newcastle will stay up.
An announcement on the eligibility has been promised for the week before the final first leg on 23 May. Some of the uncertainty would be avoided if the 32-match Championship programme finished on the same weekend as the Premiership's regular season.
Dean Richards, the incoming Newcastle director of rugby, was at Adams Park with the current and previous owners Semore Kurdi and Dave Thompson. The former Leicester and Harlequins coach will succeed Gary Gold – who is moving to Bath – this summer with a healthy playing budget whichever division the Falcons are in. Richards had a season with Quins in the then National League One in 2005-06 and it was considered to be revitalising.
"There's good clubs like Northampton and Harlequins who came back the better for it," Gold said.
The Wasps youngsters Joe Launchbury and Christian Wade again showed their bountiful promise and both could tour with England this June, though the centre Elliot Daly is likely to be given a rest. Five internationals – Tom Palmer and James Haskell of England, Wales' Stephen Jones and Rhys Thomas and the Springbok No 8 Ashley Johnson – are on their way.
"It's certainly looking good for the future," said Launchbury. "This hard year we've had together, the spirit in the squad is the best I think it's ever been. Hopefully, it's going to stand us in good stead."
Wasps: Try Wade; Conversion Robinson; Penalty Robinson. Newcastle: Tries Fitzpatrick, Stringer; Conversions Gopperth 2.
London R Haughton; C Wade, E Daly (C Mayor, 79), D Waldouck, T Varndell; N Robinson, C Davies (N Berry, 23); T Payne (Z Taulafo, 73), T Lindsay, B Broster (S McIntyre, 78), R Birkett (T du Plessis, 70), M Wentzel (capt; R Filipo, 76), J Launchbury, S Jones, B Vunipola (McIntyre, 52-62).
Newcastle: G Goosen; C Uys, J Helleur, J Fitzpatrick, R Shortland (T Catterick, 43); J Gopperth, P Stringer; J Golding (G Shiells, 61), R Vickers (M Thompson, 48), E Murray (J Hall, 56), J Hudson (capt; J Goode, 66), T Swinson, A Hogg, W Welch (M Wilson, 61), A Balding (T Tuifua, 40).
Referee W Barnes (London).
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