Where would the team in black be without their Kiwi fly-half? Already in the second tier of English rugby, in all probability. As it is, the Newcastle Falcons have Jimmy Gopperth in tow as they fight another campaign to preserve their top-flight status.
The man from New Plymouth won the Premiership Golden Boot in each of his first two seasons as a Newcastle player and yesterday his right peg had the Midas touch that earned Alan Tait's side a priceless victory. Five penalty successes out of five overcame an out-of-sorts Wasps and ended a losing streak of 11 league matches, stretching back to Harlequins' visit in March.
It was a vital victory for the Falcons, who had been in danger of being cut adrift at the foot of the table. They remain bottom on points-difference but are now level on points with Northampton. Gopperth got the scoreboard kicking in the second minute, converting a penalty he forced with a deft chip over the Wasps defence. The lead lasted just three minutes. Christian Wade scooted in down the right after scrum-half Nic Berry whisked the ball to the blindside from a ruck on Newcastle's 10-metre line.
It was the flying wing's fifth try of the season and it was converted by fly-half Ryan Davis, leaving Wasps 7-3 to the good. That, however, was that on the scoring front for the visitors until the hour mark.
By then, the Falcons had clawed themselves 12-7 in front, courtesy of three more penalties from their Junior All Black outside-half. Davis nailed one for Wasps in the 60th minute but Gopperth's fifth sealed victory for Newcastle – and confirmed the fate of a Wasps side who have lost three in a row now.
Scorers: Newcastle: Penalties Gopperth 5. Wasps: Try Wade; Conversion Davies; Penalty Davis.
Newcastle: A Tait; L Fielden, C Uys, J Helleur (L Eves, 60), R Shortland; J Gopperth, W Chudley (C Pilgrim, 67); G Shiells (D Fearn, 77), J Graham (M Mayhew, 60), A Wells (J Hall, 58), T Swinson (G Townson, 75), J Hudson (capt), R Mayhew (M Wilson, 66), W Welch, A Hogg.
Wasps: H Souhtwell; T Varndell, C Mayor, C Bell, C Wade; R Davis, N Berry; T Payne (J Castex, 22-36) , R Webber, B Broster (S McIntyre, 73), R Birkett, R Filipo, J Launchbury, J Poff, J Hart (capt).
Referee: S Davey (Sussex).