The writing was not so much on the wall as on the teamsheet at Kingston Park yesterday. The Falcons' nest might have become a bogey ground for Leicester over the years , the Tigers not having won there since 2004 , but it looked an awful lot more inviting to Richard Cockerill's men – despite the bitter cold and driving north-east rain – when the home line-up showed a completely different front row to that selected on Friday by Steve Bates, Newcastle's director of rugby.
Minus loose-head prop Jon Golding, hooker Rob Vickers and their captain and totemic tighthead Carl Hayman (all officially on the injured list but likely to play in the crucial relegation zone clash at Sale on Friday night), Newcastle were never likely to have sufficient clout to stop the reigning champions from reclaiming pole position from Northampton in the East Midland tug-of-war at the top of the Guinness Premiership. Thus it proved. Leicester had a bonus point win in the bag by the 33rd minute, after plundering four tries in 15 minutes. There was a brace by flanker Lewis Moody, either side of one each from Johne Murphy, a left-wing stand-in for the injured Alesana Tuilagi, and the Newcastle old boy Toby Flood.
All of which guaranteed a play-off place for the Tigers, who have a three point lead over Northampton and need three points from their last two games (against Harlequins and Saracens at Welford Road) to secure home advantage in their semi-final. "That first-half was as good as we've played for a long time," Cockerill, their contended head coach, reflected. "The players played with a lot of control in difficult conditions."
As for Newcastle, following Leeds' stunner of a win away to London Irish yesterday, they are down to 10th but still with a six-point cushion separating them from bottom place, occupied by Worcester, who go to Headingley for a cut-throat encounter next Sunday. "There's a lot at stake now in the last two games," said Bates, whose team are below Leeds on points-difference. "It means we've got to go to Sale with all guns blazing."
The Falcons held out for 18 minutes yesterday before Moody plunged over from the back of a driven scrum in the shadow of the home posts. Five minutes later Murphy dived over in the left corner, courtesy of a floated pass from a ruck by scrum-half Ben Youngs.
The floodgates were open and Flood poured through them in the 27th minute, racing over from 20 yards after the Leicester fly-half hoisted a steepling garryowen and Martin Catsrogiovanni drove his considerable bulk up the middle. The bonus point score came six minutes later, Moody following up from Marcos Ayerza's bullocking charge.
Flood converted all four tries, making it 28-0 at the interval. Still, Charlie Amesbury did gather a neat chip from Gcobani Bobo to touch down. And, with a Jeremy Staunton penalty the only addition to Leicester's tally, the Falcons managed to outscore the Tigers 7-3 in the formality that was the second-half.
Scorers: Newcastle Try: Amesbury; Conversion: Gopperth. Leicester Tries: Moody 2, J Murphy, Flood; Conversions: Flood 4; Penalty: Staunton.
Newcastle: C Amesbury (T Catterick, 71); D Williams, G Bobo, T Tu'ipulotu, T Biggs; J Gopperth (capt, Catterick 5-13), M Young (H Charlton, h-t); L Ovens (G Shiells, h-t), M Thompson, M Ward (K Brookes, 55), T Swinson (J Hudson, 49), M Sorenson, B Wilson (W Welch, 64), E Williamson (F Levi 48), J Afu.
Leicester: G Murphy (capt), S Hamilton, M Smith, A Allen (L Amorsino, 71), J Murphy; T Flood (J Staunton, 65), B Youngs (J Grindal, 57), M Ayerza (R Harris, 68), M Davies (G Chuter, 52), M Castrogiovanni (D Cole, 52), L Deacon (B Kay, 65), G Parling, T Croft, L Moody ( Newby, 57), J Crane.
Referee: C White (RFU).Reuse content