Wilkinson's Lions hopes diminish as Falcons flop

Saracens 32 Newcastle 13
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The Independent Online

On the day Saracens brushed aside Newcastle to earn an away semi-final tie against Northampton in the European Challenge Cup, the Falcons finally conceded that Jonny Wilkinson's Lions hopes were fading.

Steve Bates, Newcastle's director of rugby, admitted Wilkinson, who suffered a dislocated knee last September, is running out of time and games to win a place on this summer's tour.

Once again Wilkinson failed to make the Newcastle line-up because he is struggling to get fit. Bates admitted: "If I was a betting man you'd have to say he won't play for us again this season.

"If I were the Lions coach I'd be very concerned about the lack of rugby. If you are not absolutely on your game you will get exposed on a tour like this... He is hurting, because he loves to play. It is a hugely disappointing time for him."

So, without their talismanic fly-half the Falcons fluttered bravely but ineffectually against a well-organised and classy side. Wilkinson's stand-in, Tom May, could not match the class of Saracens' fly-half Glen Jackson, who controlled the game, especially in a one-sided first half.

Both Saracens' early tries were soft. The first came after the prop Cencus Johnston rammed his bulk at Carl Hayman on the Newcastle line. The second followed four minutes later with Saracens once again encamped in the Newcastle 22. Jackson received the ball from a ruck and the fly-half touched the gentlest of grubber kicks through for Brad Barritt to dart through, scoop up the ball and sprawl over.

Jackson, who had by then landed two penalties, added a second conversion to his tally, before slotting a drop goal late in the half. All Newcastle had was a May penalty which had put the Falcons in the lead for 10 minutes, until the mid-point of the half.

Newcastle re-emerged after the interval with more purpose, piling on the pressure, which at least denied Saracens any further tries, while Falcons themselves managed two, but it was too little too late.

Scorers: Saracens: Tries Johnston, Barritt; Conversions Jackson (2); Penalties Jackson (5); Drop goal Jackson.

Newcastle: Tries Williams, Dowson; Penalty May.

Saracens: A Goode; C Wyles (N Cato, 76), A Powell, B Barritt (A Farrell, 64), R Penney; G Jackson, N de Kock (M Wilson, 74); M Aguero, F Ongaro (M Cairns, 52), C Johnston (C Visagie, 59), S Borthwick (capt; D Barrell, 76), K Chesney (T Ryder, 48), C Jack, D Seymour, B Skirving.

Newcastle Falcons: A Tait; D Williams (T Visser, 71), J Noon, T Tu'ipulotu, J Rudd (R Miller, 77); T May, M Young (H Charlton, 64); D Wilson (M Ward, 63), M Thompson (R Vickers, 58), C Hayman, G Parling (T Swinson, 58), M Sorensen, P Dowson (capt), B Wilson (R Winter, 68), A Balding.

Referee: C Damasco (Italy).