Elliott exposes Saracens

Newcastle 21 Saracens 16
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The Independent Online

Watching Saracens is a bit like a Showaddywaddy concert. You have seen it all before. There is no expectation of novelty, there is precious little entertainment, and you wonder quite why you bothered.

Saracens would reason that they have a clutch of key players, like Thomas Castaignède, Cobus Visagie, Shane Byrne, Taine Randell, and Richard Hill on the treatment table. And Andy Farrell has still to recover from a toe injury before he plays his first game for his new employers. Unless they buck up their ideas, Saracens will be fortunate to still have a toe in the Premiership come the end of the season.

Without a win on the road since they defeated Bristol in October, Saracens had not lost to Newcastle in any competition since May 2003, and they set about extending that run with an early penalty from Glen Jackson. But their back play was laboured and imprecise, so it was no surprise when their first move of any promise, down the right flank, broke down when the ball was spilled in contact. Coming on the back of a real hash they made of a line-out drive the portents for the Watford side were not favourable. They appeared worse when Dave Walder picked off two penalties, having failed with an optimistic drop at goal from 40 metres.

Newcastle, still without Jonny Wilkinson, who needs more time to recover from his adductor problem, were disrupted further when Matt Burke failed a late fitness test. Then, to add more damage to their outfield options, the outside-half, Toby Flood, went off with a knee injury. In the reshuffle, Walder moved to 10, allowing Joe Shaw to take over at full-back. It seemed not to lessen the Falcons' determination to play a fluid, fast-moving game but, such was the effectiveness of the Saracens' defence, Newcastle could not add to Walder's contribution, so it remained 6-3 at the break.

Mercifully, it picked up thereafter. Newcastle played nearly all the rugby, Saracens played it the only way they know, sticking the ball up their jumpers, and setting up an endless series of rolling mauls.

The deadlock was broken with a spanking try from Anthony Elliott. Walder failed with the conversion, but banged over a dropped goal to take it to 14-6. Then, to everyone's surprise, Adam Powell made the best of some slack home defence for a try. Jackson converted to haul Sarries to within a point, but a break by Tom May carried on by Mathew Tait and finished by Shaw sealed it for Newcastle.

Newcastle: D Walder; T May, M Tait, J Noon, A Elliott; T Flood (J Shaw, 20), J Grindal (H Charlton 2-7, 72); M Ward (R Morris, 67), A Long (M Thompson, 54), R Morris (D Wilson, 40), A Perry, S Grimes, O Finegan (G Parling, 40), B Woods, C Charvis (capt).

Saracens: M Bartholomuesz (D Scarbrough, 60); T Vaikona, K Sorrell (A Powell, 35-40), D Harris (Powell, 53), B Johnston; G Jackson, M Rauluni (A Dickens, 40); N Lloyd, M Cairns, H Mitchell (B Broster, 35), S Raiwalui (K Chesney, 44), H Vyvyan (capt), B T Russell (T Ryder, 60), D Seymour, B Skirving.

Referee: R Maybank (Orpington, Kent)

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