Falcons soar away as Bath are punished for inadequate show of skill and tackling

Newcastle 36 Bath 9
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The Independent Online

There was a time when victory against Bath would be cause for celebration, especially for a side like Newcastle who have not been anywhere near so successful. But these are depressing days for Bath, and they may have travelled to Kingston Park believing that their season had ended a week beforehand when they beat Leeds, which should be sufficient to save them from relegation.

Against a team with the least threatening pack in the Premiership, Bath struggled almost everywhere, except at the line-out. Afterwards, their team director, Michael Foley, was scathingly critical of Bath's performance.

"Since I came in, we have been looking for game-on-game improvement," Foley said. "But we didn't show that today. There are no excuses. We were inadequate. The disturbing thing for me was that our basic skills let us down and we missed some soft tackles. Our standards need to better."

For the first 30 minutes the action had been as flat as the Dead Sea on a windless evening. It only warmed up when Dave Barnes gave a passable impression of one of Riverdance's livelier numbers on Stuart Grimes' back. The fact that Grimes was lying on the wrong side cut no ice with referee, Steve Leyshon, and much to Newcastle's chagrin, Olly Barkley was given the chance to kick his second penalty.

That made it 6-3 to Bath, Jonny Wilkinson having slotted his only penalty after the only decent move by either side. Va'aiga Tuigamala broke free down the left flank, and although Wilkinson dropped the ball with the line in sight, Bath had strayed offside. It could only get better.

For Newcastle it did when they exerted sufficient pressure to have scored several tries. Even with the Falcons' scrum in retreat, Hall Charlton got the ball away, for Tom May to step out of Mike Tindall's lamentably weak tackle to score at the posts. Wilkinson could hardly contain himself while converting; though it was no laughing matter for his England team-mate. Nor was it for Micky Ward who was penalised, rather harshly perhaps, for not releasing the ball. That enabled Barkley to bring Bath to within a point at the break.

They never had a prayer of getting any closer; and, by the time Mark Gabey was sent to the sin-bin for collapsing a maul, Bath were on their knees.

Wilkinson was the creator of two tries within as many minutes and Bath were gone. Michael Stephenson was presented with first, while Jamie Noon was on hand for the second. The Bath defence was asleep on both occasions.

Epeli Taione woke them up with the Falcons' fourth try, to secure a bonus point, before Tuigamala completed the rout to keep Newcastle on track for a place in next season's Heineken Cup. For Bath, Europe remains a distant memory.

Newcastle: Tries May, Stephenson, Noon, Taione, Tuigamala; Conversions Wilkinson 4; Penalty Wilkinson. Bath: Penalties Barkley 3.

Newcastle: L Botham; V Tuigamala, J Noon, T May, M Stephenson; J Wilkinson (capt), H Charlton; M Ward (G Graham, 75), S Brotherstone, M Hurter, H Vyvyan, S Grimes, E Taione, R Devonshire (A Mower, 75), J Dunbar (R Arnold, 67).

Bath: R Thirlby; T Voyce, M Tindall (S Davy, 75), O Barkley (S Cox, 64), S Danielli; I Balshaw, G Cooper; D Barnes (J Mallett, 71), M Regan (L Mears, 77), S Emms, S Borthwick, D Grewcock (N Thomas, h-t), J Scaysbrook (G Thomas, 61), M Gabey, D Lyle (capt).

Referee: S Leyshon (Bristol).