Leicester 41 Newcastle 14: Leicester further Tait's education

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Mathew Tait came here with Newcastle three years ago and suffered an 83-point hiding, very soon after his chastening experience as a teenaged England debutant against Wales.

At least one half of the equation was reversed yesterday with Tait, now 21 and England's putative full-back against the Welsh at Twickenham next Saturday, again reduced to chasing Tiger-shaped shadows. England's forwards coach, John Wells, was on hand to see Tait continue his conversion to being the last line of defence. When he switched there in the World Cup final last October it was his third senior match in the position, and he has since had a handful more for the Falcons. "It won't dent his confidence," John Fletcher, Newcastle's coach, said after substituting Tait in the final quarter of a frustrating afternoon.

There was also Jonathan Peter Wilkinson putting his much-mangled anatomy on the line – or clothesline, as it turned out, when the eminent fly-half was high-tackled in the 68th minute by his opposite number, Andy Goode, which was the cue for a mêlée in which almost every player rushed in to sort out some personal vendetta or other. Wilkinson recovered immediately, though Jamie Noon – who with Toby Flood made up Newcastle's quartet of possible England backs – was left holding his jaw gingerly. Goode went to the sin-bin, giving Wilkinson an apologetic tap on the arm as he went.

This set-to was the most memorable occurrence in a scoreless final quarter. Leicester were utterly in control by then, having been noticeably keen to run the Fijian battering ram Seru Rabeni at the Falcons' stellar quartet. Wales, take note?

Tait suffered the full-back's unique nightmares twice in the opening quarter. He was powerless to prevent Martin Corry striding to Leicester's opening try after two minutes, or do anything other than track Tom Varndell in a hopeless two-on-one from which No 8 Jordan Crane ran in the second. With Goode's conversion, Leicester led 12-3.

Wilkinson kicked three penalties in the first half to pass 2,000 career points for Newcastle. Goode popped over four pen-alties and a dropped goalbefore half-time, at which point Leicester were 27-9 up.

More than once Flood appealed in vain to a touch judge, but a challenge off the ball worked in his favour three minutes into the second half. Flood chipped ahead then appeared to be tripped by Goode. The ball was recovered by Newcastle and when Flood got to his feet he was handily placed to run in Jon Golding's short pass.

It was a brief respite. Leicester worked Johne Murphy over at the left corner from the restart, and Goode, who would finish with 21 points, converted. In the 52nd minute Goode put a penalty to touch and with the most dynamic line-out drive the bonus point try was claimed by the prop Marcos Ayerza. Thanks to that more-than-token effort, Leicester moved up to second in the Premiership and cut Gloucester's lead over them from five points to four.

Leicester: G Murphy (I Humphreys, 69); TVarndell, S Rabeni, A Mauger (O Smith, 46), J Murphy; A Goode, F Murphy; M Ayerza, G Chuter (B Kayser, 76), M Castrogiovanni (D Young, 74), L Deacon, B Kay (M Wentzel, 78), M Corry (capt), J Crane, L Moody.

Newcastle: M Tait (O Phillips, 68); T May, J Noon, T Flood, J Rudd (T Visser, 68); J Wilkinson, J Grindal (L Dickson, 48); J Golding (M Ward, 62), A Long (M Thompson, 46), C Hayman, A Perry, MSorenson, B Wilson (G Parling, 46), R Winter(P Dowson, 27), B Woods.

Referee: S Davey (Sussex).