Lightweight Newcastle blown away

Gloucester 31 - Newcastle 17
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The Independent Online

Jonny Wilkinson's drop-out to start the match was a yard too far for his forwards, who were immediately hit by a Cherry and White tidal wave. The Gloucester pack took and drove and demolished everything in their path for 35 yards. As an opening statement of intent it was pretty unambiguous.

Jonny Wilkinson's drop-out to start the match was a yard too far for his forwards, who were immediately hit by a Cherry and White tidal wave. The Gloucester pack took and drove and demolished everything in their path for 35 yards. As an opening statement of intent it was pretty unambiguous.

Wilkinson and Newcastle already knew they were in for an uncomfortable afternoon but this was something else. Before a record crowd of 13,000 at Kingsholm - it was a good time to invest in a new stand - Gloucester looked like a team with impeccable Premiership credentials. They maintained their unbeaten record while exposing the Falcons pack as being more featherweight than super heavy, certainly in a first half that was terribly one-sided.

Gloucester were powerful, punishing and hungry, a West Country thoroughbred that played almost every inch to its pedigree. A question of sport? Which England scrum-half forfeited his place in the international squad to concentrate instead on filming A Question of Sport? The answer, of course, is Matt Dawson, which leaves Andy Gomarsall sitting pretty. Yesterday Gomarsall had an armchair ride behind his magnificent forwards and the only shortcoming was that they failed to score four tries and secure a bonus point.

Newcastle were already behind to a Henry Paul penalty when they conceded another for a high tackle by Luke Gross on Marcel Garvey. This was a harsh decision given that the wing only comes up to Gross's midriff.

If Matt Burke, a World Cup winner with Australia, had not heard of the Shed before this match he was soon given a rude reminder. Burke conceded a penalty for not releasing the ball, in front of the baying occupants of the Shed, and Newcastle conceded another 10 yards when Semo Setiti tossed the ball away. Newcastle were still retreating when Gomarsall kicked ahead (there was no Burke on duty at full-back) and Garvey streaked after it and picked up a nice bounce to fly over. The only player anywhere near him was his colleague Jon Goodridge.

Garvey was in blinding form and after another sharp incursion, Setiti did well to prevent Adam Balding from crossing the line. But soon Gloucester had their second try. They kicked a penalty to touch and mounted an unstoppable rolling maul, at the bottom of which was Alex Brown.

At this stage Newcastle could do very little right and they lost their centre Joe Shaw with a leg injury after he had been clattered by Jake Boer. It looked late but the Boer constrictor escaped punishment. As Shaw was helped from the field his replacement, the 19-year-old Matthew Tait, was thrown into the cauldron much sooner than his coach Rob Andrew would have liked. Within seconds Tait, whom Andrew rates as an outstanding prospect, received his first pass, and with it half the Gloucester pack, who buried the youngster over the touchline.

It took 27 minutes for Wilkinson to land a penalty but the England stand-off was feeling the pressure every bit as much as his team-mates. Another searing run by Garvey resulted in a big overlap for Boer on the left and although the Gloucester captain crossed the Newcastle line he was brilliantly prevented from touching the ball down by Tait's challenge.

Wilkinson added a couple of penalties to make it 21-9 at half-time, during which Andrew shuffled his pack. It seemed to have some effect, at least in terms of stopping the bleeding.

When Wilkinson landed his fourth penalty, after 59 minutes, his side had narrowed the gap to nine points. A proper gloss was put on proceedings when Paul kicked an easy penalty in the 74th minute and two minutes later James Simpson-Daniel intercepted a static Newcastle attack and had the pace to burn off Wilkinson's attempt at a last-ditch tackle. Paul, who had been on target with three penalties, and Duncan McCrae one, converted Simpson-Daniel's try from the touchline and the Gloucester faithful thought that was that.

However, in the fifth minute of injury time Newcastle managed to produce the try of the match. With sharp passing and good timing they attacked down the left flank from deep inside their own half and when Michael Stephenson, for the first time in the match, found himself in a few yards of space he made the most of it, cutting inside to beat Goodridge in a terrific run to the line. Wilkinson was dismayed that his conversation attempt rebounded off an upright.

Gloucester still have a couple of first choice forwards to come back, notably Phil Vickery in the front row and James Forrester in the back row, but the coach Nigel Melville can take some credit for fielding a side that had no discernable weakness. Well, maybe one. Goodridge was very impressive last season but at times yesterday he seemed to be as nervous as a kitten. He really had no cause.

Gloucester: J Goodridge; M Garvey, T Fanolua, H Paul, J Simpson-Daniel; D McRae, A Gomarsall; N Wood (S Emms, 61), O Azam (C Fortey, 56), T Sigley, P Buxton, A Brown, J Boer (capt), A Balding (A Eustace, 50), A Hazell.

Newcastle: M Burke; T May, J Moon, J Shaw (M Tait, 23), M Stephenson; J Wilkinson (co-capt), J Grindal; I Peel (co-capt, J Isaacson, 40), M Thompson (A Long, 40), M Hurter (Peel, 65), L Gross (C Hamilton, 75), S Grimes, M McCarthy (C Charvis, 40), P Dowson, S Setiti.

Referee: A Rowden (Berkshire).

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