London Irish 6 Newcastle 9: Walder's goals keep Wilkinson on the bench

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Dave Walder has deputised for Jonny Wilkinson so many times he must almost feel as if Newcastle's No 10 shirt is his for keeps. His director of rugby, Rob Andrew, has suggested that Walder sometimes lets his mind wander as he attempts to run a game, but even though Wilkinson has recovered from surgery to repair a torn adductor muscle, Andrew left him on the bench yesterday.

Andrew was full of praise for Walder: "Dave is as good a tactical kicker as there is in the game," he said. "His line kicking was precise, he ran the show perfectly, so we had no need to call on Jonny. What also pleased me is that we're not supposed to be able to play like that, in conditions like these. Now you can see that we can do so in all weathers."

Walder apart, the Falcons' organisation and an implacable defensive performance were the foundations for victory on a long, attritional afternoon. Newcastle's forward play has improved immeasurably since Peter Walton took charge of their coaching. Until he did so, the Falcons were not equipped for musclefests, and had always been much better off exploring all the possibilities implicit in the fluid style that comes naturally to them. With so many good footballers and bags of pace in the Newcastle team, it is easy to see why this is their favoured method of attack.

Irish's reputation has been cemented by their solid scrummaging and pragmatic approach, which while winning them few friends beyond Reading has enabled them to win seven Premiership matches this season. They are still handily placed at fifth in the table.

Teeming rain and a slippery pitch at the Madejski Stadium seemed tailor-made for the Irish forwards. It took them some time to develop their pick-and-drive rhythm, though once they did there were signs that it would put them into profit. Thanks to Newcastle's new-found doggedness, it didn't.

A soporific first half was adorned by penalties from Walder and Mike Catt, with barely a try in sight, save when Michael Horak cut down Anthony Elliott, who was odds-on to score. As a piece of entertainment, there was a case for invoking the Trade Descriptions Act. Two more Walder penalties after the break took it to 9-3, then Irish closed to 9-6 when Ross Laidlaw banged over a penalty from 40 metres to make the bonus point safe. Irish upped the ante towards the end, but Newcastle's defence never wavered. Nor did Walder.

London Irish: Penalties Catt, Laidlaw. Newcastle: Penalties Walder 3.

London Irish: M Horak (T Ojo, 73): D Armitage, R Penney, M Catt (capt), S Tagicakibau; R Flutey (R Laidlaw, 32), P Hodgson; N Hatley (M Collins, 74), D Coetzee (D Paice, 61), F Rautenbach, B Casey (P Murphy, 71), N Kennedy, K Roche, K Dawson (P Gustard, 45), J Leguizamon.

Newcastle: M Burke (capt); T May, J Shaw, M Mayerhofler, A Elliott; D Walder, J Grindal (H Charlton, 56); M Ward, A Long (M Thompson, 61), R Morris, A Perry, G Parling, O Finegan (M McCarthy, 50), C Harris (B Woods, 61), A Buist.

Referee: M Fox (Leicestershire).