New setback for Andrew

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A trying week for Rob Andrew and Newcastle ended on a distinctly downbeat note on Friday night when for the second time in four days they were beaten in the Heineken Cup.

A 53-17 defeat at the hands of Newport at Rodney Parade just about summed up the week for the Falcons, who have had the Azam-Taione racism affair to cope with as well as a high-profile spat with Leinster over a Heineken Cup game which should have been played in Newcastle last weekend, and ended up at Headingley on Tuesday night (Leinster won 17-15).

So perhaps it was not too surprising that Newcastle, with a mugh changed side and no chance of reaching the quarter finals, had run out of fight by the time they arrived at Newport.

There was no Jonny Wilkinson, no Tom May and no Stuart Grimes as Newport ran in seven tries, three from left wing Matthew Watkins to leave the Falcons with a Heineken record of five defeats from six starts.

"We have to put the Heineken Cup behind us now. We had a bad start, losing our first game at home to Newport, but we also produced a couple of outstanding performances," a phlegmatic Andrew said afterwards.

"We had a very young side in action tonight, but we were outgunned. We also made some silly mistakes in the first 20 minutes, and you cannot afford to do that because the game got away from us."

There was also an injury blow for the Falcons, with wing Liam Botham going off suffering from a suspected recurrence of ankle ligament trouble.

Newport coach Ian McIntosh, on the other hand, was delighted with his team's display, and accepted that a home defeat against Leinster in November had proved severely damaging in terms of quarter-final ambitions.

"That Leinster game is the one we really regret. I still wonder how we lost it," said McIntosh, recalling a match that his team dominated throughout but still contrived to lose.

"We have got to put tonight in perspective. Newcastle have had two games in quick succession, both of them on the road.

"But I was pleased with some of the tries that we scored, and the way the players are making decisions for themselves on the field."

Although Newport are out of Europe, they can now look forward to a top-of-the-table Welsh-Scottish League clash against Llanelli at Rodney Parade on Friday, when victory would take them clear with two games in hand.

McIntosh's opposite number at Ulster, Alan Solomons, was equally happy after his side scored eight tries in a 59-3 victory over the Italian side Benetton Treviso at Ravenhill. The 1999 champions have endured two torrid seasons in Europe, but Solomons hopes they are now emerging from that slump. "We can hold our heads high again," he said Solomons. "We have won four out of six games, and we have been competitive in Europe again. We have made massive improvements this season and those are the positives we have to focus on."

After a sloppy opening, Ulster floored the Italian club with a burst of six tries in 20 minutes, but squandered further try-scoring opportunities.

Solomons was pleased with the overall performance, however. He added: "It would be churlish not to be happy with the side."