Newcastle 20, Bath 33: Berne gets Bath running as Newcastle stagnate

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The Independent Online

Echoing the recent tribulations of their main sponsors, Northern Rock, Newcastle collapsed ignominiously at Kingston Park yesterday.

The loss of Matt Burke in the 62nd minute robbed the Falcons of their inspiration. Without the World Cup backs Jonny Wilkinson, Jamie Noon, Mathew Tait and Toby Flood, Newcastle were lacking in creativity and tactical nous. This was their poorest performance of several seasons. Their director of rugby, John Fletcher, said: "We were all over the place and a defensive nightmare."

It took Bath eight minutes to make their mark. Shaun Berne banged over a simple penalty. The Australian centre then broke Andy Perry's lamentable tackle before striding to the posts for a try which he converted.

Last season Bath were unremarkable but this term they have begun well. The only loss they have suffered was at Leicester. They have a hard-working pack even without Lee Mears, Steve Borthwick and Matt Stevens, all away with England and their backs function efficiently despite the absence of Olly Barkley and Nick Abendanon. It will be a surprise if they do not reach the next Heineken Cup at least.

The scrum-half, Michael Claassens, scored Bath's second try. Newcastle, for the remainder of the half, were uplifted – by what it wasn't clear – and the interval was reached with Bath 15-7 up, thanks to Tom May's try, which was converted by Burke. It was all Newcastle deserved.

They must have had a proper roasting at half-time. They brought on three replacements, though Bath had lost Danny Grewcock with a hand injury. Also, Michael Lipman needed attention so James Scaysbrook replaced him on the flank. It was interesting to see how Bath coped with these losses, especially as Burke added a penalty. Within a minute Ian Davey raced in for a try after stepping out of tackle.

Before he went off with an injured knee, Burke kicked a second penalty. Michael Stephenson, once a Falcon, brought Bath a bonus point with his try and Ryan Davis dropped a goal. There was still time for Joe Shaw and Matt Banahan to grab tries in the dying minutes.

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