Newcastle 21 Worcester 15: Brilliance of Burke makes up for Wilkinson's continued absence

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The big thaw arrived just in time to save this game, but Newcastle decided to save Jonny Wilkinson for another day. Wilkinson had been expected to play some part at Kingston Park yesterday, but after four days of lying snow in the north east the former England No 10 - though fully recovered from surgery to repair a hernia - was unable to train properly and will target the away game at Wasps on Sunday instead.

"We need a full week's training so we can make a proper assessment of Jonny's fitness to play," said Rob Andrew, the Newcastle director of rugby. "He hasn't had a run-out with the team for six weeks. With a five-two forward split on the bench today, if a back had been injured in the first 15 minutes or so it would have been asking too much of him."

With or without Wilkinson, Newcastle are on something of a roll. This was their fifth win in all competitions since their last defeat, in mid-November, and their third win on the trot in the Premiership, which takes them 11 points up the table from bottom-placed Leeds.

Worcester made them work hard for the win. A try by their captain Tony Windo on 65 minutes - disputed hotly by some of the Newcastle forwards - made for a nerve-racking end to the match. The most diehard home supporters enjoyed it, but they must be very easily pleased.

Even allowing for a slippery pitch there was a litany of mistakes throughout, while the midfield was so crowded that had Ken Livingstone been the referee, he would have slapped a congestion charge on both pairs of centres. But above all the dross there was the peerless Matt Burke. The Australian is still on top of his game, despite retiring from international rugby, and his try, which took Newcastle to 10-0 after 29 minutes, was a state-of-the-art affair which drew deserved and prolonged applause from the crowd of 8,864.

The error count began early, with Worcester ratcheting up their tally at an alarming rate, their principal contributor being the recently recruited Kiwi wing Mike Maguire, whose introduction to the Premiership quickly turned into a nightmare.

Yet while Newcastle's Owen Finegan was in the sin bin for elbowing, Worcester scored their first try, through Aisea Havili. James Brown converted. With Burke adding two penalties to the conversion of his own try, that made it 13-7 at the break. Brown kicked another penalty but an 80-metre breakaway try by Dave Walder and a third penalty from Burke stretched the lead to 21-10. Worcester were left with only the consolation of Windo's try, which secured them a losing bonus point.

Comments