Newcastle 26 Bristol 21: Wilkinson's slick return fires defeat of leaders

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The Independent Online

England's World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson made a successful comeback after two months out with injury by playing a major role in Newcastle's 26-21 win over the Premiership leaders, Bristol, at Kingston Park last night.

Wilkinson, who played all 80 minutes, had a hand in just about everything, starting with Mathew Tait's eighth-minute try when he was in the move twice and then dropped a goal as well as kicking two penalties and a conversion.

"I thought his first-half was outstanding and he is one of the players who can make a real difference," said the Falcons director of rugby John Fletcher. "He makes the team tick with his energy and his drive."

The Bristol head coach, Richard Hill, added to the plaudits. "Wilkinson was outstanding," he said. "To come back after eight weeks on the sidelines was exceptional and you could see he was hungry for it."

Newcastle were under pressure at the very first scrum and Jason Strange knocked over a penalty after just three minutes. However, Wilkinson soon popped up to create an opening for Tait to score wide on the left.

Then Wilkinson's kick through was chased down by Tait to win the ball 10 metres out, and from Lee Dickson's pass the England international dropped a goal in the 16th minute to make it 8-3, and another penalty four minutes later.

After terrific interplay between Wilkinson, Toby Flood and Tait, Newcastle attacked furiously and the hooker Matt Thompson crashed over in the corner for Falcons' second try in the 26th minute. But Strange pulled three points back in an all-action first half with a penalty for offside.

Newcastle defended brilliantly and broke away through Flood. Brent Wilson finished it off by surging over for Falcons' third try with three Bristol players unable to stop him. Wilkinson added the conversion on the stroke of half-time.

Strange and Wilkinson traded penalties to take the score to 26-9 but then the Falcons' defence was exposed out wide when Rob Higgitt gave Lee Robinson the overlap. The winger scored easily and Strange's conversion put Bristol back in the game at 26-16.

When Dan Ward-Smith muscled over from a line-out Newcastle's lead was reduced to just five points. Yet, in a frenetic finale, Newcastle's last-ditch tackling held offwave after wave of Bristol attacks.

Newcastle: Tries M Tait, Thompson, B Wilson; Conversion Wilkinson; Penalties Wilkinson 2; Drop goal Wilkinson. Bristol: Tries Robinson; Ward-Smith; Conversion Strange; Penalties Strange 3.

Newcastle: Burke; May, M Tait, Flood, Rudd; Wilkinson, Dickson (Grindal, 62); Golding, Thompson (Long, 61), Ward (D Wilson, 44), Perry, McCarthy, Parling, Woods, B Wilson.

Bristol: C Morgan; Robinson, Higgitt, Hill, Lemi (Taumalolo, 55); Strange, O'Riordan; Hilton, Regan, Crompton, Winters, Llewellyn, Budgett, To'oala (El Abd , 47), Ward-Smith.

Referee: W Barnes (England).