Newcastle might be standing at the crossroads but they gathered their bearings yesterday and turned Kingston Park into a cul-de-sac for Leicester.
These are disorientating times for the Falcons: Mathew Tait and Toby Flood are to fly the nest and John Fletcher has not been permanently replaced as director of rugby. Still, the Tigers were left dazed and confused here when Richard Blaze, their replacement lock, was held up over the line by Rob Vickers, the Falcons' replacement hooker, and the referee, Andrew Small, confirmed Newcastle's first win in eight Premiership matches.
Leicester have almost nowhere left to go on the trophy trail. They need to beat Dean Richards' Harlequins at Welford Road on Saturday and hope results go their way elsewhere if they are to sneak into the play-offs.
"Our chances are slim, but mathematically we still have a chance," Marcelo Loffreda, their head coach, said. "We are not going to surrender." The man who guided Argentina to third place in the World Cup is not going to surrender his job, either, although his position at Welford Road is as uncertain as Newcastle's future as Tait gets set to join Sale and Flood and the England Saxons flanker Ben Woods look towards Leicester.
The Falcons have lined up recruits from the Super 14 – Tane Tu'ipulotu, a centre with the Hurricanes, and a South African, Cobus Grobler, who is a lock with the Lions – the chairman, Dave Thompson, having decided to end the club's days as a productive red-rose nursery.
"We can't afford to lose four England backs for 11 games next season," Steve Bates, the acting director of rugby, said. It is a big shift in policy, although the fact is they have been able to field those England backs – Flood, Tait, Jonny Wilkinson and Jamie Noon – just four times in the Premiership this season. Flood and Noon were absent yesterday and the former is likely to miss England's tour to New Zealand due to an ankle operation. Wilkinson will also miss the trip because of surgery but he made his presence felt yesterday, landing a second-minute penalty and a fifth-minute conversion after his hooker, Andy Long, burrowed over.
The Tigers struck back, the No 8 Jordan Crane reaching out to plant the ball in the corner after a line-out. The wing Tom Varndell scored on the same spot on the half-hour but Leicester were 20-12 down at the interval, Phil Dowson, Newcastle's No 8 and captain, picking up at a five-metre scrum and strolling over.
The crucial score came in the 53rd minute, Wilkinson releasing Tom May. Wilkinson then kicked a penalty. Varndell scored another try and Sam Vesty kicked five points, so Leicester secured a bonus point
Newcastle: Tries Long, Dowson, May; Penalties Wilkinson 3; Conversions Wilkinson 2. Leicester: Tries Crane, Varndell 2; Penalties Goode, Vesty; Conversions Goode, Vesty.
Newcastle: M Tait; T May, T Dillon, T Visser, J Rudd; J Wilkinson, J Grindal; J Golding (D Wilson, 65), A Long (R Vickers, 62), C Hayman, A Perry (T Swinson, 77), G Parling, R Beattie (R Winter, 62), B Woods, P Dowson (capt).
Leicester: G Murphy; T Varndell, D Hipkiss, A Mauger, A Tuilagi; A Goode (S Vesty, 54), H Ellis; M Castrogiovanni (M Ayerza, 50), B Kayser (M Davies, 60), J White, M Wentzel (R Blaze, 65), B Kay, M Corry (capt), T Croft, J Crane.
Referee: A Small (London).Reuse content