Newcastle vs London Irish match report: Shane Geraghty's dream moves add to Juan Pablo Socino nightmare

Newcastle 18 London Irish 20

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Newcastle have not won a Premiership game since October last year. Sunday’s defeat, against opponents who are also likely to spend the season scrabbling around the lower reaches of the league, was their 18th on the bounce. So they must be thanking their lucky stars that newly promoted London Welsh are as weak as they appear to be after two rounds of the campaign. Not even the Tynesiders can find a way of finishing second to a team as full of holes as the Exiles. Can they?

On the evidence of their performance against another of the capital’s Celtic-flavoured outfits, we are still awaiting a definitive answer to that question. All should be clear come early January, by which time the two most exposed outfits in the competition will have completed their personal business.

Newcastle travel to London Welsh next month, with the return shortly after Christmas. Anything short of an eight-point haul from those fixtures will leave Dean Richards, the Falcons’ rugby director, in a rare old stew.

“I’m not worried at the moment – not worried at all,” the Great Shambling Bear of English rugby insisted on Sunday after watching his Argentine centre Juan Pablo Socino spurn points by the lorry-load with the kind of kicking that brings professional careers to a premature end.

Socino, who missed three conversions and three penalties, was full of apologies afterwards and while Richards felt sufficiently paternal to mount a defence, his choice of words – “it’s no good blaming one player, although he did have a bit of a nightmare” – did not make the man from Buenos Aires feel better.

If Richards is more sanguine than might be expected under the circumstances, it is because he knows he has a potential match-winner in the Samoan wing Sinoti Sinoti. The late try he scored through a thicket of would-be tacklers was a beauty, as the London Irish wing James Short and the replacement back-rower Luke Narraway will readily testify. Had Socino not hit the post with the conversion attempt, Newcastle would have had rather more to show for their efforts.


They also have a serious bundle of elongated energy in the shape of Josh Furno, the Italy lock. Furno was of serious interest to London Irish last season: Brian Smith, the Exiles’ boss, was sufficiently taken with some of the Test newcomer’s rampaging efforts in the Six Nations to make inquiries. But Newcastle were the ones who secured the thumbprint on the contract and in the space of a few minutes on Sunday, Furno made his presence felt. Having just thrown a haymaker at Daniel Leo, he arrived late at a line-out, soared into the ether to claim possession and then worked himself into optimum position at a driving maul to score the opening try.

What the Tynesiders patently do not possess is a footballer with a skill set within a million miles of that which makes Shane Geraghty such a compelling creative spirit. It was the former England midfielder’s craftily delayed pass to the full-back Andrew Fenby that led directly to Fergus Mulchrone’s try just after the interval, and much of his work with ball in hand was a joy to behold. He also kicked like a dream while his opposite number was doing the opposite. On such differences do a club’s fortunes hang.

Richards felt his side could, and perhaps should, have won the game, and you could see his point to a degree. Yet London Irish generally lorded it in the grunt-and-groan department and when their rapid back-row trio of Blair Cowan, Ofisa Treviranus and Tom Guest were able to inject some pace into the game on Kingston Park’s newly-laid artificial pitch, they looked the more dangerous side. As they also have Narraway and Jebb Sinclair, the tough-as-old-boots Canadian, on their loose-forward roster, Smith has plenty of selection options.

The issue surrounds the rugby director for Geraghty, who played at outside-half in the season opener against Harlequins nine days ago but found himself shifted to inside centre for this one because Chris Noakes, the recent signing from Auckland Blues, is a specialist No 10.

“I think the second ball-player approach is probably the way forward,” Smith said, indicating that his principal ideas man would be spending increasing amounts of time at No 12. If he is true to his word, the more forthright Eamonn Sheridan, one of the big hits at Irish last term, will find himself on starvation rations as far as first-team appearances are concerned.

Irish will not find this an easy campaign: bottom three looks about right, largely because the heavy expenditure in their new training base in south-west London has eaten into the money available to Smith for squad-building.

But they are in a better place than Newcastle as a result of this result, and both clubs are in a more comfortable situation than London Welsh. Those who defend with their lives the sacred principal of promotion and relegation may find it uncomfortable, but with 20 games of a 22-match programme still to be played, it is difficult to see who else can possibly go down.     

Scorers: Newcastle: Tries Furno, S Wilson, Sinoti; Penalty Socino. London Irish: Tries Mulchrone, Fenby; Conversions Geraghty 2; Penalties Geraghty 2.

Newcastle S Hammersley; S Sinoti, A Powell (J Helleur 73), J Socino, N Cato (A Tuilagi 52); P Godman, M Blair (R Tipuna 45-70); E Fry (A Rogers 50), S Lawson (R Hawkins 77), O Tomaszczyk (S Wilson 50), C Green, J Furno (D Barrow 57), M Wilson R Mayhew 73), W Welch (capt), A Hogg.

London Irish A Fenby; A Lewington, F Mulchrone, S Geraghty (E Sheridan 65), J Short; C Noakes, S Steele (T O’Leary 50); T Court (M Parr 32-ht), D Paice (G Ellis 13-40), H Aulika (G Cross 66), G Skivington (capt), D Leo (K Low 65), B Cowan, O Treviranus (Parr 48-56, L Narraway 68), T Guest.

Referee A Small (London).