Referee's display leaves Saracens fuming in silence

Saracens 19 Newcastle 24
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There were more fireworks off the field than on it after Newcastle consolidated their place in the Premiership with a satisfying third victory in London this season and an end to a brief run of defeats.

First Rob Andrew expressed puzzlement at the omission of his young centre Tom May from the England élite development squad, then Saracens management had a dart at not being allowed to criticise referees.

Andrew was disappointed that Stuart Abbott, a South African with English qualifications, who has come on as replacement four times but has yet to start for Wasps, could have got in ahead of May.

"Tom should be in the squad," Andrew said. "It sends the wrong message out to young English players who are working hard to represent their country."

Saracens would be glad just to have their chosen players turning out for them. These are uncomfortable times for them. The salvaging of a point for just managing to keep within sight of their conquerors, which thus moved them up from ninth to eighth in the Zurich Premiership table, will have been poor consolation.

Francois Pienaar, their chief executive, was unhappy with the refereeing performance although he prudently refused to say anything for fear of a charge of disrepute, other than that, for the first time in his distinguished career he was moved to visit the official's dressing-room after the match to try to clarify a few points.

Pienaar pointing out that players' and coaches' careers can be on the line through a referee's interpretations and decisions. Saracens' owner, Nigel Wray, was forthright. "It is bloody stupid. Of course you should be able to criticise referees. People are allowed to criticise me. I am not saying be rude, but why can't the referee be criticised?"

Sadly it will be yet another under-strength Saracens who will be criticised after this unfulfilled performance. There were just flashes of good things to come. Newcastle, while hardly perfect, always posed more of a threat. How Saracens managed to neutralise the collective menace for as long as they did will remain a mystery.

The Falcons had to hover for 32 minutes before opening their account. The burly, bustling centre May battered his way past an injured Kyran Bracken (the Saracens and England scrum-half had taken a knock on his hip just prior to the Newcastle thrust and was replaced by the energetic Nick Walshe) and a woefully out of position Adryan Winnan before slithering over the line with Kevin Sorrell clinging to his jersey.

Had it not been for the Saracens fly-half Luke Smith, who marked the end of his trial period (he has signed on until the end of the season) by landing four out of six penalties, they would have been well out of it.

The left wing Mike Stephenson hauled the Falcons in front, winning a chip and chase, and when prop George Graham was driven over for a third try – all converted by Jonny Wilkinson – it was beyond Saracens.

Saracens: Try Johnston; Conversion Smith; Penalties Smith 4. Newcastle: Tries May, Stephenson, Graham; Conversions Wilkinson 3; Drop Walder.

Saracens: A Winnan; B Sparg, B Johnston, K Sorrell, D O'Mahony; L Smith (J de Beer, 66), K Bracken (capt; N Walshe, 33); L Harbut, M Cairns (R Russell, 55), S Phillips (D Flatman, 55), K Benazzi (A Benazzi, h-t), S Murray (A Benazzi, 22-26), R Hill, B Cole, K Roche.

Newcastle: D Walder; L Botham (G Maclure, 57), J Noon, T May, M Stephenson; J Wilkinson, H Charlton; M Ward (I Peel, 62), N Makin (B Balshen, 62), G Graham, H Vyvyan (D Weir, 69), S Grimes, E Taione, P Lam (capt), A Mower (R Arnold, 52).

Referee: C White (Cheltenham).