Tigers add to Jonny's woes on recovery road

Newcastle 15 Leicester 44
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The Independent Online

It was not the best of days for the man who kicked his country to the Webb Ellis Cup. He damaged his shoulder before kick-off and had to watch from the sidelines here yesterday. So much, though, for Matt Burke.

For England's World Cup-winning hero of 11 months ago, the afternoon was not a whole lot better. Jonny Wilkinson has not been at his sharpest in the Zurich Premiership this season ­ understandably so, given his eight-month absence and the surgery to his right shoulder. Even his left boot was blunt yesterday. It not so much sliced as chopped wide three kicks at the posts.

The one-time metronome was operating at 40 per cent efficiency yesterday. Wilkinson landed two kicks out of five and ­ apart from one sublime flip-pass that produced a try for Michael Stephenson ­ had little chance to show his worth. He and the Falcons were subjected to an unmerciful mauling by the Tigers.

Leicester ran in six tries in all, four of them in a rampant second-half performance that yielded 27 points. It restored the East Midlanders to the familiar heights of top place in the Zurich Premiership, for 24 hours at least. "They will take some stopping this season," Rob Andrew, Newcastle's director of rugby, asserted. "There's a new pace to their game."

Leicester's tempo was high from the kick-off, Ross Broadfoot, their fledgling outside-half, pinning Newcastle into their 22, then chipping a kick into the right corner for Geordan Murphy to touch down. Broadfoot's conversion from right out on the touchline made it 7-0 to the visitors with just two minutes on the clock, but the Tigers had to dig in their claws thereafter.

Their prized pack were shunted over their own line by a brilliant Newcastle drive, the absence of the ball from all angles of the video replays preventing the concession of a try. It was also Leicester's good fortune that Wilkinson pushed his first penalty wide, but they were finally undone when the golden boy redeemed himself with the Midas touch that set Stephenson on his way to the try-line. Wilkinson's conversion made it 7-7 after 18 minutes but Broadfoot landed a penalty from 40m and then converted a penalty-try awarded when the Falcons were under huge pressure at a scrum on the line. It was a bruising opening half, Colin Charvis and Martin Corry sharing time in the sin-bin for trading right hooks, and it finished with Broadfoot receiving treatment for a dead-leg that curtailed his afternoon's work.

Leicester were still in a state of re-adjustment, Sam Vesty having moved to the No 10 position and Matt Cornwell having come on at full-back, when Harry Ellis was penalised for obstructing Epi Taione. There were sighs all round when Wilkinson bisected the H, although it proved to be the last gasp of hope for Newcastle.

A Murphy penalty restored Leicester's 10-point lead and then, with 55 minutes gone, the Tigers pounced on a wild clearance by Dave Walder. Corry picked up the loose ball on the left, sold a dummy to the home guard and slipped a pass inside to Seru Rabeni, who ran to the line for his fourth try in as many matches.

Five minutes later Leicester had their fourth try of the afternoon, Neil Back applying the scoring touch from a catch by Ben Kay and drive by the Tigers pack in the right corner. There was temporary relief for the Falcons when Matt Tait, a replacement for Walder, showed a glimpse of his precocious talent, racing over in the left corner. Wilkinson, however, missed the conversion, and his colleagues missed tackles galore as the Tigers finished with their tails up.

Corry scored from close range and then Rabeni swatted aside two would-be challengers to claim his second try of a thoroughly uncomfortable afternoon for the crestfallen Falcons.

Newcastle: D Walder (M Tait, 66); T May, J Noon, E Taione, M Stephenson; J Wilkinson (co-capt), H Charlton (J Grindal, 57); I Peel (co-capt, M Ward, h-t), A Long, M Hurter, L Gross (S Grimes, 57), M McCarthy, C Charvis, E Williamson, S Sititi.

Leicester: S Vesty; J Holtby, S Rabeni, O Smith, G Murphy; R Broadfoot (m Cornwell, h-t), H Ellis; G Rowntree (D Morris, 64), G Chuter, J White, M Johnson (capt), L Deacon, B Deacon (W Johnson, 75), N Back, M Corry.

Referee: R Maybank (RFU).