Vibrant young Falcons ease Andrew's worries

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The Independent Online

Rob Andrew has taken to consulting a calendar during matches rather than his watch, for the season's end cannot come soon enough for Newcastle's director of rugby; he can then begin to concentrate on the three Rs: repair,recuperation and rebuilding.

With four Scotland internationals in various states of disrepair - John Leslie, Peter Walton, George Graham and Stuart Grimes will all miss their country's summer tour to New Zealand - plus another long-term absentee in Ross Nesdale, Andrew has been short of options for more weeks than he cares to remember.

Perhaps Andrew worries too much, for his youngsters did him proud in a game full of vibrant movement, as Newcastle refused to bow to the heavier Gloucester pack. We have come to expect it of Jonny Wilkinson, but there were big performances too from Jamie Noon, Tom May and Mike Stephenson - all 21 or under - who posed a myriad of problems for Gloucester.

Although Gloucester led the table for much of the winter, their principal target has always been qualification for next season's Heineken European Cup. The threshold for that looks as if it will be 34 points - the mark that Gloucester were on before yesterday's game - so they needed only a point to be sure of reaching their goal.

Despite hauling themselves back to 29-28 with four minutes remaining, Gloucester's coach Philippe Saint-André said: "We lacked the killer instinct and I am terribly disappointed that we didn't finish Newcastle off."

A month ago, Newcastle looked on the brink of dropping into the play-off zone. But successive home victories over Saracens, London Irish and now Gloucester, have seen that possibility recede.

Yesterday, the Falcons made the start they wanted as Gloucester failed to make their power tell, while making all manner of handling errors. If Newcastle could have taken full advantage of them they might have been further away than 16-6 at half time. Wilkinson and Simon Mannix potted two penalties apiece, before Wilkinson grabbed a third and then pushed a beautifully-weighted grubber for May to claim the half's only try.

After the break, the visitors' forwards had Newcastle under the cosh for long periods. Chris Catling got Gloucester's first try, Elton Moncrieff dropped a goal and Mannix kicked three more penalties. But Wilkinson kept Newcastle in contention with a terrific try and two more penalties. Although Andy Deacon was on the end of a pushover, Noon put paid to Gloucester with a late try.

Newcastle: Tries: May, Wilkinson, Noon; Conversions: Wilkinson 3; Penalties: Wilkinson 5

Gloucester: Tries: Catling, Deacon; Penalties: Mannix 5 Dropped Goal: Moncrieff Newcastle: M Stephenson; M Wood (M Shaw 75), T May, J Noon, V Tuigamala; J Wilkinson, G Armstrong (Capt); I Peel (M Ward 66), M Howe, M Hurter, J Rule, D Weir, S O'Neill, H Vyvyan, R Beattie.

Gloucester: C Catling; B Johnson, J Ewens, C Yates, R Jewell; S Mannix, E Moncrieff; T Woodman, J Djouid (N McCarthy 69), P Vickery (A Deacon 20 ), R Fidler, I Jones (M Cornwell 53-60;73), J Paramore, K Jones (Capt, A Hazell 69) S Ojomoh.

Referee: A Rowden (Thatcham, Berkshire).

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