Warcester 31 Newcastle 16: Lights go out on faltering Falcons

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The Independent Online

By the time the blackness descended on Sixways last night, Newcastle's season was already disappearing into the black hole of a European Challenge Cup semi-final exit in deepest – darkest – Worcestershire. A failure in the local power supply two minutes into the second half neutralised the floodlights and sent the players shuffling off to the changing rooms for 15 minutes. The Falcons were already 17-6 down and when play finally resumed Jonny Wilkinson and Co. were unable to summon the electricity they needed to spark a recovery.

Wilkinson landed two penalties and a last minute conversion but his left boot could not salvage a losing cause as first half tries by Marcel Garvey and Sam Tuitupou set Worcester on their way to a decisive victory. Mike Ruddock's men, who claimed two more touchdowns in a late scoring flurry, will meet the winners of today's encounter between Bath and Sale in next month's final. By then, Wilkinson will have undergone surgery to repair a damaged shoulder, and the Falcons will no doubt still be licking their wounds.

Newcastle had their big guns back after injury and rest, with Toby Flood, Jamie Noon and Mathew Tait in the back-line behind Wilkinson, and All Black Carl Hayman propping up the pack. They fired impressively in the opening stages, Wilkinson sending out some fizzing passes and Hayman making a good deal of headway with ball in hand. A Tom May drop goal gave them a sixth minute lead but they were trailing two minutes later.

Noon was snared by the kind of midfield mincer of a tackle that has become the England centre's own trademark, Dale Rasmussen sending the Falcon juddering backwards and dislodging the ball, which the former Gloucester wing Marcel Garvey pick up and ran in from 55 metres. Shane Drahm added the extras and thereafter the force, and the winning momentum, was with Worcester.

It took close video scrutiny to deny scrum-half Matt Powell a try in the left corner and then, 22 minutes in, Garvey angled a chip inside from the right wing and centre Tuitupou, capped nine times as an All Black, pounced on the bouncing ball with a spectacular diving finish. Drahm again converted, although a Wilkinson penalty cut the Worcester lead to 14-6 by half-time.

Unfortunately for the Falcons and their fly-half, a Drahm a penalty before the black-out pushed the home side into the comfort zone. Wilkinson pegged back a penalty midway through the second-half but the outlook was already bleak before replacement flanker Tom Wood and Tuitupou crossed for Worcester's third and fourth tries. Kiwi flanker Brent Wilson's last minute touchdown was a token score in what has become a season of doom and gloom for the faltering Falcons.

Worcester: Tries Garvey, Tuitupou 2, Wood; Conversions Drahm 4; Penalty Drahm. Newcastle: Try Wilson; Conversion Wilkinson; Penalties Wilkinson 2; Drop goal May.

Worcester: T Delport (R Gear, 70); M Garvey, D Rasmussen, S Tuitupou, M Benjamin; S Drahm, M Powell (J Arr, 70); T Windo (M Mullan, 51), A Lutui, T Taumoepeau, G Rawlinson, C Gillies (W Bowley, 70), D Hickey (T Wood, 60), P Sanderson (capt), K Horstmann.

Newcastle: M Tait; T May, J Noon (T Visser, 31), T Flood, J Rudd; J Wilkinson, J Grindal (L Dickson, 67); M Ward (J Golding, 44), M Thompson (A Long, 55), C Hayman, A Perry (G Parling, 44), M Sorensen (E Williamson, 77), A Buist, B Wilson, P Dowson (capt).

Referee: P Allan (Scotland).