Wilkinson braced for two months on the sidelines

Newcastle 14 Bristol 16
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The Independent Online

"Jonny's situation is almost bizarre," said Newcastle's director of rugby, Rob Andrew "It's terribly frustrating for him and for the club. Whet else can happen to him? What else can go wrong? When he recovers from this, what he needs is game time. What mustn't happen is for him to be rushed back."

This is yet another setback for Wilkinson who has been troubled by injuries since his famous drop goal secured victory for England in the World Cup final against Australia in 2003. He is expected to be out for up to eight weeks; which means he is unlikely to be fit for England's autumn internationals.

It was Wilkinson's trusted understudy, Dave Walder, who got Newcastle under way with a sequence of raking touchfinders, and then slotted a penalty with Wilkinsonian insouciance to open the home side's account. However, Newcastle were soon divested of any thoughts that Bristol would be a soft touch as the West Countrymen, emboldened by their surprise win against Bath, were competitive in all phases.

At the scrum Robbie Morris was given a torrid time by Dave Hilton, while at the line-out the much travelled veteran Gareth Llewellyn was a towering presence, until he departed with a rib injury. Bristol scored the only try of the first half, from a move initiated by Jason Strange, carried on by Rob Higgitt and though the final pass to Shaun Perry looked a shade forward, the score stood, Strange converted and Bristol led. Although Walder kicked a second penalty, Strange kicked two, so Bristol led 13-6 at the interval.

There they stayed, to go top of the table and repeat their last away Premiership victory, also against Newcastle, in December 2002. They must think after this that the Premiership is a stroll. Though not their head coach, Richard Hill.

"I thought there would be a problem keeping the players' feet on the ground after Bath," said Hill. "But this was a terrific performance."

Newcastle varied their play; it was either incompetent or thoughtless. Walder kicked one penalty, though missed two, while Strange banged over his third. Not until stoppage time could they find a way through a stubborn Bristol defence. Jamie Noon crossed in the corner and, with Walder having been replaced, Burke needed the conversion to give his side two points for the draw. It flew well wide.

Newcastle: Try Noon; Penalties Walder 3. Bristol: Try Perry; Conversion Strange; Penalties Strange 3.

Newcastle: M Burke; T May, J Noon, M Mayerhofler, A Elliott; D Walder (T Flood, 84), H Charlton (J Grindal, 58); M Ward (I Peel, h-t), M Thompson (A Long, 36), R Morris (T Paoletti, 63), A Perry (G Parling, 63), S Grimes, M McCarthy (O Finegan h-t), C Charvis (capt), P Dowson.

Bristol: B Stortoni; L Robinson, R Higgitt, M Contepomi, V Going; J Strange, S Perry; D Hilton (A Clarke, 66), M Regan (S Nelson, 67), D Crompton, M Sambucetti, G Llewellyn (R Winters, 52), M Salter (capt), C Short, G Lewis (D Ward-Smith, 66).

Referee: R Debney (Leicestershire).