Jonny Wilkinson came off the bench to inspire Newcastle to victory against Leeds yesterday. The World Cup winner's presence on the bench nearly doubled the Tykes' record crowd - 14,293 from the previous highest of 7,467 - and the England fly-half was brought on after 20 minutes for the injured Epi Taione with Dave Walder moving to centre.
Wilkinson did not let the Newcastle fans down - and his trusty boot won a match that his side looked unlikely to win without him. They seldom threatened the Leeds line but he added three penalties and a drop goal to Walder's earlier kick and the Tykes were left to rue missed opportunities.
Wilkinson may have stolen the headlines but his coach Rob Andrew was eager to praise Walder. "He came on earlier than we had planned," Andrew said of Wilkinson. "But he could have started and may start our next game but I won't decide until next week. It has been right for the club, right for him and right for Dave Walder for him to come back slowly.
"Dave has played well for the club for the last 18 months and you have to remember that we are just getting Jonny fit and he'll be going off with England and I'll have to ask Dave to win games for us again."
Leeds made the better start and went ahead after seven minutes through a Gordon Ross penalty. Leeds dominated the early exchanges but two mistakes gave Newcastle the chance to come back. The first came when Ross inexplicably tried for a drop goal when continuing pressure looked like bearing fruit. He missed and within minutes Leeds conceded a simple kick for Walder.
In the 24th minute sloppy play again led to a break down and a penalty being conceded, this time Wilkinson was on hand to slot home the kick.
Leeds hit back three minutes later when John Dunbar won a line-out close to the Falcons' line and the pack forced their way over, Mark Regan getting the final touchdown.
With Newcastle gaining more possession, especially from the line-outs, the England star nudged them further ahead with a penalty and deep in first-half injury time dropped a goal to put his side 12-8 in front at the break.
The second half developed into a rather dour affair. Wilkinson eased over a penalty after 51 minutes and even though Leeds put pressure on the visitors' line, they seldom looked likely to break through again. With seven minutes to go, Ross landed a penalty to ensure a bonus point but in the end the game fizzled. However the crowd had seen what they came for - Wilkinson back in action and his trusty left boot still dominating.
Leeds: Try Regan; Penalties Ross 2. Newcastle: Penalties Walder, Wilkinson 3. Drop goals: Wilkinson.
Leeds: T Stimpson; M Cardey, P Christophers, A Snyman, T Biggs (D Rees, 7), G Ross, M McMillan; M Shelley, M Regan, R Gerber, S Morgan (C Murphy, 48), T Palmer, J Dunbar (D Hyde, 48), R Parks, C Rigney.
Newcastle: M Burke (J Shaw, 19); T May, J Noon, E Taione (J Wilkinson, 19), M Tait, D Walder, J Grindal; I Peel (J Isaacson, 65), A Long, M Hurter (M Ward, 60), S Grimes, A Buist, C Charvis, C Harris, P Dowson.
Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).Reuse content