Wilkinson roars back but fails to save Newcastle

Northampton 23 Newcastle 22
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The Independent Online

Jonny Wilkinson came through his latest comeback with flying colours as he set out to prove his form and fitness to Lions boss Clive Woodward.

Jonny Wilkinson came through his latest comeback with flying colours as he set out to prove his form and fitness to Lions boss Clive Woodward.

Wilkinson successfully negotiated 46 minutes of Premiership action for Newcastle after recovering from a knee injury and taking over from Michael Stephenson shortly before the break.

The England captain did so with familiar efficiency, kicking three penalties and a conversion, even if he was slow to get off the floor following a bang on the head in one second-half tackle.

The only thing he could not manage was to repeat his World Cup heroics. A missed drop-goal and long-range penalty in the last five minutes meant Northampton held on for a win that goes a long way to ensuring their survival in the Zurich Premiership.

The Saints held their nerve after important tries from Chris Hyndman and Corne Krige just before half-time, and held on to the lead thanks to three nerveless penalties and two conversions from Shane Drahm.

Wilkinson took over the goalkicking after Dave Walder's two early penalties and England's World Cup winning fly-half also converted a second-half try from Jamie Noon that briefly threatened to turn the tide.

Despite picking up a bonus point, Newcastle's defeat means that they still need a last-day win against London Irish to make certain of their own safety - and give Wilkinson some extra game time.

They need to finish eighth or better in the table to go into the wildcard competition to give Wilkinson two extra post-season games before the Lions warm-up game against Argentina on May 23, the deadline for him to convince Woodward to add him to the 44-strong squad named last Monday.

Northampton looked short of numbers going into the game with Andrew Blowers denied the chance to end his Saints career with a flourish by injury and rookie scrum-half Ben Jones thrown in the deep end.

Saints suffered another blow when centre Mark Stcherbina was stretchered off with a suspected broken leg.

The crowd held their breath when Wilkinson dropped back to fire off a right-footed drop-goal from closer range than the one which beat Australia in the dying seconds of the World Cup final 17 months ago.

However, he was well wide, though, and a testing 40-metre penalty also drifted wide of the left-hand post two minutes from time to show that golden boy is human after all.

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