Wilkinson's homecoming spoiled as Falcons are stung

Newcastle 20 Wasps 23
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The Independent Online

There were almost as many security men and photographers at Newcastle's largest Tesco store a few hundred yards from Kingston Park than on the pitch when Jonny Wilkinson and Lawrence Dallaglio paraded the Webb Ellis Cup before a sell-out crowd of 10,001.

But the paparazzi's vigil was in vain. Jonny's mother, Philippa, chose not to repeat her shopping trip of a week earlier, while her son was ensuring World Cup glory for England in Sydney with that never-to-be-forgotten drop goal. Instead, Philippa and her husband, Phil, were at a family party in Norwich.

But mother and father were there in spirit and when Jonny and Lawrence emerged from the players' tunnel before the match, you could probably have heard the cheering in East Anglia. All that was missing from Newcastle's party was four points for victory against a ruggedly determined Wasps team. They stole victory at the death with a try of doubtful legality, just as it seemed as if the Falcons were going to hang on to the slender lead they had acquired when Dave Walder kicked his first penalty on a wild and windy afternoon.

With most of those packed into the ground delighted to be a part of a very special day, with the World Cup coming to Newcastle, and preparing to mark the occasion with a hard-earned win, Peter Richards, who had come on as a replacement for Robert Howley at scrum-half in the 77th minute, rocketed away from a ruck near the right touchline with the sort of break that has been Howley's career trademark, to score the decisive try.

Warren Gatland, Wasps' director of rugby, was full of praise for Richards. "He's been around a bit and played at London Irish, Treviso and Bristol but started very few games and is still only 25," he said. "When he came to us, we said we could give him between 12 and 14 starts a season. Apart from his contribution, on what was an emotional day, we knew we had to stay focused and that the side dominating territory and possession would win the game." So it proved.

It also helped Wasps that in the build-up to Richards's try, Fraser Waters's pass to Tom Voyce was palpably forward. The referee missed it, Gatland missed it and so did Rob Andrew, Newcastle's director of rugby. But Andrew was not complaining, though he might be less than enamoured when he looks at the video. "Last week we nicked it at London Irish," Andrew said. "This week we've had it nicked from us.

"Naturally I'm disappointed, but today has been another huge step up for us and for rugby in the North East. It's been another chapter, and I'm not going to let the result spoil what has been a fantastic day."

Andrew kept his counsel, for deep down, he probably acknowledged that the Falcons did not deserve to win against a side who used the elements well and whose pack were all over the home forwards for long periods. And they were outscored by three tries to two. Only when the ball was spun wide were Newcastle really threatening. On the two occasions the Falcons put some width on their game, they did look as if they would prosper.

Wasps had signalled their intent to keep it as tight as possible by going through a dozen phases to work Voyce in at the right corner; this before Newcastle had managed to get their hands on the ball. The second was an untidy affair with Kenny Logan scrambling over after Stuart Abbott and Waters had made the initial thrust.

Newcastle responded with a sumptuous try when Epi Taione set Tom May free with a long pass, for May to feed Ben Gollings, who outpaced the cover for the touchdown. But a couple of penalties by Mark van Gisbergen gave Wasps a 16-7 advantage at the break.

Another sweeping move sparked by Mark Mayerhofler led to May's try which, with Dave Walder's conversion and subsequent penalty, gave the Falcons a scent of victory, but the perfumed prize was in Richards's grasp from the moment he replaced Howley.

Newcastle: Tries Gollings, May; Conversions Walder 2; Penalties Walder 2. Wasps: Tries Voyce, Logan, Richards; Conversion Van Gisbergen; Penalties Van Gisbergen 2.

Newcastle: B Gollings; T May, J Noon, M Mayerhofler, M Stephenson; D Walder, H Charlton (J Grindal, 59); I Peel, M Thompson, M Ward (M Hurter, 63), G Archer (M Andrews, 65), S Grimes, E Taione, W Britz, H Vyvyan (capt).

Wasps: M van Gisbergen; T Voyce, F Waters, S Abbott (M Denney, 80), K Logan (J Rudd, 58); A King, R Howley (capt, P Richards 77); C Dowd, T Leota (B Gotting, 66), W Green (T Payne 65), S Shaw, R Birkett, J Worsley, J O'Connor (P Volley, 78), M Lock.

Referee: S Leyshon (Bristol).