Wilkinson's last-minute drop saves the day for Newcastle

Newcastle 20 - Saracens 20
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The Independent Online

There may be something profoundly disappointing about drawn games, but try telling that to Newcastle or Saracens, neither of whom deserved to win a match which went right to the last kick. Almost inevitably it was Jonny Wilkinson who had the last call with a left-footed dropped goal, moments after Mark Bartholomeusz's own effort in the third minute of stoppage time had seemed to secure four Premiership points for Saracens.

There may be something profoundly disappointing about drawn games, but try telling that to Newcastle or Saracens, neither of whom deserved to win a match which went right to the last kick. Almost inevitably it was Jonny Wilkinson who had the last call with a left-footed dropped goal, moments after Mark Bartholomeusz's own effort in the third minute of stoppage time had seemed to secure four Premiership points for Saracens.

It hasn't been a good week for the Londoners, who lost Kyran Bracken with an injury in training on Thursday. The former England scrum-half enters hospital tomorrow for surgery on his back which could end his career. Thomas Castaignède lasted an unlucky 13 minutes, having scored the opening try by taking full advantage of Dave Walder's slip as he went for the tackle. The diminutive Frenchman converted before retiring very shaken after he was ploughed into by Epi Taione.

To add to the dramatic closing minutes there was a dash of controversy and another anxious wait while Wilkinson received prolonged attention to his badly-bruised right arm. While Taione and Mike McCarthy were serving time in the sin-bin, Wilkinson had put in some of his trademark big hits to allay any fears about his defensive well-being.

Moments before, Mathew Tait appeared to score his second try, after taking Walder's pass out of the tackle. The referee, Tony Spreadbury, may have been unsighted but his touch judge, Don Helme, was on the spot and appeared to signal a try.

"We've taken a look at the video," said Newcastle's director of rugby Rob Andrew, "and there is no doubt it was a fair try. But, having played the first half looking as if we were a side that had lost its last three games, we played much better after the break and then, after their dropped goal which gave them the lead with 20 seconds left on the clock, I'm pleased we came out of it with a draw."

Scattering defenders to all parts of Tyneside, Taione set up the position for Tait to squeeze over in the corner for the Falcons' first try. Wilkinson converted, though for the remainder of a very disappointing half that, with the exception of Robbie Kydd's penalty, was that.

A Wilkinson penalty three minutes into the second half brought the scores level. Michael Stephenson then put the Falcons ahead for the first time with a try after a tremendous chip and chase, though the hooker, Matt Cairns, crossed for Saracens while McCarthy was in detention to set up a thrilling and unpredictable finish.

Newcastle: Tries Tait, Stephenson; Conversions Wilkinson 2; Penalty Wilkinson; Drop Goal Wilkinson. Saracens: Tries Castaignède, Cairns; Conversions Castaignède, Kydd; Penalty Kydd; Drop Goal Bartholomeusz.

Newcastle: D Walder (T May, 69); M Tait, M Burke, E Taione, M Stephenson; J Wilkinson (capt), H Charlton (J Grindal, 64); J Isaacson (I Peel, 55), A Long, M Ward (M Hurter, 55), L Gross (C Hamilton, 59), S Grimes, M McCarthy (S Sititi, 59), C Charvis, E Williamson (Sititi 3-11).

Saracens: T Castaignède (R Kydd, 13); R Haughton (K Sorrell, 40), B Johnston, D Harris, P Bailey; M Bartholomeusz; M Rauluni; K Yates (N Lloyd, 54), M Cairns, B Broster, K Chesney (B Skirving, 69), S Raiwalui, T Randell, H Vyvyan (capt), D Seymour.

Referee: T Sreadbury (Somerset).

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