The one thing everyone knew before this supposed relegation decider was that the overarching issue of who would go down from the Aviva Premiership would not be decided at the end of it. Wasps avoided the heavy beating that would have seen them slip below Newcastle into bottom place and the Falcons must assume the trapdoor to the Championship will claim them – but they will not know for certain for another few weeks.
At the final whistle the current and previous owners of the Falcons, Semore Kurdi and Dave Thompson, compared notes with the director of rugby for next season, Dean Richards – he of the "Bloodgate" suspension at Harlequins three years ago. Nearby stood Ken Moss, a former Wasps flanker whose consortium is putting up the money to buy his old club from Steve Hayes, who was in the opposite stand. The Wasps chairman, Mark Rigby, was confident the buyout would be complete by the end of the month and that staying up had been crucial to the deal. Wasps will are understood to have an agreement to play at Adams Park until 2015, though they need a new home and are looking around north London.
After a second half in which Newcastle strained admirably but managed to get only halfway to the four tries that would have saved them if they had also denied Wasps a losing bonus, their players did not look uncontrollably distraught, reflecting the long months they had faced this fate. Had they achieved the try bonus it would have been their first of the campaign. They are looking now to what happens in the Championship play-offs, which are only at the semi-final stage.
Among the four competing Championship clubs, Bristol are likely to meet the Premiership's entry criteria. Bedford and Cornish Pirates have decided not to undergo the required audit, so Newcastle would survive if either of them won the final. London Welsh cannot play Premiership rugby at their Old Deer Park ground but have suggested four ground-shares, including Oxford United's Kassam Stadium. The second leg of the Championship final is not until 30 May; the deliberations over who meets the criteria will be completed in the week beforehand.
Gary Gold, the South African who took over coaching the Falcons from Alan Tait in mid-season and is now making way for Richards, said: "It's very emotional and very upsetting about the consequences today has had. At 10-0 down at half-time there was a reason for the players to give up and they didn't. They're a great bunch of guys. Hopefully it's a springboard for Dean to go onwards and upwards in the Championship."
A sell-out crowd thronged Adams Park's bars and burger stalls. Failure sells? You wondered during a first half of Newcastle going all out for tries after a penalty miss by Jimmy Gopperth how many would watch, and in what mood, if – like Super Rugby or the RaboDirect Pro 12 – there was no relegation.
The home support cheered the returning Marco Wentzel's line-out catches and the dangerous attacks from full-back by Richard Haughton. One such breakout led to the first try, after 38 minutes. Wasps were 3-0 up with a penalty kicked by the fly-half Nick Robinson from wide out, after a scrum collapse, three minutes beforehand. Haughton's weaving run was supported well by Robinson, who threw a long pass to Christian Wade for the highly promising wing to finish with a dive at the right corner. Robinson added the conversion.
The impetus and atmosphere altered completely after the interval. The Wasps tighthead prop, Ben Broster, went to the sin-bin on 52 minutes and Newcastle's burly centre James Fitzpatrick scored on the open side of the resulting scrum.
The decision went to the television match official, as did two more even though the referee, Wayne Barnes, was always on the spot. The Falcons second row Tim Swinson had one turned down when Billy Vunipola got underneath him. Peter Stringer, Newcastle's on-loan scrum-half, got the thumbs-up on 76 minutes and Gopperth converted again. In between, Barnes and the assistant referee Peter Huckle also missed what looked like a horrendous headlong head-butt by the replacement Falcons flanker Tai Tuifua on Robinson, who needed treatment before playing on.
The former Wasps Paul Volley, Fraser Waters and Andy Gomarsall had gathered here in support; Lawrence Dallaglio, the former captain who is now a Wasps director, sent a message from his charity bike ride. The national press and broadcasters ESPN, ITV and BBC had all made it their first-choice match. Newcastle, for all their effort, were unable to write the fairy-tale ending.
"It's a little bit of a funny feeling," said Wasps' director of rugby, Dai Young. "We've had what we want but we're disappointed at losing. We lost the battle but won the war."
London Wasps R Haughton; C Wade, E Daly (C Mayor, 79), D Waldouck, T Varndell; N Robinson, C Davies (N Berry, 23); T Payne (Z Taulafo, 73), T Lindsay, B Broster (S McIntyre, 78), R Birkett (T du Plessis, 70), M Wentzel (capt; R Filipo, 76), J Launchbury, B Vunipola (McIntyre, 52-62), S Jones.
Newcastle Falcons G Goosen; C Uys, J Helleur, J Fitzpatrick, R Shortland (T Catterick, 43); J Gopperth, P Stringer; J Golding (G Shiells, 61), R Vickers (M Thompson, 48), E Murray (J Hall, 56), J Hudson (capt; J Goode, 66), T Swinson, A Hogg, A Balding (T Tuifua, 40), W Welch (M Wilson, 61).
Referee W Barnes (London).
Tries: Fitzpatrick, Stringer
Cons: Gopperth 2
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