The pregnant pause is over. One of them, at least. Scott Lawson’s wife was due to give birth to their fourth child on Sunday but in the absence of any movement on that front, the Scotland hooker was getting down and dirty at the coal-face, helping Newcastle Falcons to their first home win since their return to the top flight.
It was hard labour all the way for Dean Richards’ side. Indeed, the victory would have been snatched from their grasp as the clock ticked into overtime had Shane Geraghty landed a last minute penalty from 40 metres out. After the wind twice blew the ball from its tee, the London Irish replacement fly-half was given the hurry up by referee Greg Garner and his rushed effort fell short of the posts. “It was pretty unusual,” Brian Smith, Irish’s director of rugby, said. “The Falcons boys put a lot of pressure on the match official at that point but our team would have done the same.”
The suggestion that the home players might have been guilty of “sharp practice” drew a cutting response from Smith’s opposite number. “I think it’s quite fair that they were making sure that there wasn’t sharp practice from London Irish in terms of just running the clock down so we couldn’t re-start and get a chance of either a try or a penalty,” Richards retorted.
The Exiles led from the 11th minute, Sailosi Tagicakibau shipping the ball inside from the left wing via prop David Paice for openside flanker Osifa Treviranus to gallop over. Not that Irish were able to maintain their early momentum.
Indeed, Ian Humphreys failed to nail the conversion attempt and by the half hour mark Newcastle had nosed in front. After an initial wayward attempt, the Falcons’ fly-half Rory Clegg mastered the capricious Kingston Park wind with a couple of penalty successes, the latter opportunity coming courtesy of a jaw-high tackle on Mike Blair by Chris Hala’ufia that might have earned the 6ft 4in, 18st Tongan No 8 more than a mild ticking off.
Still, Irish finished the opening half on top, camping out on the home try-line and drawing a penalty that Humphreys converted to furnish them with an 8-6 lead. And there things stood as the wind got the better of first Humphreys, then Clegg at penalty time in the opening ten minutes of the second-half.
In truth, the quality of the contest had already deteriorated to the fractious side of poor but after Humphreys stretched the gap to five points with a 55th minute penalty success the Falcons started to get a grip. They battered away at the Irish try line until Blair zipped a razor-sharp pass from a ruck and centre Adam Powell cut through the defensive line to score. Phil Godman, on as a replacement for Clegg, added the extras and Newcastle were ahead 13-11. The conversion was to prove the difference, after Geraghty’s failed last gasp penalty.
Whether Irish can expect consolation in the acquisition of James O’Connor remains to be season. The Wallaby bad boy has been linked with the Exiles but Saracens are also understood to be chasing his signature. “He’s got a decision to make,” said Smith. “I imagine in the next 24, 48 hours he’s going to play his cards and everything will be revealed.”
Scorers: Newcastle: Tries: Powell; Cons: Godman. London Irish : Tries: Treviranus; Pens: Humphreys (2).
Newcastle: A Tait; T Catterick, D Barnes, A Powell, R Shortland; R Clegg (P Godman, 55), M BLair, R Vickers, (G Shiells, 55), S Lawson (G McGluigan 55), O Tomaszcyck (K Brookes, 52), C del Fava, F McKenzie (W Welsh 60), D Barrow, M Wilson, A Hogg (capt).
London Irish: T Ojo (G Armitage, 49); A Lewington, F Mulchrone, E Sheridan, S Tagicakibau; I Humphreys (S Geraghty, 72), T O’Leary (capt) (D Allinson, 53); J Yapp, D Paice, L Haluatu (J Hagan, 59), I Gough, B Evans, B Cowan, O Treviranus, C Hala’ufia.
Referee: G Warner (Warwickshire).
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