Leicester are back. Not at their very best just yet, but they have now gone five matches without losing since Dean Richards's departure, and though they stared defeat in the face during a tremendous Newcastle onslaught in the final minutes of a thunderous match, somehow the Tigers escaped.
It was that sort of game, for Newcastle could just have easily lost, but thoroughly deserved to draw, especially as their assault on the Tigers' line in the last play of the game might have secured victory had Mark Mayerhofler clung on to Hugh Vyvyan's pass out of the tackle.
"The boys are bit disappointed," said Leicester's acting head coach, John Wells. "We should have put the game away in the middle of the second half. But we're improving and still have plenty of catching up to do."
The afternoon could hardly have started in a more downbeat fashion for Newcastle. Jamie Noon, making a record 47th consecutive Premiership appearance, was flattened as he attempted to tackle Henry Tuilagi. After prolonged treatment, Noon was removed from the action for a back-line reshuffle. Before the first quarter was done, Joe Shaw was another injury victim, to be replaced by Daryl Lilley. Coming so early in the game, Newcastle were clearly unsettled by all these comings and goings and it took them until deep into first-half stoppage time before they managed a try.
Before then, David Walder and Andy Goode had exchanged penalties and Jaco van der Westhuyzen had crossed for a simple try, when Mayerhofler's clearance was charged down by the South African. When Stephenson's turn came, Walder looped around Mayerhofler and flung a long cut-out pass to Taione, who fed the winger for a well-worked touchdown. With Goode and Walder claiming their second penalties, the sides turned round with Leicester ahead by 13-11.
The second half - or most of it - belonged to the Tigers, despite Tom May's try nosing the Falcons back in front with a try created by Vyvyan. With Van der Westhuyzen and Neil Back touching down, Leicester were seven points to the good and looking so. With a minute of normal time remaining, Jon Dunbar accepted Daryl Lilley's reverse pass for Newcastle's third try, which Walder converted into the wind, to tie the scores.
Newcastle: Tries Stephenson, May, Dunbar. Cons: Walder 2. Pens: Walder 2. Leicester: Tries: Van der Westhuyzen 2, Back Cons: Goode 2. Pens: Goode 2.
Newcastle: J Shaw (D Lilley 18); T May, J Noon (E Taione 1), M Mayerhofler, M Stephenson; D Walder, H Charlton (J Grindal 76); I Peel (M Ward 36), N Makin (M Thompson 53), M Hurter (Peel 60), G Archer (C Hamilton 76), S Grimes, J Dunbar, W Britz, H Vyvyan (capt).
Leicester: A Goode; G Murphy, G Gelderbloom, D Gibson, J Holtby (A Healey 54); J van der Westhuyzen, H Ellis (A Healey 32-42); G Rowntree (D Morris 52), D West (J Richards 39), J White, M Johnson (capt), L Deacon (B Kay 52), M Corry, N Back, H Tuilagi (W Johnson 61).
Referee: S Davey (London).
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