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Newcastle Falcons 52 London Irish 27
Newcastle have only registered one point in the league since early February and have made something of a habit of losing games they should have won, with last week's defeat at Kingsholm a classic of the genre.
But against a London Irish side which has developed an unfortunate recent track-record of sustaining forty-something defeats on the road, the Falcons put in their best performance of the season, going into half time trailing by a point before scoring five second-half tries to bring up a half-century and an emphatic bonus-point win.
In the process, Dean Richards' men played some truly sublime rugby, offloading like a sevens side and playing with an unexpected verve and ambition. Their back row in general and Callum Chick, in particular, were superb, but significant cameos from second row Sean Robinson, hooker George McGuigan, scrum-half Louis Schreuder and full-back Tom Penny. They elevated this Falcons performance against a London Irish side which lost its way after the interval.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Richards, Falcons' Director of Rugby. “We've scored three tries on numerous occasions but not backed it up. I'm just delighted we carried on and showed some real ambition. We were relentless.”
Yet it was London Irish, who have also struggled for consistency this season, that started like a runaway train, steaming into Newcastle from the kick off and dominating possession. The Exiles took a deserved early lead when Paddy Jackson cut back against the grain and young fullback Tom Parton muscled over after using wing Ollie Hassell-Collins as a decoy runner.
Newcastle were never less than ferociously competitive, and especially at the breakdown where Robinson and Tom Penny so often frustrated Irish's attempts to produce quick ball. Their aggression in contact and defensive organisation ground down Irish and the Falcons gradually dragged themselves back into the game.
Irish were on the front foot for most of the first half, dominating possession and with 50 percent more carries than their hosts, yet once again struggled to turn possession into points. The same was not true of Falcons and, on the occasions when they got into the red zone, they made it pay.
Two tries in quick succession midway through the first half turned a five-point deficit into a nine-point Newcastle lead as first McGuigan barrelled over after a quick tap penalty by Schreuder was taken on by stand-off Brett Connon, and then Robinson was driven over from a lineout after an excellent set-move.
But Newcastle's determination to contest every breakdown also had its downside. Five minutes before the break Jackson was able to kick a penalty after Robinson went off his feet at a ruck, and then when Penny committed the same offence moments before half-time Jackson turned down the points and instead kicked to the corner.
When Irish's lineout drive stalled Jackson put through a glorious crossfield grubber which stood on its end for Ben Loader, the wing giving the visitors a one-point half-time lead.
What had been an open game before the break became an after-you-Claude feast of running rugby after the restart, with Newcastle scoring five tries, of which two were absolute gems featuring some astonishing offloading. One of them, a sublime try from Schreuder following a lovely running line from Chick and then a deft offload from the No 8, began what quickly turned into a rout.
London Irish were, however, architects of their own downfall. They twice missed penalty kicks to touch and when Curtis Rona got himself yellow-carded for a high tackle on Mattias Orlando it supercharged the Falcons.
McGuigan was the first to take advantage, the hooker scooting round the blindside from a lineout drive. Ben Stephenson then added another when the ball was moved wide and the wing bumped off Parton to go over.
London Irish briefly rallied with soft tries against the run of play from Phil Cokanasiga and Motu Matu'u but the direction of travel was by now unstoppable. Falcons stand-off Connon, who didn't miss a kick all afternoon, added another penalty and as the match entered its final 10 minutes Newcastle's assault on the visitors' line stepped up a gear.
Two final tries rounded off a magnificent second-half performance, Penny capping an impressive display with a try after a bonanza of offloading from Newcastle's forwards, with Robinson grabbing a second moments before the final whistle.
London Irish coach Declan Kidney said afterwards that his side got what they deserved and it was difficult to argue with him. The same, however, was equally true of Newcastle.
Newcastle Falcons: T Penny (J Hodgson, 72); A Radwan, M Orlando (G Wacokecoke, 55), L Burrell, B Stevenson; B Connon, L Schreuder (S Stuart, 50); T Davison (K Cooper, 55), G McGuigan (Jamie Blamire, 74), L Mulipola (M Tampin, 55), G Peterson (P van der Walt, 40), S Robinson, W Welch (C Fearns, 60), M Wilson (captain), C Chick.
London Irish: T Parton (J Stokes, 50); B Loader, C Rona, P Cokanasiga, O Hassell-Collins; P Jackson, N Phipps (N Groom, 65); W Goodrick-Clarke (M Matu'u, 55), A Creevy (F Gigena, 55), L Chawatama (O Hoskins, 55), G Nott (C Munga, 75), R Simmons, M Rogerson (captain), B Cowan (B Donnell, 64), A Tuisue.
Referee: Jack Makepeace
Scorers: try Parton 0-5; try McGuigan 5-5; con Connon 7-5; try Robinson 12-5; con Connon 14-5; pen Jackson 14-8; try Loader 14-13; con Jackson 14-15; try Schreuder 19-15; con Connon 21-15; try McGuigan 26-15; con Connon 28-15; try Stephenson 33-15; con Connon 35-15; try Cokanasiga 35 20; con Jackson 35-22; pen Connon 38-22; try Matu'u 38-27; try Penny 43-27; con Connon 45-27; try Robinson 50-27; con Connon 52-27.