This was another desperate afternoon for Newcastle who have now lost all eight of their Premiership matches this season and already find themselves cut adrift at the foot of the table. Leicester scored seven tries – three of them for the flanker Tommy Reffell – and continue their upward trajectory that began with the return of their internationals but for the Falcons, it is shaping up to be a bleak winter.
Newcastle may not want for endeavour, nor talented youngsters, but there is a desperate absence of senior quality in their ranks and they have not won in the league since March. Indeed, they have won only twice in 2023 and the head coach, Alex Codling, has called on the club’s hierarchy to “make decisions” about their longer-term strategy. The Falcons have cut their cloth accordingly in a competition plagued by financial troubles but their decision to spend considerably less than the salary cap permits was horribly exposed here against a side packed full of internationals.
“Newcastle have got decisions to make going forward around the strategy because there are some really talented youngsters but in the short term it makes life difficult,” said Codling. “That’s the bare facts of it. I can’t dress it up any other way but I can’t criticise the players.
“I just work week to week at the moment, I work 100 hours a week. This is a huge challenge, my job is to now try and lift the spirits up again. As painful as it is in the short term, for the long term of the club there are some really talented youngsters. The challenge we have is that we don’t have the experience around them to drop them in. You dust yourself down and go again. It’s like a boxer, there are only so many punches you can take but you keep taking them and hopefully at some point you land a blow.
“I’m paid to coach, I respect the club massively, they’ve had to make tough decisions around finances but ultimately it becomes really tough when every week you’re coming up against fully stacked teams. I’m proud of the players, every week they give me everything they’ve got. At no point will I ever criticise the players around their spirit and togetherness.”
The spirit that Codling refers to was no more on show than in the opening 10 minutes here, pinning an initially sluggish Leicester side back in their own 22 for the most part and had the first score when Brett Connon decided to kick at goal after Newcastle were awarded a third penalty in quick succession. To sum up the Falcons’ plight, however, they were twice marched back 10 metres soon after the restart, Handré Pollard kicked to the corner and from the ensuing lineout, Reffell was over for his first try.
From there, with Reffell and co getting the upper hand at the breakdown, it was all too simple for Leicester, who displayed a cutting edge that eluded them for the early part of the season and went in at the interval with a bonus point already secured. Matt Scott was next over, taking a flat pass from Ben Youngs before stepping over and Reffell had his second soon after in the left corner. Jasper Wiese dotted down from close range to give Leicester a 26-3 lead.
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Thirteen minutes into the second half and Reffell had his hat-trick, finishing off another driving maul in the right-hand corner – Leicester playing to their strengths again and all too easily exposing Newcastle’s deficiencies. The Falcons’ afternoon got worse when the blindside flanker Pedro Rubiolo was shown a yellow card for a high tackle on Wiese and with Newcastle down to 14, Ollie Hassell-Collins was rewarded for his patience on the left wing with a simple finish.
Mike Brown rounded off an impressive afternoon with the seventh try to ensure Leicester head for Europe on the back of three straight wins having managed just one in their opening five matches. They are set to be bolstered too by the return of Anthony Watson who missed the World Cup with a calf injury. He was on a short-term Rugby Football Union contract over the summer but has re-signed with the Tigers and the head coach, Dan McKellar, is expected to welcome him back into the side in the European double header.
“Anthony should be available for selection next week,” said McKellar. “A great player, international, British and Irish Lion – outstanding for the Tigers last season. He’s in a position where he’s ready to come back and perform – which is exciting.”