Newcastle director of rugby John Fletcher praised the character of his Newcastle troops on Sunday as they recorded a nail-biting 16-14 Guinness Premiership win over Saracens, but lamented his side's propensity to turn ball over after half-time.With a late Jonny Wilkinson penalty snatching four Premiership points, Fletcher said afterwards: “I wouldn’t say it was an ugly win, I thought there was a lot of endeavour in the first half but then we just started conceding stupid turnovers for some reason after the break.
“Our first-half performance was good and I thought deserved another try, but after half-time we just started to get edgy and made lots of unforced errors which gave Saracens a bit of momentum.
“They played a lot of territory and we found it tough to get out of our own half, and in the end we were very pleased to win against a Saracens side which has been doing well this season.”
Rueing the turnovers which almost cost his side victory, he said: “We turned the ball over six times in the first 12 minutes after half-time, which is obviously totally unacceptable.
“We know that if we keep the ball and play at our level of pace and intensity, as we did for the first 40, then we can cause problems for defences, but in the second half we just shot ourselves in the foot by giving the ball away almost every time we had it.
“Our set piece was good, we won most of our line outs and the scrum was solid. We tried to get in to our phase play but just kept coughing the ball up. Having said that, I was pleased with the character shown by the team even when things weren’t going our way in the second half.”
Taking the game as a whole, he added: “I think that over the course of 80 minutes we were marginally the better side and deserved the victory, so I’m delighted that we got the result in the end.”
With Wilkinson stepping up to take on the winning kick, Fletcher said: “I have absolute 100 per cent faith in Jonny in those sort of situations, and if there’s one player in world rugby you want taking a pressure kick like that, it’s him.
“Okay it may have needed some help from the post, but I thought Jonny was outstanding all day today. His work rate was sensational, and there isn’t anyone on the planet who puts as much effort in as him.
“When I see people having a pop at him in the media I just think they need to take a closer look, because the guy is a genius. When you look at the video of games he plays in, his number of involvements is astounding, and he was quality again this afternoon.”
With fellow England man Jamie Noon pulled out of the side with a tight hamstring, Fletcher explained: “He will be absolutely fine for next weekend, and he was very close to playing for us today but he just wasn’t quite ready.
“He hasn’t trained all week because he had tightness in his hamstring, and we gave him a fitness test two hours before the game. We just felt it wasn’t worth risking, he was about 90-odd per cent fit, but moving Mathew Tait to centre and Tom May to fullback doesn’t really weaken the side so we just decided to take that option in the circumstances.”
Having made his own playing comeback this weekend, scoring two tries for Tynedale Veterans in their Northumberland Second Teams Cup quarter-final away to Rockliff, Fletcher joked: “It was jug avoidance of the highest order!
“I’m actually nursing some pretty sore ribs today, it must an age thing, but it was good fun to be out there again.”