Match Report

Saracens - 0

Newcastle Falcons - 11

Saturday 24th Dec 2016

Newcastle trailed 13-6 at the midway stage after an opening half in which they played a full part, taking the lead as early as four minutes in when Mark Wilson’s aggressive defence helped win a penalty 25 metres out in front.

Joel Hodgson duly slotted it, the hosts hitting straight back from the restart when an obstruction handed Owen Farrell a similarly straightforward penalty.

Unperturbed, Newcastle maintained their full-steam start with a string of forward charges right into the heart of the much-vaunted Saracens pack, making yards with every carry and forcing the European champions into conceding a string of close-range penalties.

Having tried and failed to turn them into a five-pointer with repeated drives and phases, Hodgson eventually called for the kicking tee on 11 minutes to assume a deserved 6-3 lead.

Alex Tait’s cool head at the back saw Newcastle holding their own in the traditional kick-tennis battle, Vereniki Goneva and Marcus Watson offering more of a running threat for a Falcons side who were throwing the kitchen sink at Saracens despite their underdog status.

It was therefore against the run of play when the home side finally took the lead, a line-out in the left corner seeing the ball spun inside for Marcelo Bosch to scythe through unopposed.

Farrell converted, the England man extending his side’s half-time lead to seven points via a 30-metre penalty after Goneva had ruffled their feathers with an 80-metre break down the right.

The half-time interval saw no let-up in Newcastle’s intensity as Callum Chick put in a string of dominant hits, Watson and Evan Olmstead among the willing runners as the men in orange kept the ball in hand.

A rampaging driving maul went all the way from the 22 to two metres out with Mark Wilson at the back, Saracens winning a relieving turnover after a prolonged spell of defensive duty.

The introduction of Opeti Fonua did nothing to diminish Newcastle’s ball-carrying threat as they continued to take the game to Saracens, the Tongan combining with countryman Sonatane Takulua for a blind-side break from the scrum base in an increasingly stop-start game.

The Falcons fell agonisingly outside of bonus point range via Farrell’s 68th minute penalty on the back of scrum pressure and, when Chris Ashton grounded from a long, looping pass to the right corner, the result was beyond doubt.

**Newcastle Falcons:** 15 Alex Tait, 14 Marcus Watson (Dominic Waldouck, 51), 13 Fred Burdon, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Vereniki Goneva (Craig Willis, 78), 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Sonatane Takulua (Sam Egerton, 78); 1 Rob Vickers (Ben Harris, 78), 2 Scott Lawson (Ben Sowrey, 55), 3 Jon Welsh (Paddy Ryan, 78), 4 Calum Green, 5 Evan Olmstead (Will Witty, 47), 6 Callum Chick (Opeti Fonua, 45), 7 Mark Wilson (captain), 8 Ally Hogg.

**Falcons scorers –** Penalties: Joel Hodgson 2.

**Saracens:** 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Nathan Earle (Chris Ashton, 50), 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Nick Tompkins (Alex Lozowski, 71), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Ben Spencer (Richard Wigglesworth, 58); 1 Richard Barrington (Titi Lamositele, 63), 2 Jamie George (Schalk Brits, 50), 3 Vincent Koch (Juan Figallo, 50), 4 Will Skelton (Schalk Burger, 51), 5 George Kruis, 6 Maro Itoje, 7 Michael Rhodes (Joel Conlon, 73), 8 Jackson Wray.

**Saracens scorers –** Tries: Marcelo Bosch, Chris Ashton. Conversions: Owen Farrell. Penalties: Owen Farrell 3.

**Referee:** Matthew Carley.