Match Report

Saracens - 37

Newcastle Falcons - 19

Saturday 30th Dec 2023 | KO 15:00 | StoneX Stadium

Newcastle Falcons showed character by the boat-load away at the Gallagher Premiership champions on Saturday, but left London empty-handed as a star-studded Saracens side rallied to claim a hard-earned victory.

The Falcons trailed 22-16 at half-time having got off to a flyer, leading inside the opening minute when fly-half Rory Jennings slotted a simple penalty from in front of the posts as Sarries failed to deal with the kick-off.

Guy Pepper won his side a relieving scrum feed on their own 22 when he turned a tackle into a maul from a period of Saracens pressure, but three red-zone penalties finally told as the champions took the lead on 11 minutes.

Theo Dan was the man to dot down the opening try – the England hooker scoring from a close-range pick-and-go down the right with Manu Vunipola hooking his attempted conversion wide of the uprights.

Only a try-saving tackle from Iwan Stephens prevented a second score when he bundled Rotimi Segun into touch a couple of metres out from the corner post, with the Londoners getting their offloading game going.

But the Falcons were in no mood to roll over and stormed back into the lead when Adam Radwan hacked ahead from inside his own half, collecting the bouncing ball and showing a clean pair of heels to his chasers on his 26th birthday.

Jennings converted from in front of the posts, and his right foot was again put to good use just a minute later when a 47-metre penalty handed the Falcons an eight-point advantage.

Manu Vunipola cut that margin by three when a scrum penalty in front of the posts handed him a simple kick at goal, and the Falcons were denied a second try when the TMO ruled Guy Pepper to have knocked on in the build-up to Iwan Stephens’ breakaway.

Sarries went back up the other end and put themselves two in front on the half-hour when scrum-half Ivan Zyl darted over from a quick tap penalty, with Vunipola adding the conversion from in front.

Jennings had the length but just not quite the accuracy when his 51-metre penalty attempt flew fractionally wide of the posts, and the drama kept coming when the TMO denied Saracens centre Olly Hartley a try down the left after a forward pass in the lead-up.

A third Jennings penalty, this time from the right touchline after a sequence of powerful scrums, put the Falcons a point to the good, but they could not make their single-point lead hold until the interval.

With the very last play of the half Saracens crossed the try-line for the third time of the day, Argentina flanker Juan Martin Gonzalez collecting an offload from a Segun break to put the champions in front.

Manu Vunipola’s conversion gave Saracens a 22-16 half-time lead, and he added another three to that in the early moments of the second half by chipping over a simple penalty.

Jennings responded with another penalty for Newcastle from the left-hand side, and they were being tested to the full as a jackal turnover from Tom Penny relieved a wave of home pressure in the Falcons’ 22.

The decisive moment came on 64 minutes when a maul in the right corner saw referee Jack Makepeace awarding a penalty try, sending Falcons skipper Callum Chick to the sin bin as the champions chalked up their four-try bonus point.

Mako Vunipola made the extra man count with a pick-and-go try in the right corner to give the score-line an appearance which did not necessarily offer a full reflection of the balance of play, but the champions had enough to maintain the 18-point margin at full-time.

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Penny, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Matias Moroni (George Wacokecoke, 60), 12 Matias Orlando, 11 Iwan Stephens, 10 Rory Jennings (Brett Connon,58), 9 Hugh O’Sullivan (James Elliott, 58); 1 Phil Brantingham (Adam Brocklebank, 58), 2 Jamie Blamire (Bryan Byrne, 68), 3 Eduardo Bello (Murray McCallum, 62), 4 Sebastian de Chaves(Tim Cardall, 68), 5 Kiran McDonald, 6 Pedro Rubiolo, 7 Guy Pepper (Ollie Leatherbarrow, 72), 8 Callum Chick (captain).

Scorers – Tries: Adam Radwan. Conversions: Rory Jennings. Penalties: Rory Jennings 4.

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode (Tom Parton,54), 14 Rotimi Segun, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Olly Hartley, 11 Lucio Cinti, 10 Manu Vunipola, 9 Ivan van Zyl (Gareth Simpson, 69); 1 Mako Vunipola (captain, Tom West, 54), 2 Theo Dan (Jamie George, 54), 3 Christian Judge (Ollie Hoskins, 54), 4 Theo McFarland, 5 Hugh Tizard (Nick Isiekwe, 50), 6 Juan Martin Gonzalez (Ben Earl, 40), 7 Toby Knight (Billy Vunipola, 63), 8 Andy Christie.

Scorers – Tries: Theo Dan, Ivan van Zyl, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Penalty try, Mako Vunipola. Conversions: Manu Vunipola 2. Penalties: Manu Vunipola 2.

Referee: Jack Makepeace.