Newcastle Falcons 23 – 25 Saracens

Saturday 27 December 2014 Written by: Adam

Newcastle Falcons’ fans turned up in their droves to see a Christmas cracker of a game, their side ultimately frustrated by a 25-23 defeat but taking a well-deserved losing bonus point in a six-try thriller.

The drama went down to the very last kick, substitute and Aviva Premiership debutant Chris Harris’ second try giving Juan Pablo Socino a touchline conversion to draw the sides level.

The centre, a star throughout this game, saw his effort blown just wide of the right post, but his side could hold their heads high after an epic contest.

A biggest home crowd in six years was on hand to watch all the drama unfold, 9,192 crammed into Kingston Park and getting full value for their ticket.

The Falcons were certainly showing no Christmas hangover if the opening exchanges were anything to go by, launching into Saracens in a concerted demonstration of power and ambition.

Within seven minutes they had taken the lead, Socino bisecting the uprights with a penalty from the right after a move made in Samoa saw referee Luke Pearce stretching out his arm in their favour.

At the heart of it was Sinoti Sinoti whose characteristically spinning burst had him in behind the defence before getting an offload away to Kane Thompson. Even when the move fizzled out they had the penalty to bank on, Socino making a difficult kick look easy as he stroked it through.

The home fans thought they had more when big Alesana Tuilagi looked to have scored in the left corner from a 60-metre intercept, the Samoan fending Charlie Hodgson to ground the ball but judged to have strayed into touch by the video referee in the process.

Socino’s repeated runs from inside his own 22 maintained the sense the Falcons were giving it a real go, but they trailed on 22 minutes when South African Neil de Kock scored in the left corner.

The South African profited from a blind-side dart after Chris Wyles and Owen Farrell had exchanged passes down the tram-lines to set up a close-range ruck, England man Farrell making easy work of the touchline conversion.

The London club raised the intensity visibly, Ally Hogg winning a crucial turnover in his own 22 to repel them after Thompson had snatched a line-out from a kickable Sracens penalty.

A solid scrum platform gave the Falcons their own fair share of possession, England tight-head Kieran Brookes having been a late addition to the line-up.

It was from a suitably steady scrum that Socino had the crowd on their feet, running the ball out of his 22 and through three attempted tackles to earn the field position from which he eventually slotted his second penalty of the day.

The visitors had the last say of the half when Farrell drilled over a penalty from the right for a 10-6 interval lead, but the Falcons had other ideas in a lightning start to the second period.

Less than four minutes had elapsed when aggressive defence forced an error in the visiting three-quarters, Tom Catterick hacking the bouncing ball ahead. Sinoti gave chase, kicking it to the try-line before diving down for the five-pointer.

Socino chipped over the conversion for a three-point lead, Saracens nosing in front just before the hour mark when a line-out in the right corner saw Nick Tompkins scoring.

The replacement centre spotted a gap at the fringe of a ruck and sped through from a metre out, Farrell’s conversion putting the Londoners four in front before his second penalty extended that by a further three.

Still within bonus point range the home side searched for more, but it was Sarries who were to find the try-line when a maul down the right saw Ashton scoring down the blind-side. Farrell’s drop-goal conversion struck the post after referee Luke Pearce twice intervened to prevent the England man improving the angle.

But the drama was not over yet, the Falcons getting back within the seven-point buffer when Chris Harris’ try rounded off a 70-metre move with multiple offloads, the Cumbrian mopping up the loose ball after Sinoti’s looping pass was spilt by a Saracens defender in his own 22.

With only four minutes remaining in which to find a leveller the Falcons went for broke, Ruki Tipuna’s quick tap penalty and Socino’s pass putting Harris through a hole for his second try.

Socino had the chance to level it with a difficult touchline conversion from the left, but the winter breeze blew it wide as the home side consoled themselves with a well-deserved point.

**Newcastle Falcons**
A Tait, S Sinoti, A Powell, JP Socino, Al Tuilagi (C Harris, 23), T Catterick, M Blair (R Tipuna, 63); R Vickers (E Fry, 60), S Lawson (G McGuigan, 60), K Brookes (S Wilson, 60), C Green, K Thompson (J Furno, 71), M Wilson, W Welch (captain, A Saull, 71), A Hogg.

Falcons scorers – Tries: S Sinoti, C Harris 2. Conversions: JP Socino. Penalties: JP Socino 2.

A Goode, C Ashton, M Bosch, O Farrell, C Wyles (D Strettle, 72), C Hodgson (N Tompkins, 40), N de Kock (R Wigglesworth, 51); M Vunipola (R Barrington, 77), J George, J Johnston (P du Plessis, 51), J Hamilton (M Itoje, 66), A Hargreaves (captain), B Vunipola, J Burger, E Joubert (J Wray, 57).

Saracens scorers – Tries: N de Kock, N Tompkins, C Ashton. Conversions: O Farrell 2. Penalties: O Farrell 2.

Referee: L Pearce. Attendance: 9,192.