Northampton Saints 18 Newcastle Falcons 0
The Falcons lost 18-0 at the home of last season’s Premiership runners-up with tries from James Wilson and Luther Burrell doing the damage, but the Kingston Park club can take immense heed from their display in front of a 12,000 plus crowd as they underlined their water tight defensive resilience coupled with a confidence in attack.
Despite failing to register a single point in this most feisty of contests, the Falcons showed more penetration with ball in hand with a series of breaks from Mike Blair and Noah Cato causing problems for the Saints.
Trailing 6-0 at the break courtesy of two Stephen Myler penalties, Newcastle were well and truly in the game but fell short in the second period as a mixture of refereeing decisions and Saints’ cutting edge in attack proved the Falcons undoing.
The Saints could have been in the ascendancy as early as the first minute when full-back Ben Foden raced clear down the near side only for a supreme last ditch tackle from Ryan Shortland denying the England international.
Newcastle had to weather heavy pressure during the early exchanges, but a sterling Trojan-like defensive clinic came to the fore. Jim Mallinder’s side, who welcomed back their England stars, were piling on the pressure and showed their attacking ambition throughout as they turned down five shots at goal in favour of kicks into the corner in the first half.
Midway through the first period the Falcons managed to get a foothold of the game and went close to a try courtesy of Noah Cato. The giant figure of Carlo del Fava crashed through on the nearside before offloading to Cato, who was hauled down just short of the line. Concerted Newcastle pressure ensued with the likes of Phil Godman, Danny Barnes and Adam Powell looking to puncture holes in Saints’ backline.
Dean Richards’ men were playing out of their skins, but on the half-hour mark they fell behind through a Myler penalty after Italian International del Fava was sin-binned for hands in at the ruck.
Mike Blair almost responded in emphatic fashion for the northeasterners, scampering through a gap before darting 20 metres up-field only to be tackled short of Saints’ whitewash. It could have been a different story had the experienced Scot had sufficient support on his shoulder.
Newcastle were made to pay when Myler doubled his tally for the afternoon to make it 6-0, after Falcons director of rugby’s namesake Dean Richards awarded a questionable penalty to the hosts. The Falcons had opportunities to breach Saints’ rear-guard before the break, but were unable to reduce the deficit and the two sides went into the interval with Northampton leading 6-0.
The Falcons came out for the second-half in positive fashion with the impressive Blair leaving a string of Saints defenders in his wake with a clean break within the first five minutes of the restart.
Back came Northampton, and on 51 minutes Foden carved open Newcastle to race into the corner only for Alex Tait and Cato to bundle him into touch with the try line beckoning.
Frustrated and itching to add to their six points, Northampton continued to probe the Falcons’ defensive resistance. Courtney Lawes charged down a box-kick from Blair close to the visitors’ line, and after a few fluttering hearts in the Falcons camp referee Mr Richards halted play, penalising the Saints at the breakdown.
A minute later though, the Falcons eventually buckled under pressure as James Wilson touched down following a TMO decision. The outside centre scythed down the outside to stretch over in the corner despite the attentions of Tait and Shortland. Myler’s conversion dipped under the bar and Northampton were in the ascendancy at 11-0.
Less than ten minutes later the TMO was called for once more as Dom Waldouck looked to have got the ball over the line after a mix-up by the Falcons at the breakdown. The try was given and Myler landed the conversion for an 18-0 advantage.
A flurry of Falcons substitutions took place with 15 minutes remaining, and this seemed to inject fresh impetus to their attack. Replacement scrum-half Warren Fury was looking sharp at the ruck, and he almost provided an assist for Shortland with an inside ball, but the Kiwi flyer knocked on five metres out with the try line firmly in his sights.
This was the final act of what was an encouraging performance by the Falcons and they will go into next weekend’s showdown with Harlequins full of confidence.
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**Northampton Saints:** 15 Ben Foden, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 James Wilson, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Tom Collins, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 1 Alex Waller, 2 Mike Haywood, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 4 Courtney Lawes, 5 Christian Day, 6 Calum Clark, 7 Phil Dowson (c), 8 Sam Dickinson
**Replacements:** 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 GJ Van Veltze, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Alex Day, 22 Glenn Dickson, 23 Dom Waldouck
**Newcastle Falcons:** 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Carlo del Fava, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg
**Replacements:** 16 George McGuigan, 17 Grant Shiells, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Scott MacLeod, 20 Chris York, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 James Fitzpatrick