Gallagher Premiership Rugby: Saracens survive tough Newcastle examination to start season with a win
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Nick Tompkins went from zero to hero in the space of 12 minutes as Saracens got their Gallagher Premiership Rugby season off to a hard-fought 32-21 win at Newcastle Falcons.
The replacement had been sin-binned on 64 minutes but just two minutes after returning to the field he went over in the corner to end a Newcastle fightback.
An Owen Farrell penalty added gloss to the score but while some will look at that and see a comfortable victory, it was anything but.
It wasn’t until Alex Lozowski found a gap in the Falcons’ defence on 15 minutes that Saracens finally got a foothold in the game.
They were 6-0 by that point as Toby Flood landed two penalties but they
They had already pulled three points back through the boot of Owen Farrell but the hosts still looked to be on top, constantly hounding the Saracens’ defence and putting an enormous amount of pressure onto the red shirts.
But the break by the Saracens centre suddenly turned the Newcastle back line and although he was stopped, the ball was shipped right to the returning David Strettle.
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And his little pass inside was superbly taken by George on his right hip and he powered over the line.
Lozowski repeated the trick right on the stroke of half-time to give Alex Lewington a debut score, punching through a massive hole and galloping away before handing over to the former London Irish man.
In between the game was punctuated by fury from the home support towards the referee.
They also saw their players continue to give Sarries precious little space and time and force the visitors back.
That was a source of frustration to the Sarries coaching staff who wanted to see their men cut loose and back themselves when an opportunity presented itself.
That would have been the message at the break but the second half was more of a war of attrition.
Saracens lost Strettle early after a nasty-looking connection with his head and the Kingston Park turf and then Will Skelton was forced off with an arm injury.
It looked as if chances would be limited with both defences on top but suddenly Falcons were through, Mark Wilson simply picking up at the back of a ruck on the 22 and waltzing unopposed straight through the middle.
Flood missed the relative straight-forwards extras and five minutes later it proved to be a crucial moment as Lewington bagged try number two out wide.
A clash between Nick Tompkins and Flood saw the Saracens man given a yellow card for leading into the tackle with his forearm but the resulting 10 minutes spell saw Saracens in defiant mood.
They flew into the Falcons with the same ferocity they had been greeted with earlier in the game and seemed to be on their way to seeing out the period.
But a break down the middle from Simon Hammersley saw Alex Goode binned for deliberately stopping play and from the kick to the corner, Wilson was driven over by a black tide.
Flood landed the penalty from out wide and it brought the gap to just one point.
It had Kingston Park rocking and dreaming of a famous comeback.
But then came Tompkins’ redeeming moment, finishing off after George had charged through.
Newcastle Falcons: Mavinga, McGuigan, Mulipola, Green, Witty, Wilson, Welch, Chick, Takulua, Flood, Radwan, Matavesi, Harris, Goneva, Hammersley.
Replacements: Socino, Brocklebank, Payne, Cavubati, Graham, Stuart, Hodgson, Tait
Tries: Wilson 56, 71
Conversions: Flood 71
Penalties: Flood 4, 9, 34
Saracens: Vunipola, George, Koch, Itoje, Skelton, Rhodes, Earl, Wray, Wigglesworth, Farrell, Maitland, Barritt, Lozowski, Strettle, Goode.
Replacements: Tolofua, Barrington, Figallo, Isiekwe, Vailanu, Whiteley, Tompkins, Lewington.
Tries: George 15, Lewington 40, 61, Tompkins 76
Conversions: Farrell 15, 40, 76
Penalties: Farrell 12, 80
HT: Newcastle Falcons 9 Saracens 17
Referee: Ian Tempest (Wirral)