Sonatane Takulua on the charge

Falcons 27 Saracens 35

Sunday 5 March 2017

Newcastle Falcons lost at home in the Aviva Premiership for the first time in 2017 as champions Saracens put in an efficient away showing.

Dean Richards’ men had got themselves off to the ideal start, winning a scrum penalty on Saracens’ 22 in the opening two minutes which was duly slotted from wide right by Sonatane Takulua.

Alex Lozowski drew Saracens level on five minutes from more straightforward range as the Falcons were penalised for an infringement at a ruck on their own 22, and the champions went five ahead quickly after.

It was a try made by the Vunipolas – fit-again England No 8 Billy floating a long midfield pass to brother Mako, who put in a perfectly-weighted kick to the right corner. The Falcons managed to scramble the ball back near their own line, but when Takulua attempted to find his man for the clearance kick it was Saracens flanker Michael Rhodes who collected for an interception try.

Takulua went some way to atoning by drilling over a penalty virtually straight from the restart, Saracens keeping Newcastle pegged back via the controlling boot of scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth.

Sinoti Sinoti’s eager ruck work delivered a relieving penalty near his side’s own try-line as they absorbed waves of Saracens attack, Evan Olmstead rising high at the resulting line-out as they enjoyed a rare period of possession in the opposition half.

The temporary departure of captain Brad Barritt forced a back-line reshuffle for the visitors as Nathan Earle joined the fray on the wing – Sean Maitland dropping to full-back with Duncan Taylor moved to the centres. Newcastle immediately capitalised on the back-field confusion as Vereniki Goneva put in a well-judged kick to the right corner, the resulting line-out delivering a penalty in kickable range down the right.

Turning down the shot at goal they instead opted for an attacking line-out, Newcastle losing the ball in contact but almost finding a try on the counter-attack when Takulua supported Juan Pablo Socino’s run before knocking on in the act of scoring.

Chris Ashton did similar for Saracens as the match went past the quarter mark, the visitors following up his knock-on with an overthrown line-out which was collected and returned with interest by the effervescent Socino.

Hodgson applied a measure of control with a clever kick to the left corner as Newcastle began to enjoy a greater share of territory and possession, but Sarries extended the deficit to five on the half-hour mark when Lozowski sent over his second penalty from 30 metres out in front.

The fly-half added a try and a conversion to his personal haul when he chased down a kick to score between the posts, Saracens spotting a gap in the home defence for a score which extended their half-time advantage to 18-6 despite Sinoti almost creating a try for Alex Tait with some typically nimble footwork.

As they had done a fortnight earlier against Northampton, the Falcons emerged pumped-up for the second half, Evan Olmstead, Takulua and Kyle Cooper all making line-breaks as they kept the ball in hand from deep.

Saracens’ defensive line-speed and ferocious counter-rucking meant Newcastle having commit numbers to the breakdown as they searched for a breakthrough, but the Londoners were more clinical in attack and had a third try to their name on 52 minutes when Ashton grounded in the right corner from quick hands.

The Falcons finally found their way over the try-line on 58 minutes when a period of patient phases ended with Socino’s linebreak and offload creating a touchdown for midfield partner Dominic Waldouck, who cut a super inside line to score amid a heap of bodies.

Takulua’s conversion cut the margin to 10 points, but Sarries had the four-try bonus point and the result all wrapped up when Lozowski poached an interception try on 65 minutes to remove all doubt about the outcome.

Nathan Earle added their fifth try when a midfield line-break was worked right on 71 minutes, Vereniki Goneva finding a consolation try as the Fijian picked and went through the middle of a ruck.

David Wilson followed it up with a try from a solid support line, but the bonus points eluded them with just 90 seconds left on the clock.

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Dominic Waldouck (Chris Harris, 65), 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson (Mike Delany, 68), 9 Sonatane Takulua (Sam Egerton, 75); 1 Rob Vickers (Ben Harris, 68), 2 Kyle Cooper (Scott Lawson, 53), 3 Jon Welsh (David Wilson, 75), 4 Calum Green, 5 Evan Olmstead (Callum Chick, 69), 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (captain), 8 Nili Latu (Ally Hogg, 53).

Falcons scorers - Tries: Dominic Waldouck, Vereniki Goneva, David Wilson. Conversions: Sonatane Takulua, Mike Delany 2. Penalties: Sonatane Takulua 2.

Saracens: 15 Duncan Taylor (Nathan Earle, 28), 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (captain), 11 Sean Maitland (Max Malins, 73), 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Richard Wigglesworth (Ben Spencer, 58); 1 Mako Vunipola (Richard Barrington, 69), 2 Schalk Brits, 3 Juan Figallo (Petrus Du Plessis, 69), 4 Michael Rhodes, 5 Jim Hamilton, 6 Jackson Wray, 7 Joel Conlon (Kelly Brown, 63), 8 Billy Vunipola (Mark Flanagan, 72).

Saracens scorers - Tries: Michael Rhodes, Alex Lozowski 2, Chris Ashton, Nathan Earle. Conversions: Alex Lozowski 2. Penalties: Alex Lozowski 2.

Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys. Attendance: 7,899.

Newcastle Falcons 27

Tries
Waldouck 57
Goneva 76
Wilson 79

Conversions
Takulua 58
Delany 76,79

Penalties
Takulua 2,10

Saracens 35

Tries
Rhodes 7
Lozowski 36,65
Ashton 52
Earle 71

Conversions
Lozowski 37,65

Penalties
Lozowski 5,30

Newcastle Falcons

Tait, Goneva, Waldouck, Socino, Sinoti, Hodgson, Takulua, Vickers, Cooper, Welsh, Green, Olmstead, Wilson, Welch, Latu

Replacements Lawson, Harris, Wilson, Hogg, Chick, Egerton, Delany, Harris

Saracens

Taylor, Ashton, Bosch, Barritt, Maitland, Lozowski, Wigglesworth, Vunipola, Brits, Figallo, Rhodes, Hamilton, Wray, Conlon, Vunipola

Replacements Saunders, Lamositele, Du Plessis, Flanagan, Brown, Spencer, Malins, Earle

referee: Craig Maxwell-keys

assistant: Roger Baileff

assistant: Andrew Pearce

TMO: Stuart Terheege

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