Leicester Tigers had to come from behind to beat a spirited Newcastle Falcons outfit at Kingston Park in the Aviva Premiership.
The Falcons, who handed a debut to rugby league convert Lee Smith, were impressive throughout the first half and were unfortunate to go into the break 14-13 down. Looking in good shape to mount a fight-back and put a serious dent in the Tigers’ play-off hopes, the quality of Richard Cockerill’s men came to the fore with the visitors able to bring on the likes of Thomas Waldrom and former Falcon Toby Flood to compliment the likes explosive backs Vereniki Goneva and the returning Manusamoa Tuilagi.
Both sides exchanged a penalty apiece in the opening eight minutes of the contest with former Super League star Smith giving his new side the lead on six minutes with a magnificent long-range penalty. Williams restored parity with a simple penalty from bang in front, before Noah Cato ran in a deserved try for the hosts.
Cato’s score was rich reward for Dean Richards’ charges, who had looked to play entertaining rugby from the outset, and the wide passing game was clearly suiting Smith. Smith’s break on the nearside had the visitors on the back-foot, and after a series of drives from the Falcons pack, the ball was spun wide for Cato to score his second try in as many weeks. Phil Godman took over the kicking duties from further infield and he made no mistake from directly in front of goal to put the northeasterners 10-3 ahead.
Ex-Leicester man Kieran Brookes launched himself into a ball and all hit to get the crowd off their seats on the quarter-of-an-hour mark, and after what looked like superb rucking from the home side referee Greg Garner awarded the penalty and Williams slotted home to narrow the gap to 10-6.
Leicester had the chance to go ahead on 25 minutes, but scrum-half Ben Youngs bombed a certain try to let Newcastle off the hook. Jordan Crane’s line break inside Newcastle’s half set-up an attack, and his neat offload to Logovi’i Mulipola was in turn fed to Youngs who knocked on with the whitewash at his mercy. The reigning champions were soon within one point of their Tyneside counterparts when Williams, who had missed with a previous attempt, slotted home a penalty.
A Godman penalty gave the Falcons the advantage at 13-9, but on the stroke of half-time the whole complexion of the contest was about to change when Goneva latched onto his dab over the top to touchdown in the corner. Referee Greg Garner received confirmation from the television match official and the try was awarded. Williams skewed the conversion wide and Newcastle went into the break trailing just 14-13.
Two penalties in the first four minutes of the second half from Tigers No.10 Williams extended the margin to 20-13, and the Falcons had a real fight on their hands. With Newcastle now attacking towards the South Stand, the atmosphere was electric as their side edged their way to the line. Moving the ball from right to left and edging closer to the line in the shape of their heavies, Newcastle finally crossed the line thanks to a pick and go from Scott Lawson. Lawson, on his return from his exploits with Scotland in the Six Nations, scooped the ball up at the base of the ruck to dart around the outside to stretch over to score. Smith’s conversion eased across the face of goal, but ultimately the Falcons were back in the game with Leicester 20-18 in front. However, their comeback was short-lived as first Goneva crashed over for his brace, and then replacement back-row Waldrom coasted through to touchdown during a frantic six minute spell. Both tries were converted and the men from Welford Road were in the ascendancy at 34-18.
Then, in the last minute, Leicester secured the bonus-point win by virtue of flanker Pablo Matera with Flood adding the extras for a 41-18 victory, a result that somewhat flattered them.
Tait, Cato, Tiesi, Powell, Smith, Godman, Blair, Vickers, Lawson, Brookes, MacLeod, McKenzie, Welch, Saull, Wilson
Replacements McGuigan, Strain, Tomaszczyk, Tomes, York, Fury, Hodgson, Barnes
Tait, Scully, Tuilagi, Bowden, Goneva, Williams, Youngs, Ayerza, Youngs, Mulipola, Deacon, Slater, Gibson, Matera, Crane
Replacements Briggs, Stankovich, Balmain, De Chaves, Waldrom, Mele, Flood, Thompstone
referee: Greg Garner