Premiership: Saracens beat Newcastle Falcons 32-21 with gritty display
|Newcastle (9) 21|
|Tries: Wilson 2 Cons: Flood Pens: Flood 3|
|Saracens (17) 32|
|Tries: George, Lewington 2, Tompkins Cons: Farrell 3 Pens: Farrell 2|
Saracens kept a battling Newcastle side at bay to begin the defence of their Premiership crown with victory.
First-half tries from Jamie George and Alex Lewington in response to three Toby Flood penalties gave Mark McCall's side a 17-9 half-time lead.
Mark Wilson crossed twice, either side of Saracens debutant Lewington's second, to give the Falcons belief.
Yet with Sarries down to 14, Nick Tompkins' score was enough for an extra point, denying the Falcons a bonus.
Newcastle were denied a try in bizarre circumstances during the first period when Vereniki Goneva picked up Owen Farrell's missed drop goal in-goal, and scooted the length of the field.
However, referee Ian Tempest brought play back, claiming the Fiji winger had in fact grounded the ball behind the line.
Regardless of controversies, this was an impressive performance from Newcastle in spite of their 20th straight loss to Sarries, as they showed the same qualities which produced semi-final play-off rugby last season.
Dean Richards' side disrupted rhythm, enjoyed success at the set-piece and showed flashes of their own quality in attack, but in the end the champions' relentless style proved too much when they got the formula right.
George finished off a flowing move to the right when David Strettle dumped back infield, and debutant Lewington finished a break off beautifully when he raced through to score at the end.
Wilson's smart tries, the first the product of sharpness at the ruck and thunderous power to steam straight through it and the second on the back of a short line-out, were both cancelled out almost immediately as Sarries roared forward.
Lewington got his second from a floated Farrell cut-out ball, and Brad Barritt's offload put a try on a plate for Tompkins with time ticking away - cruelly snatching the losing bonus away in the process.
The only sour notes for McCall's visitors were the departures of wing Sean Maitland with a finger injury and his opposite wideman Strettle after a blow to the head.
Newcastle director of rugby Dean Richards told BBC Radio 5 live:
"It was a tough game. I thought both sides were incredibly competitive and I thought at the end their experience on their bench probably told.
"We've got a lot of young boys coming off the bench who are a lot less experienced than they've got, but it's one of those things. We'll get better, those boys will get the experience and we'll improve."
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall:
"We're thrilled to get a win. It's a difficult place to come and play.
"It was a rusty performance by us and there were a lot of areas where we were under par, but we had the odd passage where we were a lot more encouraging.
"To dig ourselves out of the situation we got into shows a lot about the experience and the resolve of the team."
Newcastle: Hammersley; Goneva, Harris, Matavesi, Radwan; Flood, Takulua; Mavinga, McGuigan, Mulipola, Green, Witty, Wilson, Welch (capt), Chick.
Replacements: Socino, Brocklebank, Payne, Cavubati, Graham, Stuart, Hodgson, Tait.
Saracens: Goode; Strettle, Lozowski, Barritt (capt), Maitland; Farrell, Wigglesworth; Vunipola, George, Koch, Itoje, Skelton, Rhodes, Earl, Wray.
Replacements: Tolofua, Barrington, Figallo, Isiekwe, Vailanu, Whiteley, Tompkins, Lewington.
Referee: Ian Tempest.