• Newcastle 8-21 Edinburgh
• Edinburgh complete double over Falcons
Much has rightly been made of Newcastle’s rise under Dean Richards but this match underlined the excellent work being done by another former Leicester legend as Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh claimed a famous and deserved victory.
Both men enjoyed glittering careers during their spells at Welford Road and both ended up being sacked. While Richards went on to Harlequins and pitched up at Newcastle in 2012 after a three-year ban from rugby for his part in the Bloodgate scandal, Cockerill has similarly been forced to reinvent himself elsewhere.
Ditched by Leicester almost two years ago, the man who guided the Tigers to three Premiership titles is performing a sterling job in the Scottish capital and this was some way to mark his 48th birthday. More significantly it maintained Edinburgh’s position at the Pool Five summit and hoisted them seven points above Newcastle, who slipped to third after Montpellier’s thumping home win over Toulon.
“This puts us in a great position to qualify now,” Cockerill, the head coach, said after his men beat Newcastle for the second time in 10 days. “We put pressure on ourselves to come here and win and to do that in Europe is new territory for us. We’ve got a good forward pack and in the second half we took the game by the scruff of the neck. I thought we deserved to win and then it was about making sure Newcastle got nothing out of the game as well.”
Few can forget Cockerill’s talismanic influence as a player, intimidating and inspiring in equal measure. He has transmitted that same desire to his Edinburgh side. This performance, Edinburgh’s first away win in eight months, was characterised by the kind of belligerence that typified Cockerill’s career as 15 unanswered second-half points carried the visitors home.
Newcastle recalled a number of key men who missed last weekend’s defeat at Murrayfield and claimed an exhilarating opening try through their hard-hitting wing, Sinoti Sinoti, in the 19th minute.
After a high bomb was expertly fielded by Simon Hammersley, Sinoti’s pass sent Niki Goneva on a searing break down the left flank. Goneva’s neat inside pass found Sinoti, who had enough pace to score the only try of a first half which ended 8-6 in Newcastle’s favour but the lead could have been greater after two further line breaks came to nothing.
After the interval Edinburgh took control – not suddenly but systematically as three minutes into the second half the scrum-half, Henry Pyrgos, chipped the ball behind the Newcastle defence. The ball bounced wickedly on Kingston Park’s artificial playing surface, falling kindly for James Johnstone, the onrushing centre, to touch down under the posts.
Suddenly Edinburgh overflowed with self-belief and began to dominate field position, forcing the Falcons back towards their own line. Chances began to proliferate for the visitors as Newcastle struggled for any kind of attacking rhythm until lock Tevita Cavubatiwas denied in the left corner in the 69th minute.
Play was switched to the right flank to Sinoti, who was similarly kept at bay by more obstinate Edinburgh defending.In the 74th minute the game was finally up for the Falcons as the wing Duhan van der Merwe backed himself to beat the Newcastle defence in the left corner for a fine individual score.
“It’s good for Scottish rugby that Edinburgh will go to Toulon on top of the group, Cockerill added. “We’ll try and win there but, if we don’t, then we will host Montpellier at Murrayfield still with a chance of finishing first or second. We’ve earned the right to be here and we’re giving it a bash. We don’t want to be the plucky losers and sometimes we’ve had that tag.
“I’m enjoying the challenge and Scotland are playing exceptionally well as a national team, so why shouldn’t we perform on the club stage? That’s my job.”
For Newcastle, qualification appears an uphill task and Richards knows where his priorities lie with the Falcons currently bottom of the Premiership. Newcastle’s director of rugby lost Johnny Williams, Nemani Nagusa and Glen Young to first-half injuries.