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In a historic weekend for rugby union drop goals were to the fore! Johnny Wilkinson’s cup winning drop goal in extra time in the Rugby World Cup final will go down in history. Barry Everitt’s drop goal for London Irish in the 69th minute of the match in Reading was a masterpiece of the art of goal kicking. However, it was Johnny’s capable stand-in at Newcastle, Dave Walder’s drop goal for the Falcons in the 82nd minute that secured them their first away win of the season.
Another feature of the three drop goals was that they were all scored in difficult conditions. It rained in Sydney on Saturday evening, the rain also poured down at Madejski Stadium throughout Sunday afternoon making conditions treacherous. That both teams served up such an interesting and entertaining match is very much to their credit.
Newcastle made their intentions clear from the start. The game was going to be played in the London Irish half in so far as possible. Whatever it took to ensure the ball stayed in Exiles’ territory was going to be attempted.
The lively opening exchanges brought Newcastle an early reward. A well-rehearsed loop around by Dave Walder with Mark Mayerhofler in mid-field created space for Jamie Noon to run through unchallenged for the Falcons’ try in the fifth minute. Walder converted and for the third time this season the home side found themselves behind to an early opposition try. The Falcons’ fly half was to add a penalty goal nine minutes later to give his team a 10-0 lead.
As the half unfolded Irish regrouped and steadily played themselves back into the game, an injury to Phil Murphy in the 20th minute that eventually led to his replacement before half-time disrupted the team’s momentum. The strong visitors’ pack were quick to capitalise and kept Irish pinned in their half. A rare break out led to Irish being awarded a penalty for offside in the 35th minute. Barry Everitt made light of the difficult underfoot conditions in kicking successfully from 45metres to the left of the posts. He was to add another penalty in the 2nd minute of injury time to send his team in for the interval trailing 6-10.
Newcastle kicked off the second half and forced Irish to defend, their only reward was Walder’s second penalty of the match in the 47th minute. Nick Greenstock replaced Nils Mordt to make his home debut for the Exiles who gradually began to impose themselves.
Two Everitt penalties in the 52nd and 60th minute narrowed the score to 12-13. The Falcons responded and their forwards were prominent in driving Irish deep into their own half. Once again the home defence was sound and the attacks were repulsed. In the 69th minute, thanks to another powerful drive by the pack, Barry Everitt found himself with just enough space and time to drop a superb goal off his right foot to give Irish the lead for the first time in the match.
There were only two minutes of normal time remaining when Irish were penalised for collapsing a scrum on their own 22. Walder had no trouble kicking his third penalty goal. As the game moved into injury time the Newcastle forwards seized the initiative and in the 82nd minute stole a lineout, the ball was passed by replacement scrum half James Grindal to Walder. He dropped a goal that his team-mate Johnny would have been proud of, for a final score of 15-19.
Afterwards London Irish head coach, Gary Gold said he was disappointed with the team’s performance “The weather conditions made the game a lottery, we fought back courageously, all credit to Newcastle for keeping going to the final whistle.”
Scorers: London Irish: Drop goal: Everitt (69), Penalty goals: Everitt 4 (35, 42, 52, 60). Newcastle Falcons: Tries: Noon 5. Conversion: Walder. Drop goal: Walder, 82. Penalty goals: Walder 3 (14, 47, 78)
Scoring sequence (London Irish first): 0-7, 0-10, 3-10, 6-10 (half-time) 6-13, 9-13, 12-13, 15-13, 15-16, 15-19.