28 December 2004
Newcastle Falcons director of rugby Rob Andrew was just happy to walk away from Headingley on Sunday with four points in the bag, despite his side not scoring any tries in their 15-11 win over Leeds Tykes.
Four penalties and a drop goal were enough in the end to secure victory, with Andrew saying afterwards: "We're playing with a bit of confidence at the moment and eeking out the wins away from home, which is always difficult to do. We've played three away games in a row, won two and should have won three, which shows how much progress we're making.
"Coming away with a win on the road in the Premiership is a very difficult thing to do, and Leeds aren't a bad side, so we knew they wouldn't make it easy.
"It's a really good sign that we're now winning these tight games, and Leeds were really tough today. We couldn't quite break them down, and we got within a whisker on about half a dozen occasions, but the last pass or the last breakdown just wasn't going in our favour.
"There were a lot of penalties given away, which is why we kicked so many points, and how somebody didn't get sin-binned is beyond me, particularly near the end when one of their guys came into a ruck and just kicked our ball away inside the Leeds 22 after a warning. That just wasn't on, and that's why the game was like it was, but I'm very pleased just to come away with the points and move on."
Early injuries to Matt Burke and Epi Taione saw Joe Shaw and Jonny Wilkinson enter the fray before the 20-minute mark, forcing a mass positional reshuffle, but Andrew hailed the attitude of his players in just getting on with the job in hand.
"We don't know how bad they are but Matt hurt his knee and Epi did something to his hamstring, and it was a big test for us to adapt quickly. It didn't affect us massively, and full credit to the players for that.
"We had to shuffle the whole back line, and that's why Hall Charlton didn't get on, as we needed to keep him on the bench as cover in case of any further injuries in the backs," he said.
"It's pretty rare in rugby to lose two outside backs injured in a game, and our lads showed what great adaptability they have in switching positions so well."
Wilkinson entered the fray and contributed two penalties as well as a drop goal, with Andrew stating: "It's been ideal for Jonny. He got a bit more today than we thought he would, because of the injury situation in the backs, and we'll see what the score is this weeks with the injuries we have and the selection issues which arise as a result, so we'll make that decision when we name the team on Thursday for Sunday's game at home to Sale.
"He was ready to start today, there's no doubt about that, but it's just been the right thing to do for him, the club and for Dave Walder to have him on the bench for these last three games.
"Dave has played very well for us, and when we're just getting Jonny ready he will go off and play for England. That's when we say to Dave �go and win games for us', and it's not fair to ask him to do that if he hasn't been playing. It's very important that Dave gets game time as well as Jonny, and we're very happy with both of them.
"I keep labouring the point, but you're not successful in the modern club game with only 15 players, and both Dave and Jonny are hugely important to us, as are the players in all the other positions equally. Not only do you see that from match to match, but you even see it in the space of today's game, where we had so many injuries in the backs. If you haven't got the players to come in, then you're going to struggle, so it's important that they both get time out on the field."
In the forwards, Andrew praised his pack for fronting up against an aggressive Tykes eight, saying: "I thought we did well up front, and it was a tough battle.
"Leeds have got a big set of forwards, and we just couldn't move them around sufficiently. We broke them eventually at Kingston Park, and I think our pitch helped us, where as the Headingley pitch today was a very poor surface.
"It was just sand, and you couldn't move properly enough on it to get any pace into the game. It was heavy going after the rugby league team played on it yesterday, and I was disappointed with it to be honest because it allowed Leeds to stay with us from a pace point of view.
"Half a dozen times we were one pass away from scoring a try, but we just couldn't get free, which is credit to Leeds because they're a good team. I'm sick of complimenting other teams, but you have to earn everything in this league the hard way, fighting for every inch of territory, and that's what we've done today.
"You never win comfortably away from home, and although it was close at the end, I never felt unduly concerned by the fact that there wasn't a big gap in the score line, as I felt we had enough to win it."
South African prop Marius Hurter played a big part in the forward effort in what was his last game for the club after more than six years of distinguished service, as he was presented with a gift of thanks from the Supporters' Club on the field after the final whistle.
"It's a big blow to lose him, but everyone has to move on in life, and it's Marius's turn to do that," said Andrwe.
"We can't praise him highly enough for his contribution and professionalism during his stay, as well as his sense of humour, and the well-deserved ovation he got from the supporters this afternoon was very emotional for him."
With a record crowd of 14,293 coming through the Headingley turnstiles, Andrew is also hoping for a bumper crowd at Kingston Park for Sunday's game against Sale Sharks, with early signs indicating that the remaining standing tickets will all be sold.
"We seem to be filling everyone else's grounds wherever we go around the country, so hopefully we can get a capacity crowd at home this weekend.
"The Newcastle fans this year have been brilliant with us, travelling in bigger numbers, and the Kingston Park crowds have been going up a lot too. There aren't many tickets left for the Sale match, and hopefully we can use that support to put in a big performance in front of our own supporters."
And as for his side's ambitions in the new year, he added: "We've never been looking down the table, I can assure you, and the aim is to get into the top three and make the play-offs at the end of the season.
"The second half of the campaign started today and we're one from one, so we'll take that and hopefully build from it."
Tickets for Sunday's game are available by calling 0871 226 60 60, or visiting the Kingston Park ticket office during office hours.