It's odd to have a 'relegation scrap' between two teams where one of the participants isn't really in danger of the drop – even if they lose. But that was the situation that we had at Kingston Park on Sunday afternoon, as the two pre-season favourites for a return to the Championship faced off in a 'relegation decider'. Well, that was only half true. The Falcons in fact were two spots above the drop zone, in 10th place, going into the weekend and the Exiles, bottom by 15 points, had not only failed to win all season but had also shipped an average of around 40 points a game. For London Welsh, the word 'hopeless' was something of an understatement.But Welsh, to their credit, defied the predictions, the table standings and all the aspects which fade into irrelevance once a game starts, looking by far the more threatening in the opening exchanges. The could even have taken the lead but they squandered the early chance, after big Tongan number eight Opeti Fonua had broken from the base of the scrum. His offload to Peter Browne should have led to a score, but the flanker could not hold the pass.
It proved a costly miss, with Newcastle stepping up the pace to score those three tries in seven minutes to lead 19-0, and just like that the game, and Welsh's fate, was sealed. Firstly, the excellent Tom Catterick, a real find this year, nearly cut through on the 22 to set up a series of forward drives and the now-Saints-bound-Kieran Brookes was somehow stopped right on the try line. Ally Hogg picking up from the base of the ensuing scrum and flicked the ball out to ball out to the try-machine Sinoti Sinoti, who stepped inside Elliot Kear and outside Paul Rowley to score.Newcastle were quickly back on the attack when Welsh failed to clear a long kick and then conceded a penalty. The Falcons could smell blood and ignored the prospect of three points, kicking to touch instead, and from the lineout prop Rob Vickers drove over for a try converted by Catterick.
The third try followed soon after when the electric Sinoti scorched through and passed inside overhead for Mark Wilson to send in veteran scrum half Mike Blair and Catterick again converted for 19-0.Nick Scott briefly raised Welsh hopes in what was becoming a frantic and entertaining spectacle by brilliantly snapping up Will Robinson's clever dink down the touchline to score, and Robinson landed the extras for 19-7 in 24th minute. A glimmer of light, perhaps?
Well, not for long. The hosts's superiority in the rolling maul was demonstrated again when skipper Will Welch was driven over for a try in the 33rd minute to give the Falcons a 24-7 half-time lead and the try-scoring bonus point. Job done, and even with 40 minutes still to play, fans of Welsh must have known there was no escaping another thumping.
However, much as they had done in the first half, the Exiles started the second period well but failed to execute at the key moment and they, once again, paid the price. Hogg took a pass from Juan Pablo Socino and galloped 50 yards up the touchline, bumping off Scott and Olly Barkley for a spectacular try which Catterick converted in the 55th minute for 31-7.Both sides made use of their benches in the second half and the continuity went right out of the game - particularly in Newcastle's case, but Welsh were unable to profit, and their frustration was never more evident than when Tom May had a chance to score only for the ball to be passed behind him and straight into touch, ruining the chance of a try-scoring homecoming to the club he started his career with 19 years ago, and on his last appearance here after announcing his retirement at the end of the season.
Almost inevitably, with three minutes left George McGuigan snapped up a loose ball and Alex Tuilagi slipped it to Catterick, who scored with a sharp outside break and converted his own try for 38-7, which was where the score settled.They say when one door closes, another opens. For the Falcons, the door to relative bliss of mid-table obscurity and potentially more exciting times remains open, wider than ever. For Welsh, it looks as if their only exit is via the trap-door – straight back to the Championship.