Walder's off-day proves so costly.
The Falcons managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in front of a record 10,000 full house at their new Kingston Park stadium.
Quite simply they failed to take advantage of a glorious opportunity to build on the euphoria surrounding England's World Cup victory and the return of local - and now national - hero Jonny Wilkinson with the Webb Ellis Trophy.
And the ultimate irony is that had Wilkinson been on the field instead of watching from the stand, the Falcons would have won by a comfortable margin.
For, sadly, the villain of the piece was last week's hero at London Irish, Wilkinson's understudy at fly half and a fellow England international Dave Walder.
It is unfortunate that Walder chose to have an off day in front of the Sky TV cameras as they merely underlined the extent of his misfortunes, which started virtually from the kick-off.
Wasps began with a near gale-force wind at their backs, Newcastle took the ball, it was passed back to Walder and he managed an ineffectual kick 15 metres upfield and right into the hands of Wasps full back Mark van Gisbergen.
Fourteen unbroken phases of play and three minutes later, Newcastle hadn't touched the ball and Wasps right wing Tom Voyce was over in the corner for an unconverted try.
Turn the clock forward 15 minutes and another miscued Walder kick went right down Wasps' left wing Kenny Logan's throat with no-one in front of him. Not even Logan wastes chances like that and after linking with centres Stuart Abbott and Fraser Waters, the Scottish international was on hand at the ensuing ruck to pick up the ball and plunge over the Falcons line for his side's second try.
When Van Gisbergen added a penalty after 22 minutes, Newcastle looked to be dead and buried at 13-0 down with another 20 minutes or so to play into the wind.
However, Tom May seized on an overhead pass by Epi Taione to set off down the right-hand touchline and, after drawing Van Gisbergen, put a perfect pass inside to his full back, Ben Gollings, who was backing up at speed.
Gollings lit the afterburners to see off the Wasps defence and touched down after a 40-metre run to bring the crowd to its feet and with Walder landing the very difficult conversion, Newcastle were right back in the game at 13-7.
Not even another Van Gisbergen penalty three minutes before the interval could dampen the crowds' expectations, for Newcastle had kept the margin down to nine points in what Falcons boss Rob Andrew correctly described as a 15-20 point wind.
Typically, Newcastle started the second period slowly but a let-off 11 minutes into the half when the video ref adjudged that Logan had lost possession over the Falcons line proved the wake-up call.
Good work by Michael Stephenson saw Newcastle win ruck ball on the visitors' 10-metre line and when it was moved swiftly right. May surged through to score by the posts.
Walder converted and then kicked a good penalty to put his side in front for the first time at 17-16 with roughly 20 minutes to go and that should have been it with penalties virtually impossible into the increasingly strong wind.
However, bad kicking ensured that Newcastle failed to keep play in the Wasps half to control the game and disaster struck when Walder had a kick charged down on his 22, the second time that had happened.
Mark Mayerhofler managed to pick up the loose ball and somehow get in a clearance kick but, not surprisingly, it was hurried and Wasps managed to run it back.
What happened next doesn't make pleasant watching on the video and a combination of a flunked tackle, and laboured defence allowed Wasps to set up a quick ruck inside the Newcastle 22.
With no guard on the right of the ruck, a certain player went AWOL and then to compound the problem, the referee Steve Leyshon ran a perfect block to prevent Gollings from tackling replacement scrum half Peter Richards, who celebrated coming on barely 60 seconds before by running through unopposed to score.
Had Leyshon been a Wasps player, it would have been a penalty for obstruction but sadly refs never penalise themselves!
As it was, Van Gisbergen added the extra points and even though Walder kicked an injury-time penalty it had no bearing on the result.
If Newcastle want to climb up the league and into the top four where victory over Wasps would have taken them, they must add individual and collective consistency to their undoubted talent. That is what professional sport is all about.
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|Publication:||Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2003|
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