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Virimi Vakatawa lifts Bristol over desperate Newcastle

Virimi Vakatawa with the ball in hand for the Bristol Bears. Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Bristol made it back-to-back Gallagher Premiership wins after producing a gritty away display to beat winless Newcastle 21-13 at Kingston Park.


An early try from hooker Harry Thacker preceded Louie Johnson’s penalty in first-half stoppage time to hand the Bears a 7-3 advantage at the break.

Rory Jennings’ superb kick reduced the deficit to a single point but there was no comeback on the cards despite relentless pressure on a heroic visiting backline.

Virimi Vakatawa ended all home hope with an excellent try, with Gabriel Oghre getting another late one to lift them above Leicester in the table – Kiran McDonald’s late try for the Falcons proving only a minor blemish.

Mateo Carreras and Guy Pepper returned to the starting XV for the hosts following injury lay-offs, while Kyle Sinckler made his 50th appearance for the Bears.

The visitors were handed a golden opportunity to make the perfect start inside two minutes with a penalty, but Callum Sheedy’s kick drifted wide of the post.

Carreras made a crucial intervention in the 10th minute with a last-ditch tackle to stop Rich Lane opening the scoring – the home side standing firm against building Bristol pressure.


But the resistance was finally broken on 17 minutes – Thacker touching down following a maul which moved infield from the left-hand side.


Tackles Made
Tackles Missed
Tackle Completion %

To their credit, the Falcons came into the game towards the end of the half and could have easily levelled the scoreline.

A sustained attack severely tested the visitors’ concentration levels but – despite more than 20 phases of play – they could only get on the board via a penalty from Johnson in added time.

Jennings was introduced seven minutes after the break and made the perfect impact, kicking a brilliant penalty from 40 metres to give the north-east side hope of their first win of the Premiership season.


The pressure was increasing once again on the Bristolians – the momentum swinging ever more in favour of the Falcons, the crowd volume rising with every tackle and every decision that went their way.

Hugh O’Sullivan and Tom Penny both gained significant ground with lung-busting runs after the hour mark but could not find a way past a stubborn visiting rearguard.

And they were made to pay for their profligacy when Vakatawa powered through to dot down on 69 minutes.

Sheedy added the extras to increase the lead to eight and the result was beyond doubt four minutes from time when Oghre scored after a maul to deny the hosts the losing bonus point.

A bleak start is turning into a nightmare season for the Falcons – defeat here extends their winless run in the league this season to nine – and a late try from McDonald was scant consolation.


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Jon 23 hours ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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