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Saracens escape shock home upset against 14-man Newcastle

By PA
Greg Peterson of Newcastle Falcons about to get a red card during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Saracens and Newcastle Falcons at StoneX Stadium on February 25, 2023 in Barnet, United Kingdom. (Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)

An early red card for Newcastle’s Greg Peterson ruined any hopes of his side causing an upset as Saracens moved 12 points clear of Sale at the top of the Gallagher Premiership table after a 29-23 home win.

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Tenth-placed Newcastle were level at 10-10 when Peterson was dismissed for a high tackle with the table-toppers taking advantage by scoring five tries but it was the visitors who emerged with the most credit with a heroic second-half display.

Alex Lewington scored two of the home side’s tries, Eroni Mawi, Ivan van Zyl and Theo Dan the others with Alex Goode kicking two conversions.

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Philip van der Walt and Adam Radwan scored Newcastle’s tries with Brett Connon adding three penalties and two conversions to leave them just two points ahead of Bath at the bottom of the table.

It took less than two minutes for Saracens to open the scoring. Falcons lost possession on halfway for Dan to make a telling burst before prop, Mawi, brushed aside some weak tackling for his second try in successive games.

Three minutes later, Connon responded with a penalty for Newcastle before they took the lead with a close-range try from Van der Walt.

Saracens were soon level when Matias Orlando missed a tackle on Olly Hartley to put his side’s defence on the back foot and when the ball was recycled a long pass gave Lewington the chance to evade Connon’s weak effort to score.

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After 17 minutes, Newcastle suffered a huge blow when their American international lock, Peterson, was red carded for a head-high challenge on Dan.

The hosts soon capitalised when, from a line-out drive, Dan made an initial burst before a long pass from Van Zyl created a second for Lewington.

Goode was again off target with his third conversion attempt before Connon kept Falcons in contention with his second penalty.

Saracens’ bonus-point try arrived when a well-timed pass from Billy Vunipola sent Andy Christie through a gap with Van Zyl on hand to crash over.

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The home side soon added a fifth from Dan to have the game almost in the bag by half-time when they led 29-13, leaving their 14-man opponents with a mountain to climb.

After the restart, Newcastle’s woes continued when they lost Orlando to injury but Radwan prevented them from falling further behind with an excellent cover tackle on Ben Earl.

Frequent substitutions disrupted the flow of play, which rendered the first 30 minutes of the second half scoreless, as a huge defensive effort from Newcastle continued to frustrate the hosts.

Remarkably, the only scores after the interval went Falcons’ way as their opponents were caught napping by a quickly-taken short penalty which enabled Radwan to run an unopposed 50 metres to score before Connon secured a deserved bonus point with a last-minute penalty.

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Poorfour 5 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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