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Tuesday, 8 January, 2002, 21:28 GMT
Wilkinson miss costs Newcastle
Denis Hickie scored the first try of the match in the sixth minute
Irish winger Denis Hickie scored Leinster's first half try
Newcastle 15-17 Leinster

Jonny Wilkinson's failure to convert a late try by Va'aiga Tuigamala enabled Leinster to preserve their 100% Heineken Cup record in a nailbiting tie at Headingley.

Newcastle dominated the final quarter and looked to have ended the Irish side's 14-match winning run in all competitions when man of the match Tom May carved out an opening for Tuigamala after 79 minutes.

However Wilkinson's normal accuracy deserved him at the crucial time when he failed with the conversion.

The England fly-half had returned from a 22-minute spell in the blood bin to orchestrate Newcastle's final flourish.

Leinster had to operate without their chief playmaker Nathan Spooner for more than an hour.

Australian fly-half Spooner suffered a rib injury in the early stages in a crushing two-man tackle.

Tom May burst through for a try in the 12th minute
Tom May scored Newcastle's first half try

Despite undergoing running repairs, Spooner was forced off just 22 minutes into the twice-delayed tie.

Leinster were never the same team without him but did just enough to stave off a battling Newcastle to make it five Heineken Cup wins out of five.

The Irish side play their final pool match against Toulouse on Sunday needing a win to be certain of securing a home draw in the quarter-finals.

Newcastle, forced to switch their final pool six home game to Leeds because of a frost-bound Kingston Park, pushed the star-studded Irish side all the way in a match watched by just 1,146 spectators.

Leinster, down to 14 men for the last 10 minutes following the sin-binning of flanker Trevor Brennan, were forced to defend desperately in a rousing finish.

Earlier there had been little to choose between the sides in an error-strewn first half.

Leinster badly missed Spooner's creativity, with Brian O'Meara failing to spark his side's three-quarters following his switch from scrum-half.

Fly-half Spooner was replaced at outside-half by Brian O'Meara
Nathan Spooner went off injured

Spooner had helped create Leinster's opening try after just six minutes.

He scooped up O'Meara's ankle-high pass and provided the scope for Girvan Dempsey and Brian O'Driscoll to get Denis Hickie racing over at the corner.

Spooner also kicked the touchline conversion to put the visitors 7-0 ahead but Newcastle levelled matters thanks to a try from the impressive May, whose jinking run caught the Leinster defenders flat-footed.

Wilkinson added the conversion and also put over a penalty to cancel out a similar effort from O'Meara and tie the scores at 10-10 by half-time.

It took a lightning break by substitute scrum-half Ben Willis to break the deadlock five minutes into the second half and O'Meara's conversion made it 17-10.

That is the way it stayed until Tuigamala's late strike and, despite seven minutes of injury time, Newcastle were never able to press home their advantage.

The Falcons, out-played in the set pieces, struggled for clean possession, but there was nothing wrong with their defence and they rocked the Irishmen with their late show.

Newcastle: Walder, Stephenson, Noon, May, Tuigamala, Wilkinson, Charlton, Ward, Balshen, Graham, Vyvyan, Grimes, Dunbar, Devonshire, Lam. Replacements: Thompson, Peel, S. Richardson, Hamilton, Arnold, Holmes, MacLure.

Leinster: Dempsey, D. Hickie, O'Driscoll, Horgan, Darcy, Spooner, O'Meara, Corrigan, S. Byrne, Wallace, Cullen, O'Kelly, Brennan, Gleeson, Costello. Replacements: Coyle, G. Hickie, McCullen, Toland, Willis, Magro, McKenna.
Referee: Gareth Simmons (WRFU)

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