Tom Vickers’ Saints v Newcastle view & ratings

STAR SHOWING - James Wilson was the pick of the Saints players in the win over Newcastle (Picture: Linda Dawson)

STAR SHOWING - James Wilson was the pick of the Saints players in the win over Newcastle (Picture: Linda Dawson)

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Not playing to your full potential and winning is said to be the hallmark of champions.

So if you don’t play to your full potential but win and also keep a clean sheet you must be doing something right.

That was the case for Saints on Saturday as they produced a far from vintage display against Newcastle.

But, despite a lack of fluency, partly inflicted on themselves, partly due to the Falcons’ dogged nature, they claimed victory and completely shut the opposition out.

Dean Richards’ men, as demonstrated by the fact they had won three of their seven league games prior to this one, are no mugs.

They are a team fighting for Premiership survival, which gets closer every week thanks to Worcester’s continual demise.

We’ll come back to that later.

When you are a team like Saints, expected to challenge for the title, teams don’t come to your place and lie down.

They scrap for every inch, desperate to spring a surprise that would dominate the rugby section of the Sunday papers.

Newcastle never looked likely to hog the headlines, but they did ensure Saints had to work hard for their recognition.

Richards has instilled a steely determination in his side and some of their defending was hugely impressive.

Ryan Shortland set the tone with an early try-saving tackle on Tom Collins and that reaguard action continued until the 58th minute, when James Wilson finally broke through.

Saints had unusually stuttered in their build-up play until a fine gather and break from Jamie Elliott teed up intelligent centre Wilson.

It was the key to the door and Luther Burrell added a second try soon after to make sure there would be no smash and grab.

The Falcons never really looked likely to claim anything from the game, but they showed no lack of belief and refused to crumble.

That is to their credit, and it was a good test for Saints - though the players and coaches refused to label it a wake-up call - ahead of the game at Worcester on Saturday.

That match is less banana skin, more oil slick for Jim Mallinder’s men and patience may be required to pick up the points from Sixways.

Like Newcastle, the Warriors will be desperate for a Saints-sized scalp and will not roll over easily.

So, in that respect, Saturday’s game was perfect preparation.

What was important was that there was no upset.

That four points were picked up and the winning run, which has now stretched to six games, was maintained.

Saints still sit second in the Aviva Premiership and if they keep picking up wins in whatever fashion necessary they won’t be too far off where they want to be.

How they rated...

BEN FODEN

Limped off injured after 64 minutes, but had been enjoying himself up to that point, making plenty of metres and carrying the fight to the Falcons... 7

JAMIE ELLIOTT

His superb catch and break set up Saints’ first score and it was exactly the spark they needed in a turgid encounter... 7

JAMES WILSON - CHRON STAR MAN

The game’s most creative and dangerous player. Scored Saints’ vital first try and made plenty of inroads on an afternoon when doing that proved tough... 7

LUTHER BURRELL

Forms such an effective partnership with Wilson and, like the Kiwi, got on the scoresheet. Another hugely influential performance... 7

TOM COLLINS

First start at Franklin’s Gardens for the youngster and he nearly had an early try, but it wasn’t quite his afternoon... 6

STEPHEN MYLER

Wasn’t able to pull the strings as he would have liked as Newcastle stifled Saints for long periods. A fluffed second-half conversion summed the day up... 6

LEE DICKSON

A difficult afternoon for the scrum-half as Newcastle didn’t give Saints much space to breathe. Wasn’t at his best... 6

ALEX WALLER

Helped Saints dominate in the scrum and made some good carries as the forwards looked to blast the door open... 7

MIKE HAYWOOD

An impressive performance from the young hooker, who never lets Saints down. Showed plenty of tenacity and aggression... 7

SALESI MA’AFU

Bossed proceedings in the scrum and that’s what he’s there for. Stayed on the pitch for longer than at any time this season... 7

COURTNEY LAWES

Tried to smash holes in the Newcastle defence, but wasn’t able to do so on most occasions... 7

CHRISTIAN DAY

Another steady showing as he tried to steer his team to victory. Made sure the set piece was typically accurate... 7

CALUM CLARK

Lots of action at the breakdown, which is what this man revels in, and he gave a good account of himself... 7

PHIL DOWSON

The captain tried to lead from the front and managed to spearhead a few attacks with some good, determined carries... 7

SAM DICKINSON

Not his most influential game at the Gardens, but still made an impact and a fine try-saving tackle during the first half... 7