Dean Richards’s final home game as Newcastle’s director of rugby was overshadowed by a horrific knee injury to the Leicester and England hooker Nic Dolly, who was carried off on a stretcher during the first half.
Richards, who achieved legendary status as a Tigers player and coach during his 23-year association with the club, is approaching the end of his 10th season at Kingston Park but could stay on in a consultancy role.
His old side moved closer towards sealing top spot in the Premiership with this victory, but the loss of Dolly will be huge cause for concern. He now seems certain for a lengthy period on the sidelines, ruling him out of England’s summer tour of Australia.
The Sydney-born 22-year-old, who was this week named in a 36-man England squad for a three-day training camp which begins on Sunday, was left badly hurt after a crocodile roll by Adam Brocklebank at the breakdown.
The Falcons prop was sent to the sin-bin for the challenge and Dolly, who has enjoyed an outstanding campaign for Steve Borthwick’s side, was replaced by Charlie Clare.
“It looks like Nic’s been hurt reasonably seriously,” said Borthwick of the injury to Dolly’s left knee. “We will have to get it scanned ASAP and he will see the best guys to make sure he’s back on the field as soon as possible.
“He’s in pain right now but, as a player, when you understand what the injury is and what the plan for it is, you can start putting targets on your rehab. What we need to do is get the clarity as soon as possible. While he’s unlucky to have sustained this injury,I know he will work exceptionally hard to come back an even better player.”
This was a decidedly low-key farewell for Richards, who allowed Dave Walder, his successor in the top job, to oversee the team for this game and also fulfil the post-match media duties.
Walder said: “Deano’s been an enormous presence, literally and metaphorically, and kept the club going at times. It would have been nice for him to have finished at home with a win.
I’m proud of the performance but disappointed with the result.”
A crowd of 8,015, the Falcons’ biggest at home since April 2019, saw Nemani Nadolo use brute force to barrel through the Newcastle defence and over the line. Leicester had their hosts right where they wanted them and George Ford booted a penalty in the 21st minute.
In the 28th minute, Brocklebank was sent to the sin-bin for his challenge on Dolly after intervention from the TMO, Hamish Smales. The full weight of Brocklebank fell on Dolly, who was taken off on a stretcher.
Seven minutes before the interval, Adam Radwan embarked on a searing break inside the right channel, showing delightful footwork and speed to dart past a couple of leaden-footed Leicester defenders before his pass to Joel Hodgson was knocked on by the Falcons fly-half. That gave Richards’s team the belief that, if they backed themselves, they might just be good enough to breach Leicester’s defence.
Sure enough, Newcastle quickly built several phases inside the Tigers’ 22-metre line, only to be denied by some obstinate defending and held up twice over the line.
The Falcons upped the tempo after the restart and Michael Young’s impish break found Josh Basham, who seemed certain to score only to be denied by Ford’s terrific saving tackle.
In the 50th minute Newcastle finally scored when George McGuigan, who will join the England squad on Sunday with team-mate Jamie Blamire, went over in the left corner.
But a penalty from Ford gave Leicester breathing space and the fly-half then sent the centre Guy Porter over to score.
Late on, Freddie Steward touched down a clever kick from Ford in the right corner, securing a win which took them a step closer towards clinching top spot before the play-offs.