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Goneva makes the right impression

Leicester's efforts to persuade Vereniki Goneva to stay paid off handsomely when the Fijian blew away Newcastle with a 17-minute hat-trick on the opening day of the Aviva Premiership season.

Goneva, a target for French side Castres at the end of last season, decided to stay after lengthy talks and repaid the club's faith in him with tries in the 44th, 50th and 61st minutes to lead Leicester to a 36-17 win.

Leicester scored four tries altogether in front of a crowd of 22,639, Newcastle responding with two from Richard Mayhew and Andy Saull.

It meant a disappointing return to Leicester for Falcons' coaching staff Dean Richards and John Wells, who have overhauled their squad dramatically after just avoiding relegation last season.

England flanker Tom Croft, who missed most of last season, put his comeback from a knee reconstruction on hold after he pulled up in Leicester's final training session. It meant he joined a 13-man injury list which included England prop Dan Cole and captain Ed Slater.

England scrum-half Ben Youngs took over the armband for Leicester, who gave debuts to three new signings - Fiji centre Seremaia Bai, England fly-half Freddie Burns and Italy hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini.

Newcastle, who escaped relegation last season despite losing 16 successive games, bolstered their squad with 10 new signings, the stand-out being Italy lock Josh Furno.

They also signed former Leicester winger Alesana Tuilagi, who made a brief appearance early on as a blood replacement.

By the time he went off Leicester were leading 9-3 thanks to three penalties from Burns to one from Falcons winger Sinoti Sinoti.

Leicester had much the better of a disappointing first half, with wing Goneva and giant prop Logovi'i Mulipola coming the closest to scoring.

Newcastle lost prop Rob Vickers with a leg injury after just 13 minutes, which did not help their scrum.

Burns put the Tigers 6-0 ahead before Sinoti pulled three points back for Newcastle, only for penalties in the 28th and 36th minutes by Burns to ensure Leicester turned round with a nine point cushion.

Good moves were few and far between but the best came close to half-time - only for Leicester winger Blaine Scully to spill the ball on the right touchline.

The match exploded into life before the Falcons' coaching staff had time to take their seats for the second half.

After just 30 seconds, Burns missed touch with his clearance and winger Sinoti countered, putting full-back Simon Hammersley through a massive hole, with flanker Richard Mayhew finishing it off.

Sinoti added the conversion but Newcastle did not have much time to enjoy the try because three minutes later Leicester scored their first after the referee consulted the TMO.

England centre Manu Tuilagi created it with a barnstorming run, throwing the ball backwards in the tackle and seeing it bounce forward off a defender for Goneva to pounce on the loose ball to score.

Burns missed the conversion but Leicester's 17-10 advantage increased by seven points within six minutes after Goneva scored under the posts following great work by Burns following a ruck near the posts. Burns added the conversion.

Falcons' replacement Gonzalo Tiesi had alarm bells ringing in the Tigers defence with a mazy run but the move broke down when Furno was penalised at a ruck in front of the posts.

Another chance went begging for the visitors when centre Juan Pablo Socino knocked on after a mazy run across the posts by Sinoti.

The Falcons shot themselves in the foot to hand Goneva a 17-minute hat-trick on a plate.

Replacement scrum-half Ruki Tipuna's pass on the Leicester line was intercepted by Goneva, who outpaced the chasers and ran 95 metres for a try which Burns converted to make it 31-10.

Five minutes later it was 36-10 after replacement scrum-half David Mele scored a pushover try. Burns missed the conversion.

Replacement Saull scored Newcastle's second try nine minutes from time after a rolling maul, Socino adding the conversion.

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