England hero Jonny Wilkinson had to be helped from the field as Newcastle’s unbeaten Heineken Cup record fell at Stade Aime Giral

Wilkinson’s knee gave way in the second half and England fans’ hearts were in their mouths as their match-winner grimaced in pain. The inspirational fly-half was rushed to hospital and Newcastle officials refused to comment on the injury that is the latest of a run of headaches for new England coach Andy Robinson. Centres Mike Tindall and Will Greenwood and No 8 Martin Corry are also among the walking wounded four weeks out from the opener against Wales in Cardiff.

Director of rugby Rob Andrew admitted his side deserved to lose the match – a result that has thrown Pool 5 wide open.

“Perpignan did deserve to win, although there were a few refereeing decision which went against us and they turned out to be crucial,” he said.

“We should have fought back for the bonus point, though. The next game is going to be very important, but the Pool is still in our hands.”

Newcastle lead Pool 5 on 17 points, with Perpignan and Newport Gwent Dragons poised in behind on 15. The Falcons host the Dragons next Sunday, with Perpignan travelling to Pool cellar dwellers Edinburgh.

The first half was a tight affair, with Wilkinson and opposite number Manny Edmonds swapping three penalty goals each, but Perpignan moved up a gear in the second 40 minutes.

Lock and man of the match Rimas Alvarez Kairelis scored two tries as the French club secured a crucial bonus point, with the Falcons adding only another Wilkinson penalty goal to their tally.

Alvarez-Kairelis said afterwards: “It was always going to be a physical game, and our forwards worked very hard. I was lucky to score two tries and this win has rekindled our chances of qualification.”