Even a hat-trick of tries from hooker Alex Walker could not take the Falcons past hosts Cardiff Blues in Wales on Sunday, as Newcastle went down in their penultimate LV= Cup pool game.In a ten-try feast of running rugby there was plenty to credit in a much-changed Falcons line-up, as a host of youngsters and fringe players held their hands up for senior selection with strong showings against the Cup holders.
In a lively start from both sides the deadlock was broken six minutes in, home fly half Dai Flanagan striking a 35-metre penalty from out in front after Tom Catterick had found himself isolated at ruck time.
With the young guns given a chance to shine there was early credit for centre Michael Tait, the Scottish debutant delivering a meaty hit on Kiwi lock Paul Tito to allow Ed Williamson turnover ball inside his own 22.
Sadly for Tait a foot injury forced him from the field less than a quarter through the game, but countryman Grant Shiells was enjoying better fortune as the youngster combined well with Matt Thompson and Alex Walker to win the nudge in the scrum.
Having already been knocked out of the competition by virtue of the Scarlets’ win at Wasps the previous night, the Falcons turned down kickable shots at goal to run through their attacking line out repertoire.
It was from one such throw five metres out that the first try arrives 16 minutes in, a textbook rolling maul seeing Walker driven over for an unconverted score in the right corner.
It was nearly two in two minutes as the Falcons broke straight from the restart, lock Peter Browne racing to halfway before feeding in Danny Williams for a foray down the right. The Yorkshireman’s attempted offload fell just short of the supporting Chris Pilgrim, but it was very much Newcastle in the ascendancy as they fully utilised the wide expanses of the Cardiff City Stadium pitch.
It was Cardiff, however, who made best use of their possession, Australian fullback Sam Norton-Knight coasting in for a try in the right corner after a ruck on the opposite flank saw the ball spun wide towards the numbers.
Flanagan’s well-taken touchline took the Blues’ lead to five, and the youngster extended it to eight on the half hour with a straightforward penalty from 30 metres out.
Newcastle’s cause was boosted by the sin-binning of home lock Scott Morgan for pulling his man down in the line out, and within two minutes they took full advantage as their decision to turn down a kickable penalty led to a second try for Walker.
Again it was from a line out in the right corner, a powerful rolling maul allowing Walker to break off and score – Miller adding the touchline conversion to get his side to get within a single point.
A third Flanagan penalty took the half time score to 16-12, and within two minutes the Falcons’ cause was dented as flanker Ed Williamson was sin-binned for being offside at a ruck under his own posts.
From the resulting line out Tongan international Ma’ama Molitika rumbled over for a try in the left corner, Flanagan making no mistake with the conversion from out wide.
England Under-20s flanker Alex Gray emerged for a lively 40-minute showing on his first team debut, showing impressive pace in the loose as he gradually got to grips with the physical demands of senior rugby.
Front rowers Rob Vickers and Kieran Brookes entered the fray for the final half hour, but no sooner had Vickers arrived than he was taking a ten-minute rest, however, as referee James Jones yellow carded the hooker for killing ruck on his own try line.
Cardiff took immediate advantage by running in their third try, a five-metre scrum in front of the posts seeing the ball worked wide to right wing Richard Mustoe who dotted down in the corner.
A gallant Newcastle side refused to throw in the towel as hooker Walker crossed for his hat-trick try from a left wing rolling maul, but when Norton-Knight crossed for his second and the Blues’ fourth try it was effectively game over going into the closing minutes.
With the Falcons chasing the game it was replacement Ceri Sweeney who benefited from their adventure, snaffling a 60-metre interception try as he clawed in Rob Miller’s floated pass.
The Falcons again utilised their line out drive to secure a four-try bonus point, with replacement Rob Vickers continuing where Walker had left off with a slick rolling maul try in the right corner.
In a helter-skelter finish there was more end-to-end action as replacement flanker Ben White raced 30 metres down the left wing to score in the corner, the breathless pace of the action taking its toll on both defences as to create space aplenty.
But with time running out that was to be the last of the ten tries, as both teams earned a well-deserved breather on the final whistle.
Tries: Norton-Knight 2, Molitika, Mustoe, Sweeney, White
Cons: Flanagan 2, Sweeney
Pens: Flanagan 3
Tries: Walker 3, Vickers
Cons: Miller 2
15 Sam Norton-Knight
14 Richard Mustoe
13 Tom Shanklin (Gareth Thomas, 67)
12 Dafydd Hewitt
11 Dafydd James
10 Dai Flanagan (Ceri Sweeney, 65)
9 Darren Allinson
1 Sam Hobbs (Taufa'ao Filise, 60)
2 Huw Dowden (Gary Horrigan, 60)
3 Scott Andrews (Gary Powell, 54)
4 Scott Morgan (Chris Dicomidis, 65)
5 Paul Tito (captain)
6 Andries Petorius (Ben White, 65)
7 Sam Warburton (Tom Slater, 65)
8 Ma’ama Molitika
15 Tom Catterick (Charlie Amesbury, 60)
14 Danny Williams
13 Michael Tait (Rob Vickerman, 14)
12 Gcobani Bobo
11 Tom Biggs
10 Rob Miller
9 Chris Pilgrim (Hall Charlton, 46)
1 Grant Shiells
2 Alex Walker (Rob Vickers, 50)
3 Matt Thompson (Kieran Brookes, 52)
4 Peter Browne
5 Mark Sorenson
6 Ed Williamson (Alex Walker, 50, Josh Afu, 60)
7 Will Welch (Alex Gray, 40)
8 Adam Balding (captain)
Referee: James Jones (Wales)