Newcastle Falcons battled bravely against the elements as they succumbed to defeat at Leicester Tigers in the LV= Cup on Saturday.
In blizzard conditions the Falcons showed great character to keep themselves in the contest despite going 13-0 behind after just 15 minutes.
A Thomas Waldrom converted try coupled with a series of penalties from Jeremy Staunton put the Tigers in the ascendancy.
Waldrom took his opportunity on 10 minutes, crashing over from close range to finish off a rolling maul. It was Staunton’s mammoth kick to touch with a penalty which provided good field position for the first score.
Not deterred by the early set-back of being 13-0 down, Gary Gold’s men responded well and registered their first points of the game on 20 minutes by virtue of a Jimmy Gopperth penalty.
It was no less than the Tyneside outfit deserved for their endeavour and intelligence in attack with Jonny Golding and Tim Swinson setting the platform in the forwards.
An infringement at the ruck presented Gopperth with the chance to reduce the arrears to 13-3.
Staunton restored Leicester’s thirteen point lead with a penalty moments later before Gopperth repeated the feat to make it 16-6 with 25 minutes on the clock.
Newcastle defended well for large periods of the first stanza and were very nearly rewarded for their efforts with a try against the run of play.
Golding, who was making a welcome return to the Falcons’ starting line-up, hacked on a loose ball with Chris Pilgrim giving chase. Pilgrim looked to be favourite in a foot race with winger Scott Hamilton, but the ball fell kindly for the Tigers No. 11 and the hosts foiled a Falcons attack.
Corne Uys was forced to leave the field of play before the break with what looked like a recurrence of his groin injury picked up at Sale Sharks on Boxing Day. Promising youngster Joel Hodgson came on for the South African with Gopperth moving to centre while Hodgson occupied the fly-half berth.
That was after Fitzpatrick went into the blood-bin with a nasty gash above the eye to compound the Falcons’ injury worries.
On the stroke of half-time Staunton extended his side’s lead to 19-6 with a shot at goal after the returning Fitzpatrick was penalised for not moving away from the ruck.
The Falcons came out for the second period in positive mood and were eager for the first score. Hard-hitting centre Fitzpatrick broke the Tigers’ line in typical fashion only for his offload to winger Ryan Shortland to be knocked on with the whitewash firmly in his sights.
Leicester’s Steve Mafi took advantage of the Falcons’ missed opportunity taking his side into the Newcastle half to set-up an attack. A series of drives ensued before George Skivington bulldozed his way over the line. Staunton skewed the conversion wide and the Tigers were 24-6 in front.
Fresh from signing a new three year contract extension at Kingston Park, Gopperth celebrated in style with a touchdown.
Gopperth scythed through the Leicester defensive line on an angle following a neat flat pass from replacement Will Chudley. The Kiwi No.10 duly converted his own try to make it 24-13 to the hosts.
Taiasina Tu’ifua looked industrious when he came on as a second-half replacement but his stint on the field was hampered by a yellow card for killing the ruck.
The Falcons stood strong to a barrage of pressure during the Samoan’s 10 minute spell on the side-line. Two try-saving tackles from Chudley prevented a further try for Leicester to give a full-time score of 24-13 to the hosts.
Newcastle: 15 Greg Goosen, 14 Ryan Shortland, 13 Corne Uys, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Suka Hufanga, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Chris Pilgrim, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 James Hall, 4 Adriaan Fondse, 5 Tim Swinson, 6 Ally Hogg, 7 Richard Mayhew, 8 Mark Wilson
Replacements: 16 Joe Graham, 17 Darren Fearn, 18 Ashley Wells, 19 Richard Boyle, 20 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Jamie Helleur, 23 Joel Hodgson