Fly-half Craig Willis spreads the play

Falcons 52 Bordeaux-Begles 24

Saturday 9 December 2017

Newcastle Falcons returned to the top of their European Challenge Cup group and preserved their unbeaten record after completing the double over Bordeaux-Begles at Kingston Park Stadium on Saturday.

Both sides showed commendable attacking intent in an open and entertaining contest, Newcastle leading 38-17 after a whirlwind opening half.

A helter-skelter start produced three tries in the first nine minutes, the first seeing Falcons lock Calum Green dot down in the right corner after forward pressure had sucked in the defensive numbers.

Craig Willis converted impressively from out wide, but it was level pegging quickly after when a line-break from Bordeaux fly-half Matthieu Jalibert allowed scrum-half Yann Lesgourges to score on a simple supporting line.

Newcastle nosed ahead almost straight from the kick-off when Willis’s bust down the left allowed the supporting Adam Radwan a run-in to the left corner, Willis’s conversion bouncing back off the post to leave the Falcons’ lead at five points.

Jalibert chipped three off that margin with a long-range penalty from right of centre, and went one better when his sensational solo run put the visitors into a five-point lead.

The Falcons had a try denied by the TMO when Craig Willis thought he had reached out of a tackle to score, and they were held up over the try line following a sequence of pick-and-goes, but there was no denying the weight of home pressure on 28 minutes when Mark Wilson barrelled over from the fringes of a close-range ruck.

Willis’ conversion put the Falcons two points ahead, and his side had the four-try bonus point in the 31st minute when Will Witty’s line-break and wide pass freed Radwan for his second try down the left, Willis again slotting the extras.

Hooker Ben Sowrey got in on the act when he pumped his legs from 40 metres out, showing incredible power to ride a covering tackle for an unconverted try in the left corner.

But the try of the game – of any game – was saved for the very last play of the half when Newcastle forced a knock-on right next to their own try line. Rather than simply kicking the ball out for half time Sam Stuart raced to the 22, getting away an offload and setting in motion a length-of-the-field attack which involved seven separate players, Willis the man to ground the ball when his grubber ahead bounced back off the post.

His simple conversion from in front sent the Falcons into the changing room 38-17 to the good, supporters and players alike grateful for the chance to draw breath after a simply stunning display of attacking intent.

The second half began with more structure and less free-flowing running than the first, the home side playing a more territorial game through the boot of Willis, Matavesi and Hammersley. But it was Bordeaux who broke the deadlock on 57 minutes when right wing Geoffrey Cros intercepted a wide pass from 40 metres out to race in for a converted try.

Newcastle responded through Alex Tait when the winger supported Mark Wilson’s line-break to score near the posts, Joel Hodgson slotting the conversion before creating a 77th minute try for Matavesi, the conversion of which was the final score of a memorable encounter.

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait (Zach Kibirige, 67), 13 Tom Penny (Charlie Wilson, 67), 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Adam Radwan, 10 Craig Willis (Joel Hodgson, 57), 9 Sam Stuart; 1 Sam Lockwood (Adam Brocklebank, 54), 2 Ben Sowrey, 3 Scott Wilson (Trevor Davison, 69), 4 Calum Green (Glen Young, 51), 5 Will Witty, 6 Mark Wilson (captain), 7 Gary Graham, 8 Ryan Burrows (Harrison Orr, 70, Jamie Blamire, 74).

Falcons scorers - Tries: Calum Green, Adam Radwan 2, Mark Wilson, Ben Sowrey, Craig Willis, Alex Tait, Josh Matavesi. Conversions: Craig Willis 4, Joel Hodgson 2.

Bordeaux-Bègles: 15 Nans Ducuing (Gauthier Doubrere, 53), 14 Geoffrey Cros, 13 Pablo Uberti, 12 Romain Lonca (Julien Rey, 48), 11 Fa'asui Fuatai, 10 Matthieu Jalibert (Ben Volavola, 40), 9 Yann Lesgourgues (captain); 1 Sébastien Taofifenua (Thierry Paiva, 52), 2 Adrien Pélissié (Ole Avei, 52), 3 Vadim Cobilas (Jean-Baptiste Poux, 60), 4 Luke Jones (Pierre Gayraud, 17), 5 Cyril Cazeaux, 6 Mahamadou Diaby (Cameron Woki, 67), 7 Alexandre Roumat, 8 Leroy Houston.

Bordeaux scorers - Tries: Yann Lesgourges, Mathieu Jalibert, Geoffrey Cros). Conversions: Matthieu Jalibert 2. Penalties: Matthieu Jalibert.

Referee: Ian Davies (Wales). Attendance: 3,857.

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