Newcastle Falcons’ scintillating run in the RFU Championship continued with victory over nearest rivals Bedford Blues at Goldington Road.
The win makes it 10 wins out of 10 in all competitions and moves the Falcons 11 points clear of Bedford at the top of the Championship tree.
The Falcons were quick out of the traps and were three-up within the first couple of minutes courtesy of a Jimmy Gopperth penalty. The Falcons showed their attacking intent right from the word go, spraying the ball from side to side before referee Martin Fox awarded the penalty for an infringement at the ruck.
Bossing the breakdown in the early exchanges, the Falcons were awarded a second penalty 35-metres out in front of the sticks. However, Gopperth pulled his kick wide to the surprise of everyone inside Goldington Road.
With Gopperth unable to double his side’s tally for the afternoon, Bedford levelled the score on eight minutes thanks to a James Pritchard penalty.
From the restart the Falcons turned over the ball deep inside the Blues half, before the well-oiled pack drove their way to the line. With the rolling maul edging closer to the line, Bedford second-row Paul Tupai was given a yellow card for indiscipline. Tupai disrupted the rolling maul illegally and Richards’ troops took full advantage of the extra man to extend their lead.
Gopperth kicked for touch with the penalty, and from the resulting lineout Richard Mayhew touched down following another drive towards the line. Gopperth executed his touchline conversion to perfection to give his side the ascendancy at 10-3.
With just under 20 minutes on the clock both teams were down to 14-men apiece when Falcons’ lock Sean Tomes was given his marching orders for 10 minutes after he was penalised for killing the ball at the ruck. From an acute angle 25-metres out Pritchard cannoned the post with his effort and the ball trickled dead in-goal.
On 25 minutes the hosts closed the gap to 10-6 by virtue of a Pritchard penalty after Mr Fox spotted an altercation in the scrum. This time Pritchard made no mistake from bang in front of the posts.
Now the home side were on the up, buoyed by their penalty success which put them within just four points of their North East counterparts. Ploughing forward in numbers with ball in hand, Bedford’s attacking onslaught was met by a steely Falcons resistence. During a period of sustained pressure Pritchard attempted an ambitious penalty from 35-metres out, but his kick fell just short and Gopperth was able to clear down-field.
Pritchard would be made to rue this missed opportunity as Gopperth was given the chance to make it 13-6 with the boot after Bedford were adjudged to be offside at the ruck. The Kiwi goal-kicking supremo duly obliged in front of the posts.
And the Falcons gave themselves some much needed breathing space with the last play of the first-half as winger Tom Catterick crossed the whitewash in the corner.
Quick hands in the Falcons’ midfield provided good ball for centre Tane Tu’ipulotu who drew his man out-wide before unleashing academy product Catterick to sprint in at the corner.
Gopperth nailed the touchline conversion to give the Falcons a 20-6 lead going into the break.
The Falcons suffered an early scare in the opening moments of the second-half as Bedford enjoyed a five minute period camped inside the visitors’ 22. Brendan Burke’s line-break was the impetus for the Blues, producing excellent field position in which to attack. Switching the play to either flank, the Falcons defensive line was stretched but would not be punctured, much to the delight of the travelling contingent on the terraces. Following a number of phases the ball came loose and scum-half Lawson hacked the ball clear.
On 50 minutes Joel Hodgson entered the fray, replacing try-scorer Catterick, who was helped off the field of play with what looked like a knee injury.
Pritchard continued his points haul for the afternoon, touching down in the corner to put real pressure on Dean Richards’ troops. Moving the ball to the right, Bedford made full use of an overlap to feed the pacey full-back for the five-point score. Pritchard made no mistake with the extras to make it 20-13.
The Falcons went close to an instant response when Joel Hodgson had a try chalked off by referee Mr Fox. Alex Tait showed Bedford wing Ben Ransom a clean set of heels before offloading to Hodgson who failed to get downward pressure according to the officials.
Newcastle would not be denied points during this phase of the game, and Gopperth converted a penalty wide-right to put the Falcons 23-13 ahead.
With a 10 point cushion, the Falcons earned a penalty just inside the Bedford half, and Gopperth elected to go for goal. And to some effect, as the New Zealander struck the ball sweetly between the uprights to give his side a 26-13 lead.
But back came the Blues, and the majority of the Goldington Road crowd were in full voice when Pritchard continued his scoring streak with a try. The talented full-back chased his own kick-through to touchdown. Pritchard converted to ensure a tense finish at 26-20.
The Kingston Park club charged back up the field with power in abundance after the Falcons coaching team freshened things up with Chris York, Matt Thompson and Taiasina Tu’ifua all entering the field. The latter was the catalyst for the award of a Falcons penalty when his robust drive forced the infringement. Wiith the Falcons players, staff and fans all holding their breath, Gopperth stepped up to the mark only for his kick to ease wide of the post.
However, the Falcons secured the four point win with a 77th minute Gopperth drop-goal following a string of drives.
Bedford Blues: 15 James Pritchard (c), 14 Ben Ransom, 13 Brendan Burke, 12 Henry Staff, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jake Sharp, 9 Luke Baldwin, 1 Darren Fearn, 2 Neil Cochrane, 3 Phil Boulton, 4 Paul Tupai, 5 Mike Howard, 6 Gregor Gillanders, 7 Sacha Harding, 8 Don Barrell
Replacements: 16 Scott Scurving, 17 Ricky Reeves, 18 Dan Seal, 19 Alex Rae, 20 Darren Fox, 21 Alistair Price, 22 Mark Atkinson
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Ryan Shortland, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Tane Tu’ipulotu, 11 Tom Catterick, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Sean Tomes, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Richard Mayhew, 8 All Hogg (c)
Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 James Hall, 18 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 19 Chris York, 20 Jordi Pasqualin, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Jamie Helleur
Referee: Martin Fox