A professional display from Dean Richards’ men ensured Newcastle Falcons have the upper hand going into next week’s play-off final second leg showdown with Bedford Blues.
Claiming an 18-9 triumph over the Goldington Road club, all the points came from the boot of Jimmy Gopperth to set-up an intriguing return clash.
The Falcons may well feel aggrieved that they did not convert their attacking potency into tries too, with the likes of Adam Powell and Ryan Shortland penetrating Bedford’s back division on occasions.
The Falcons went on the offensive as early as the second minute with Gopperth and Powell combining well at the heart of the backline. Gopperth broke clear of his marker before feeding Adam Powell who was close in support, but the ex-Saracens and England Saxons man was tackled 15 metres from Bedford’s try line. Powell’s former director of rugby Mark McCall, whose team has strong links with the Blues was watching intently in the stand.
Despite the initial foray into the hosts’ half, it was Bedford who struck first through a Myles Dorian penalty after the Falcons were penalised for not rolling away at the breakdown.
Gopperth restored parity for the visitors, however, with a simple penalty in front of the posts with 12 minutes on the clock.
In keeping with the theme of the season, Dean Richards’ men were flexing their muscles at the scrum once again, and on 16 minutes his pack demonstrated their supremacy to earn a penalty in front of goal. Gopperth slotted home effortlessly for a 6-3 lead.
With the three point advantage intact, the northeasterners enjoyed a series of attacks with scrum-half Warren Fury orchestrating affairs at the breakdown. Whenever Blues No.10 Myles cleared his lines Falcons full-back Alex Tait looked assured under the high ball to march his unit back up the pitch. Winger Shortland also looked confident with ball in hand, and on 25 minutes the Kiwi flyer collected a kick downfield to very nearly run the full length of the field for a memorable score.
Newcastle edged further ahead in the 28th minute by virtue of another Gopperth penalty, his third of the evening from all of 35 metres. And the New Zealander repeated the trick on the stroke of half-time to put the Falcons 12-3 in front with Richards’ troops having the advantage of going downhill in the second period.
Like the outset of the game, the Falcons were immediately on the attack with Noah almost benefitting from a ricochet after Gopperth attempted to drill a kick into the corner. Cato caught the loose ball but a scrambling Bedford rear-guard kept the Falcons at bay.
Putting Bedford on the back-foot, the Falcons were soon on the attack once more with the heavies penetrating the home side’s defensive line to earn the penalty. Gopperth made no mistake to extend Newcastle’s margin to 15-3.
Ill-discipline at the breakdown cost Bedford more points on 51 minutes with Gopperth smashing home to make it 18-3. Replacement No.9 Rory Lawson came to the rescue for the Falcons four minutes later, when Mark Atkinson’s kick behind the defensive line was touched in-goal by the Scot.
Dorrian reduced the deficit to 18-6 just short of the hour mark after referee Luke Pearce awarded a penalty for hands in at the ruck. Gopperth had the chance to increase the Falcons’ lead to 21-6 with a penalty nine minutes from time, but he sliced his kick wide of the mark.
Electing to run it from their own half in the closing stages, Bedford were passing the gain line effectively, and their good work was rewarded with another penalty which Myles duly obliged with.
Bedford had their tails up and in injury time they were driving forward in numbers for a try. Five metres from the Falcons’ whitewash, the ball was swung wide to James Short in space and after the winger was hauled down, Mr Pearce gave a penalty.
Dorian went for goal, but the fly-half pulled his kick wide and the Tyneside club left Bedfordshire with an 18-9 victory.
Bedford Blues: 15 Ben Ransom, 14 James Stephenson, 13 Brendan Burke, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 James Short, 10 Myles Dorian, 9 Luke Baldwin, 1 Ricky Reeves, 2 Neil Cochrane, 3 Phil Boulton, 4 Mike Howard, 5 Paul Tupai, 6 Gregor Gillanders, 7 Darren Fox (c), 8 Nick Fenton-Wells
Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling, 17 Dan Seal, 18 Ben Gulliver, 19 Don Barrell, 20 Darryl Veenendaal, 21 Jake Sharp, 22 Ollie Dodge
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Suka Hufanga, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Carlo del Fava, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch, 8 Ally Hogg
Replacements: 16 Michael Mayhew, 17 Jonny Golding, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 James Hudson, 20 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 21 Rory Lawson, 22 Waisea Luveniyali
Referee: Luke Pearce