They say winning is a habit, and Dean Richards’ men are certainly in tune with their blistering start to the campaign after a 24-3 bonus-point victory at Jersey in the RFU Championship.
Stretching their unbeaten run to ten games by virtue of today’s maximum point haul against the Channel Islanders, Newcastle Falcons are now in the box seat 13 point clear of rivals Bedford Blues at the Championship summit.
But the Falcons were pushed all the way by a committed and never say die Jersey unit, who will be encouraged with their display.
After Alex Tait led his side out onto the pitch to mark his 100th appearance in a Falcons shirt, the northeasterners piled on the pressure in the opening exchanges of the game.
Firstly Mark Wilson punctured a hole in the Jersey defensive line as he broke clear of three would-be tacklers, only for the move to breakdown just short of the line. And moments later, the Falcons heavies mauled their way towards the line following a lineout deep inside the hosts’ half with Matt Thompson adjudged to be held-up over the line.
After dominating the opening quarter of the affair, referee Steve Lee awarded the islanders a penalty on half way for an infringement at the scrum, which fly-half Barry Davies elected to kick for goal. His audacious attempt flew wide of the right hand post and it remained all square.
However, on 17 minutes Davies made no mistake to put his side 3-0 ahead with a 35-metre penalty out wide following another altercation at the scrum.
Holding the early advantage, the home supporters had their tails up and were soon in full voice when Davies’ neat chip over the top was pounced on by winger Donovan Sanders. In full-flight Sanders scooped up the ball, before racing towards the line. A scrambling Falcons defence prevented the five-point score.
With the half hour mark looming, Richards’ troops took the lead courtesy of a Gopperth try, the result of some excellent work upfront. Earning a penalty midway inside Jersey’s half, the Kiwi No.10 kicked for the corner, and after clean ball at the lineout the Falcons powered their way towards the line.
Edging closer and closer to the line thanks to a well-oiled forwards machine, scrum-half Warren Fury fed Gopperth, who side-stepped his marker to slide over for the score. Gopperth was unable to convert and Newcastle led 5-3.
Continuing the theme for the afternoon, Davies went for goal with his fourth penalty kick of the match. But his attempt failed to have the elevation needed to give his side the lead.
Despite a late Falcons onslaught on the stroke of half-time, which saw forwards Ally Hogg and James Goode drive towards the line, Jersey stood firm to keep the score-line at 5-3.
A resurgent Falcons outfit entered the fray for the second stanza, and with barely two minutes on the clock, Ryan Shortland was over for a try. Neat work down the near side from Jamie Helleur and Alex Crockett gave the visitors good field position. At the breakdown Fury fired the ball into Gopperth who in-turn delayed his pass to Shortland to perfection for the five-point score. Gopperth landed the conversion to extend his side’s lead to 12-3.
Four minutes later the Falcons thought they had scored a quick-fire double when Luke Fielden raced in under the posts. However, Mr Lee brought play back for a forward pass in the build-up.
On 56 minutes the Falcons did notch up their third try of the contest through a pick and drive from tight-head prop James Hall. Hogg secured possession at the lineout, before a galvanized pack pumped their way towards the Jersey line.
The Kingston Park club set the platform when Gopperth’s inch-perfect chip over the top was gathered by the speedy Shortland who was eventually tackled by a desperate Jersey defence.
Five minutes from time Tait capped off a landmark day with a try in the corner to secure the bonus-point triumph. Again the abrasive forward line earned excellent field position for the backline to utilise. After taking the ball from Fury, Gopperth sliced through the heart of the Jersey line, before passing to Crockett who then offloaded to Tait, who squeezed in at the corner.
Jersey: Glenn Bryce, Ed Tellwright, James Copsey, Donovan Sanders, Ed Dawson, Barry Davies, Dave McCormack, Richard Barrington, Dave Felton, Jon Brennan, Rob Anderson, Dave Markham, James Voss, Eoghan Nihill, Nick Trower
Replacements: Sean McCarthy, James Gethings, Paul Rodgers, Fred Silcock, Nicky Griffiths, Chris Levesley, Dai Bishop
Newcastle Falcons: Alex Tait, Luke Fielden, Alex Crockett, Jamie Helleur, Ryan Shortland, Jimmy Gopperth, Warren Fury, Grant Shiells, Matt Thompson, James Hall, Sean Tomes, Scott MacLeod, Chris York, Mark Wilson, Ally Hogg
Replacements: Mike Mayhew, Oliver Tomaszczyk, James Goode, Richard Mayhew, Jordi Pasqualin, Joel Hodgson, Andy Higgins