A resurgent second-half display from Newcastle Falcons earned a 34-12 victory over Jersey at Kingston Park to underline their supremacy at the summit of the RFU Championship table.
The Falcons made nine changes to the side that defeated Nottingham the previous week, and they showed no signs of rustiness as they extended their unbeaten run to 20 in the league and 26 in all competitions.
Dean Richards’ men made an industrious start to proceedings with the visitors unable to get their hands on the ball within the first five minutes. Giving the ball air in the backline, centre Alex Crockett went close to touching down in the far corner, but the former Worcester man was thwarted just short of the line.
Newcastle were awarded a penalty moments later which fly-half Joel Hodgson turned down in favour of an attacking line-out. The play came to nothing, and with the Falcons enjoying all the early pressure, it was Jersey who stunned the Kingston Park crowd with a try against the run of play.
A robust hit-up from hooker Elvis Taione set the platform for the Channel Islanders, before the ball was spun wide to Max Stelling on the overlap. Michael Le Bourgeois’ touchline conversion failed to hit the target and Jersey led 5-0 with 12 minutes played.
Hodgson reduced the gap to 5-3 on 16 minutes after Ollie Stedman was tip-tackled.
Jersey responded in positive fashion with Mark Foster racing clear down the far side after a neat chip over the top from fly-half Le Bourgeois. However, Foster’s pass to fellow centre Mark McCrea could only find touch.
On 27 minutes Tom Catterick showed his opposite number a clean set of heals down the nearside to scoot in for the try. Recent acquisition Noah Cato was the architect, drawing his man to unleash the Falcons academy product. Hodgson sliced the conversion to the right of the near post, but Newcastle had the lead for the first time in the game at 8-5.
On the stroke of half-time Jersey were throwing everything at the Falcons’ rear-guard and looked like a club that was fighting for their lives at the bottom of the tree. Camped five metres from Newcastle’s line, the Red and Blacks had a series of scrums which had to be reset, before Italian referee Marius Mitrea lost his patience to send prop Kieran Brookes to the sin-bin. From the resulting scrum, Jersey drove frantically towards the line and thought they were over the whitewash only for Mr Mitrea to deem the Jersey attacker held-up.
After a lengthy injury stoppage, Newcastle were not caught cold as Joel Hodgson crossed in the corner following a sweeping Falcons backline move. Showing effective distribution at the ruck, Warren Fury fed Catterick, whose impressive shimmy and side-step created the try for Hodgson. The Newcastle No.10 failed to add the extras and the Falcons were 13-5 ahead.
Having put some daylight between themselves and their Jersey counterparts, the visitors responded almost immediately with Jersey flanker Joe Buckle waltzing in under the posts thanks to a marauding drive and offload from Talite Vaioliti. Le Bourgeois’ conversion in front of the posts narrowed the gap to 13-12.
To their credit, Ben Harvey’s troops were ambitious in attack, very rarely kicking the ball away as they strived for a shock victory in their fight for survival.
Newcastle had other ideas though, and with the hour mark looming the explosive Cato intercepted a looping pass to sprint in from 35 metres out. Hodgson converted to make it 20-12.
Jonny Golding and Matt Thompson came on with just over 20 minutes to go, and from their first pack down the Falcons were awarded a penalty 30 metres out. Hodgson’s kick had the distance but not the direction and the eight point deficit remained.
The former RGS pupil had the chance to make amends two minutes later from a similar position, but again his kick flew wide of the upright.
With five minutes plus injury time left on the clock replacement Jimmy Gopperth made an immediate impact, setting-up Adam Powell with an exquisite drop of the shoulder and pass. At full speed new boy Powell was stopped in his tracks.
The Falcons secured the bonus point in injury time courtesy of No.8 Stedman, whose outstretched arm touched down for the five point score. Gopperth made no mistake from in front of the posts to extend his side’s lead to 27-12.
And Gopperth was at the heart of things once more with the last play of the game, breaching Jersey’s defensive line at ease, before hitting the supporting Powell with an inside pass to hand him a try on his home debut. Gopperth’s conversion gave the Kingston Park outfit a 34-12 triumph.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Sean Tomes, 5 James Goode, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ollie Stedman
Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 James Hall, 18 Jonny Golding, 19 Scott MacLeod, 20 Jordi Pasqualin, 21 Jimmy Gopperth, 22 Ally Hogg
Jersey RFC: 15 Max Stelling, 14 James Copsey, 13 Mark McCrea, 12 Mark Foster, 11 Ed Dawson, 10 Michael Le Bourgeois, 9 Dave McCormack (c), 1 Richard Barrington, 2 Elvis Taione, 3 Jon Brennan, 4 Rob Anderson, 5 Dave Markham, 6 Kingsley Lang, 7 Joe Buckle, 8 Fred Silcock
Replacements: 16 Sean McCarthy, 17 Dave Felton, 18 James Gethings, 19 Talite Vaioliti, 20 James Voss, 21 Donovan Sanders, 22 Dai Bishop