Newcastle Falcons’ rip-roaring form continued with a bonus-point triumph over Rotherham Titans at Clifton Lane.
The Falcons, who swept aside play-off chasing Cornish Pirates last week, were at it again, this time the Titans were the victims.
However, it was not all plane sailing for the Falcons, who had to weather a second-half fight-back from their South Yorkshire hosts.
Stretching their unbeaten run to an incredible 23 games in all competitions, the Kingston Park club sealed maximum points thanks to four first-half tries.
Rotherham were reduced to 14 men with just three minutes on the clock when flanker Latu Makaafi was sin-binned for tackling Andrew Higgins in the air, after the latter claimed the ball cleanly following an up-and-under.
Despite being a man down, Rotherham rallied well and earned themselves a penalty at the scrum 15 metres from the Falcons’ try line, but Garry Law skewed the kick wide of the far post.
Rotherham’s early pressure was short-lived however, and it took the visitors 11 minutes to notch up their first score of the contest, with James Hudson finishing off a sweeping attacking move.
Ally Hogg coasted through a gap in the Rotherham defence before the ball was switched to the right where Scott MacLeod fed his second-row partner with a neat pass. Joel Hodgson’s simple conversion from in front of the posts gave the Falcons a 7-0 lead.
Newcastle doubled their tally two minutes later through centre Jamie Helleur after the Samoan international sprinted 40 metres to touch down under the posts. Hodgson added the extras for a 14-0 advantage.
Try number three came with just a quarter-of-an-hour played courtesy of Rory Lawson. Higgins broke clear down the wing, and his offload to Hudson was quickly moved on to Lawson, who skipped in for the try. Hodgson made it 21-0 with the conversion.
The northeasterners secured the bonus-point on the half-hour mark by virtue of a penalty try. Losing his patience at the scrum five metres from the Titans’ line, referee Greg MacDonald awarded the score which Hodgson duly converted to extend his side’s lead to 28-0.
Rotherham, to their credit responded in positive fashion, and three minutes from the break they hit back with a Michael Doneghan touchdown in the corner. Strong carries from Makaafi and Ben Thomas earned the Titans good field position, before the ball was swung wide to Doneghan, who squeezed in at the corner despite the best efforts of Lawson and Ryan Shortland. It was the first try that the Falcons had conceded since their trip to Doncaster Knights on New Year’s Day.
Law’s touchline conversion reduced the deficit to 28-7. Deep into injury time of the first-half scrum-half Charlie Mulchrone dashed 80 metres to cross the whitewash after plucking a Falcons pass out of the air. Law cannoned the far post with the conversion, and the South Yorkshire club trailed 28-12 at the interval.
Rotherham came out for the second period all guns blazing and went within 10 points of their North East counterparts thanks to a Dan Sanderson try. Sustained pressure in the Falcons’ 22 enabled the second-row to crash over from close range. Law nailed the conversion to make it 28-19 in favour of the Falcons.
Less than two minutes after Sanderson’s try, Rotherham goal-kicker Law had the chance to close the gap further with a penalty. However, the full-back failed to convert to the surprise of everyone inside Clifton Lane.
Within moments of his arrival as a second-half replacement Samoan international Taiasina Tu’ifua was yellow-carded for a late tackle.
A Law penalty, his first successful attempt of the game 10 minutes from time reduced the gap to 28-22.
Hodgson restored the Falcons’ nine point advantage with a penalty from 25 metres out.
Newcastle should have made sure of the win when Alex Crockett intercepted a pass to dart 25 metres to the line, only to be thwarted by a scrambling Titans defence. At the breakdown Hodgson’s cross-field kick found Helleur in acres of space, who offloaded to Tom Catterick to touchdown. However the try was chalked off by the linesman, who adjudged Helleur to have had his foot on the whitewash. Referee Mr MacDonald did bring play back for a Newcastle penalty which Hodgson converted to seal a 34-22 victory.
Rotherham Titans: 24 Garry Law, 14 Michael Doneghan, 13 Eamonn Sheridan, 12 Palepoi Nonu, 11 Curtis Wilson, 10 James McKinney, 9 Charles Mulchrone, 1 James Kilbane, 2 Edward Stagg, 3 Gareth Denman, 4 Ben Thomas, 5 Daniel Sanderson, 6 Latu Makaafi, 7 Carl Kirwan, 23 Toby Freeman
Replacements: 16 Jared Saunders, 17 Marshall Gadd, 18 Ross Davies, 19 Laurence Pearce, 20 Alex Rieder, 21 Lee Blackett, 22 James Williams
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Andrew Higgins, 13 Michael Tait, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 James Hudson, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 James Hall, 18 Sean Tomes, 19 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 20 Warren Fury, 21 Waisea Luveniyali, 22 Alex Crockett