Match Report

Emirates Lions - 35

Newcastle Falcons - 13

Saturday 16th Dec 2023 | KO 15:15 | Emirates Airline Park

Newcastle Falcons tasted defeat on South African soil on Saturday when the Lions took all five points from this EPCR Challenge Cup encounter in Johannesburg.

Building on a 14-6 half-time lead, they wrapped up the bonus points 15 minutes from time to maintain their winning start to the competition.

A week training in the baking-hot sun gave way to more familiar climes when a deluge of rain accompanied the start of the game – Newcastle using the wet surface to bombard the home 22 with a string of grubber kicks.

The territorial game paid early dividends when Brett Connon slotted a penalty from in front of the posts seven minutes in, with wing Nathan Greenwood enjoying a couple of early darts with ball in hand.

No.8 John Kelly was similarly enthusiastic in the carrying stakes, helping earn his side a pair of red-zone penalties which ultimately went unrewarded as Newcastle knocked on the wet ball at line-out time.

The Lions grew into the game and at the midway stage of the opening half they took the lead, with three close-range penalties eventually ending in points when PJ Botha broke away from a maul in the left corner to dot down.

Fly-half Sanele Nohamba added the conversion, and he repeated the trick on the half-hour when the Lions crossed for their second try.

Again, it stemmed from a maul, and despite the Falcons defending the set-piece threat they were broken down in the subsequent sequence of goal-line pick-and-go, from which prop JP Smith barrelled over for his side’s second converted try.

Newcastle responded with a second Connon penalty, this time from 40 metres out in front, but were reduced to 14 men when skipper Josh Bainbridge was sin-binned for an offence at a ruck in front of his own posts.

Lions opted for a scrum from the resulting penalty but left empty-handed as the Falcons’ rearguard forced a knock-on, but there was still time for more drama with the final play of the half when visiting flanker Philip van der Walt was sin-binned for a high tackle.

Lions kicked the penalty to the corner and were held up over the try-line, leaving them 14-6 ahead at the half-time whistle.

The home side continued to enjoy territorial dominance with the extra two men in the pack, but the Falcons repelled their maul threat and held their runners at bay with a string of low chop tackles during the opening exchanges of the second period.

The dam finally broke on 51 minutes when flanker Emmanuel Tshituka scored from the back of a line-out, but the Falcons responded positively when Freddie Lockwood charged over the try-line from a tap penalty five metres out.

Connon added the simple conversion to narrow the gap to eight points going into the closing quarter, and a lively Newcastle side kept probing as replacement George Wacokecoke enjoyed a midfield line-break.

It was the Lions who grabbed the next and decisive score, however, with centre Marius Louw the beneficiary of some swift advantage play when he held his footing for a bonus-point try down the right.

Nohamba maintained his perfect goal-kicking stats with the touchline conversion, slotting once more at the end when Tshituka ploughed over for his second try from close range.

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Elliott Obatoyinbo, 14 Nathan Greenwood, 13 Ben Stevenson, 12 Cameron Hutchison (Josh Thomas, 65), 11 Louis Brown (George Wacokecoke, 56), 10 Brett Connon, 9 Josh Barton (Ben Douglas, 68); 1 Adam Brocklebank (Mark Dormer, 73), 2 Charlie Maddison (Michael van Vuuren, 55), 3 Mark Tampin (Murray McCallum, 44), 4 Tim Cardall, 5 Kiran McDonald (Adam Scott, 56), 6 Philip van der Walt (Freddie Lockwood, 48), 7 Josh Bainbridge (captain), 8 John Kelly.

Scorers – Tries: Freddie Lockwood. Conversions: Brett Connon. Penalties: Brett Connon 2.

Emirates Lions: 15 Quan Horn, 14 Richard Kriel, 13 Rynhardt Jonker, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Sanele Nohamba, 9 Morne van den Berg; 1 JP Smith, 2 PJ Botha, 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 4 Willem Alberts, 5 Darrien Landsberg, 6 Emmanuel Tshituka, 7 Hanru Sirgel, 8 Francke Horn.

Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Morgan Naude, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Raynard Roets, 20 Izan Esterhuizen, 21 JC Pretorius, 22 Jordan Hendrikse, 23 Gianni Lombard.

Scorers – Tries: PJ Botha, JP Smith, Emmanuel Tshituka 2, Marius Louw. Conversions: Sanele Nohamba 5.

Referee: Benoit Rousselet (France).

Photos courtesy of Steve Haag Sports