Match Report

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Newcastle Falcons - 0

Saturday 02nd Jan 2016

The 7,075 inside the Falcons’ nest were bouncing on the final whistle when Craig Willis’ 80th minute penalty extended the winning margin to five points.

It was full reward for a tremendously gutsy performance in which they repelled a side laden with internationals – a first win in eleven games against the West Country outfit.

The Falcons led 13-8 after an opening half in which they showed discipline and control, though they had to battle back from an early blow when Bath captain Guy Mercer scored just five minutes in.

The Flanker was driven over from a maul in the right corner as the Recreation Ground outfit opted not to kick for goal in a swirling Kingston Park wind, Rhys Priestland’s conversion missing its mark.

Home Fly Half Craig Willis, too, took some time to adjust to the January wind, the Teessider finding his mark at the second attempt when Bath entered a ruck from the side.

Returning Centre Juan Pablo Socino bought prime field position with a well-judged grubber to the left corner, Simon Hammersley a rock at Full Back as the Yorkshireman defused a string of high bombs.

Newcastle’s forward pressure finally paid dividends on 21 minutes when Rob Vickers was awarded a try by the television match official, who judged the Durham University graduate to have grounded fairly around the fringes of a ruck in the right corner.

Willis converted impressively from the wide angle, Priestland narrowing the gap to two with a penalty from in front.

Newcastle had the last say of the opening half when Henry Thomas’ sin-binning handed Willis a second penalty, this time from the left, Nili Latu having helped them into the 22 with a brilliantly-steered maul.

The second half was a demonstration of the home side’s mental resilience, which was tested to the full when a pair of Priestland penalties put them two points behind against a Bath side using the elements in their favour.

Belisario Agulla’s interception from his own 22 saw Newcastle breaking away down the right-hand side, Socino’s looping pass and Latu’s kick ahead forcing Matt Banahan into full scramble mode.

The former England Wing had an attack of his own thwarted by Marcus Watson’s defensive intervention, replacement prop Paddy Ryan impressing from the bench on his Falcons’ Premiership debut.

His side led again on 70 minutes when Willis chipped over a penalty from in front, his side having their claims for a try turned down as Chris Harris was held up over the line.

The Falcons’ maul defence ensured Bath’s forward pack got little change in the driving phases, Kingston Park a cauldron of tension as the final minutes ticked by.

Improved discipline saw the home side resisting the urge to concede the penalties which have hindered their progress, and when referee Matt Carley whistled in their favour with 40 seconds left on the clock they knew the game was theirs.

There was still the formality of Willis smashing the ball between the posts of the South Stand, from which he watched the team as a young supporter.

Every man, woman and child on that terrace greeted the final kick with unbridled joy, Newcastle well worth a result which promises to ignite their Premiership season.

**Newcastle Falcons**
S Hammersley (B Agulla, 40), A Tait, C Harris, JP Socino, M Watson, C Willis, M Young; R Vickers, G McGuigan (S Lawson, 63), J Welsh (A Rogers, 25, P Ryan, 63), M Wilson, S Robinson, A Hogg, W Welch (captain), N Latu (M Botha, 62).

Falcons scorers – Tries: R Vickers. Conversions: C Willis. Penalties: C Willis 4.

**Bath Rugby**
T Homer, H Agulla (A Watson, 71), J Joseph, O Devoto, M Banahan, R Priestland (G Ford, 62), N Matawalu (J Evans, 39); N Auterac (M Lahiff, 58), R Batty, H Thomas (D Wilson, 56), M Garvey, C Ewels, L Houston, G Mercer (captain, F Louw, 62), D Denton (D Day, 58).
Sin bin: H Thomas (35).

Bath scorers – Tries: G Mercer. Penalties: R Priestland 3.

Referee: M Carley. Attendance: 7,075.