Match Report

Perpignan - 23

Newcastle Falcons - 32

Sunday 21st Jan 2024 | KO 13:00 | Stade Aime Giral

Newcastle Falcons ended their win-less streak in the south of France on Sunday, battling past Perpignan in the EPCR Challenge Cup on a day when Louie Johnson kicked a perfect eight from eight.

Whilst the result was not enough to secure qualification from the knock-out rounds it promises to have a galvanising effect on the rest of the season, with interim head coach Micky Ward tasting victory at the first attempt.

Perpignan had led 13-9 at the break and were ahead inside two minutes when Newcastle failed to deal with the kick-off – fly-half Matteo Rodor slotting a simple three points from right of centre, 20 metres out.

Opposite number Louie Johnson levelled matters quickly after with a penalty from in front of the Perpignan posts, and the sides remained level on nine minutes when Rodor surprisingly fired wide with a penalty from similarly straightforward range.

Johnson was having no such worries from the kicking tee, and put the Falcons ahead for the first time on 14 minutes when a turnover and grubber from Sam Cross put the Catalans under pressure in their own 22.

Johnson maintained his perfect record with a long-range penalty just before the quarter mark when lazy runners in the home defence drew the eye of Italian referee Federico Vedovelli, and the Cumbrian drilled over a 40-metre three-pointer.

Perpignan grew into the game and cut Newcastle’s lead to a single point from a close-range tap penalty – right-winger Maxim Granell diving over for an unconverted try after the ball was worked to the width.

The Falcons were forced to scramble in defence when the home side almost scored a second straight from the restart, full-back Elliott Obatoyinbo racing back to make a try-saving tackle before his forwards joined in to secure a precious turnover near their own posts.

The weight of home pressure told on 34 minutes when left wing Lucas Dubois returned a kick from 30 metres out to race in at the corner, and the Falcons missed a golden opportunity to lead at half-time when they kicked a penalty to the corner only to mis-fire at the resulting line-out.

That left Perpignan 13-9 up at the break, and they extended that by three on 53 minutes when Rodor slotted a simple penalty from in front.

Newcastle restored parity less than a minute after the restart when replacement scrum-half Hugh O’Sullivan raced between the posts, the Irishman taking an inside ball from Freddie Lockwood after the back-row man broke through the defence.

The Falcons were let off the hook just before the hour mark when Rodor missed with a long-range penalty, and they battled back in some fashion, surging into a ten-point lead on 66 minutes.

First, Johnson sent over a simple penalty from in front of the posts, and almost straight from the restart Ben Redshaw sped down the right wing for a converted try – stepping his way past three defenders less than a fortnight after his 19th birthday.

Johnson added the conversion to maintain his 100% strike rate, and held his nerve shortly after with a pair of 40-metre penalties to build an unassailable lead.

Louis Dupichot’s late consolation try therefore had no impact on the result as the full-back collected a bouncing ball five minutes from time, with Newcastle earning a result which can be a real launch pad for their season.

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Elliott Obatoyinbo, 14 Ben Redshaw, 13 Matias Moroni (Oliver Spencer, 56), 12 Cameron Hutchison (Rory Jennings, 48), 11 Ben Stevenson, 10 Louie Johnson, 9 Josh Barton (Hugh O’Sullivan,48); 1 Adam Brocklebank (Mark Dormer, 74), 2 Bryan Byrne (captain, Michael van Vuuren, 71), 3 Murray McCallum (Eduardo Bello, 53), 4 John Hawkins (John Kelly, 71), 5 Sebastian de Chaves, 6 Pedro Rubiolo (Josh Bainbridge, 30), 7 Sam Cross, 8 Freddie Lockwood.

Scorers – Tries: Hugh O’Sullivan, Ben Redshaw. Conversions: Louie Johnson 2. Penalties: Louie Johnson 6.

Perpignan: 15 Louis Dupichot, 14 Maxim Granell, 13 Job Poulet (Alivereti Duguivalu, 56), 12 Apisai Naqalevu, 11 Lucas Dubois, 10 Matteo Rodor, 9 Sadek Deghmache; 1 Xavier Chiocci (Sacha Lotrian, 45), 2 Victor Montgaillard (Vakhtang Jincharadze, 62), 3 Nemo Roelofse (Pietro Ceccarelli, 56), 4 Bastien Chinarro (Tristan Labouteley, 25), 5 Posolo Tuilagi (Marvin Orie, 40), 6 Samuel M’Foudi (Matthieu Ugena, 57), 7 Kelian Galletier, 8 Valentin Moro.

Scorers – Tries: Maxim Granell, Lucas Dubois, Louis Dupichot. Conversions: Matteo Rodor. Penalties: Matteo Rodor 2.

Referee: Federico Vedovelli (Italy). Attendance: 6,821.