Newcastle Falcons 21 – 22 Cardiff Blues
Newcastle Falcons allowed their intensity to slip as Cardiff Blues bounced back for a 22-21 LV= Cup victory at Kingston Park.
The Falcons were comfortably ahead with a 21-7 half-time lead, conceding two tries early in the second half with Ruki Tipuna in the sin-bin for a tip tackle.
Juan Pablo Socino and Rory Clegg both had kicks to win it in the last five minutes as a dominant home scrum earned them a couple of penalties, neither finding the mark as the Welsh youngsters held out.
The early signs had been so promising for Newcastle, surging out of the blocks in a first half during which they had the lion’s share of both territory and possession.
Alesana Tuilagi’s route-one running drew defenders towards him in numbers, the resulting space exploited by Adam Powell in the sixth minute when the centre scored down the left hand side.
Tuilagi had cut inflield from a line-out in the corner as the hosts turned down a shot at goal in favour of maximum points, Socino converting well from out wide.
A much-changed Blues side found themselves level against the run of play when Socino’s pass was intercepted by Dan Fish, the full-back kicking downfield in an 80-metre sprint for the line.
Despite the best efforts of Socino it was left wing Harry Davies who was quickest to the ball in-goal, fly-half Simon Humberstone adding the conversion from in front.
Newcastle’s supremacy on the scoreboard was quickly reinstated when Tipuna used a ruck in the right corner as a launchpad from which to jink over the line, Socino slotting the extras with ease as the home side went through the gears.
Blues No 8 Rory Watts-Jones earned himself a 10-minute breather for a tackle on his own 22, and Newcastle soon took advantage when Rob Vickers ploughed over the whitewash for his side’s third converted try.
The Yorkshireman had reverted to his original position of hooker with Rob Hawkins injured and Scott Lawson on international duty, George McGuigan making a successful return from injury during the second half.
Socino’s third conversion put the Falcons 21-7 up at the break, but that was where the good news ended as a rejuvenated Cardiff took the second half by the scruff of the neck.
They crossed the try-line just three minutes after the resumption when prop Thomas Davies barged over in the left corner, the Blues having chosen to go for an attacking line-out with Tipuna sent to the sin-bin.
Humberstone added the conversion from wide out, the youngster controlling the game well as Newcastle allowed their intensity to drop.
It got even worse for the home side when a charged-down clearance inside their own 22 allowed Watts-Jones to score in the right corner, the missed conversion leaving the visitors two points adrift.
That was soon remedied when Humberstone slotted a penalty from the right-hand side to take a one-point lead, neither side troubling the scorers during a frustrating closing quarter.
The Falcons never gave up trying, but failed to find the required cohesion as the Blues’ youngsters held their defensive line.
Scrum dominance led to a pair of late penalties, firstly Socino from 40 metres as the fly-half fired left, then from close in but further to the left when Clegg’s effort fell just short of the cross-bar.
A late flurry down the left wing failed to deliver a breakthrough as the final whistle came, the home side having shone for the opening half but paying the price thereafter.
A Tait, N Cato, G Tiesi (R Clegg, 65), A Powell, A Tuilagi (M Blair, 49), JP Socino, R Tipuna (C Harris, 55); A Rogers, R Vickers (G McGuigan, 46), S Wilson (O Tomaszczyk, 40), C Green, D Barrow (S MacLeod, 49), R Mayhew, A Saull (captain, C York, 65), M Wilson.
Sin-bin: R Tipuna (43).
Falcons scorers – Tries: A Powell, R Tipuna, R Vickers. Conversions: JP Socino 3.
D Fish, T Williams, L Amorosino, G Smith, H Davies (T Williams, 65), S Humberstone, T Knoyle; T Davies, R Williams, S Andrews, L Reed, C Dicomidis, J Groves, E Jenkins (captain). R Watts-Jones.
Sin-bin: R Watts-Jones (25).
Blues scorers – Tries: H Davies, R Williams, R Watts-Jones. Conversions: S Humberstone 2. Penalties: S Humberstone.
Referee: J Meredith. Attendance: 3,536.