Newcastle Falcons tasted competitive defeat for the first time since May 2019 on Friday night at Kingston Park Stadium, Cardiff Blues taking the spoils in a competitive European Rugby Challenge Cup opener.
The hosts led 17-13 at half-time but conceded the first points of the evening on nine minutes when fly-half Jarrod Evans chipped over a simple penalty from in front, the Falcons having twice defended close-range rolling mauls.
The Falcons were level within three minutes when a charging run from Adam Brocklebank helped set the stage for captain Joel Hodgson to send through a penalty from 30 metres, but they trailed on the 15-minute mark when Hallam Amos scored from a two-on-one in the left corner.
The see-saw scoring pattern continued when the Falcons quickly drew level through a converted try of their own, George Wacokecoke poaching a score from a close-range ruck in the right corner following Jamie Blamire’s piercing 40-metre line-break – Hodgson converting well from wide out to draw level.
Cardiff Blues nudged in front when Evans sent over his second penalty of the evening before the half-hour, but an energetic Falcons side mounted a handful of attacks in the Cardiff half with Brocklebank and Blamire among the many willing carriers.
Indeed, it was one such run from Blamire that helped the Falcons to a 17-13 half-time lead, his break and pass feeding Sam Stuart for a try in the right corner on 35 minutes, converted majestically from the touchline by Hodgson.
The Welshmen began the second half the brighter, and had due reward for their efforts when Evans’ third penalty of the evening cut Newcastle’s advantage to a single point, the fly-half slotting from 30 metres out in front.
It got even better for the visitors when an up-and-under and the resulting offload allowed scrum-half Tomos Williams to scoot through for a converted try, Newcastle turning to their bench and the return of fit-again England flanker Mark Wilson, among others, to regain a foot-hold in the game.
The gap was extended to nine points just before the hour when Evans sent through his fourth penalty, this time from 25 metres out down the right, Newcastle seeing the welcome return of Tonga wing Cooper Vuna after a year out with injury.
Some hard carrying from Pete Lucock helped Newcastle earn prime field position as they got to within five metres of the line, only for the resulting phase to see a knock-on.
The clean breaks were beginning to dry up as both teams tried to play for territory in the middle third of the field, the Falcons having to make do with a well-struck Hodgson penalty from 42 metres out with five minutes to spare.
But the contest was done and dusted just two minutes later when a collapsed maul handed Cardiff a penalty try, and with it the points.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait (Brett Connon, 60), 14 George Wacokecoke (Cooper Vuna, 54), 13 Pete Lucock, 12 Joel Matavesi, 11 Tom Arscott, 10 Joel Hodgson (captain), 9 Sam Stuart (Louis Schreuder, 60); 1 Adam Brocklebank (Kyle Cooper, 49), 2 Jamie Blamire (Charlie Maddison, 63), 3 Mark Tampin (Rodney Ah You, 49), 4 Darren Barry, 5 Bailey Ransom (Connor Collett, 17), 6 Rob Farrar, 7 Josh Basham (Mark Wilson, 49), 8 Tom Marshall.
Scorers – Tries: George Wacokecoke, Sam Stuart. Conversions: Joel Hodgson 2. Penalties: Joel Hodgson 2.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Harri Millard (Mason Grady, 58), 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Ben Thomas (Max Llewellyn, 51), 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Tomos Williams; 1 Brad Thyer (Ethan Lewis, 63), 2 Kristian Dacey (Rhys Carre, 63), 3 Dillon Lewis (Scott Andrews, 63), 4 Seb Davies (Ben Murphy, 76), 5 Cory Hill (captain), 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes (Gwilym Bradley, 61), 7 Josh Turnbull, 8 Sam Moore.
Scorers – Tries: Hallam Amos, Tomos Williams, Penalty try. Conversions: Jarrod Evans 2. Penalties: Jarrod Evans 4.
Referee: Ludovic Cayre (France).