Dean Richards’ men have set-up an intriguing British and Irish Cup final with Leinster after an 18-15 triumph over Bedford Blues at Goldington Road.
A cup journey that started with Cross Keys at home back in October will now finish with a showpiece final against a province rich in Heineken Cup pedigree at Kingston Park on Friday 17 May.
With the Falcons 18-3 in front with six minutes to go, Bedford cranked up the pressure on their North East counterparts with two late tries to narrow the gap to 18-15. However, the Falcons managed to hold on to book their place in the cup showdown.
After dominating the first 10 minutes with ball in hand, Bedford had the chance to turn their early pressure into points with a penalty 35 metres out. The Falcons were penalised for not releasing at the breakdown, but the subsequent shot at goal from fly-half Myles Dorian veered wide of the left hand upright.
Newcastle’s first attack came on 14 minutes when Adam Powell broke clear of a series of Blues defenders before feeding Mark Wilson on the charge. Wilson was tackled 15 metres from the line, and after scrum-half Warren Fury fizzed a neat pass to Jimmy Gopperth, the Kiwi’s attempted dab into the corner was touched in goal by Bedford full-back Ben Ransom.
Midway through the first period Dorrian missed his second penalty of the afternoon, this time his effort cannoning the near post.
After failing to convert their two penalties, Bedford were very nearly made to pay just short of the half hour mark when Gopperth’s effort from the touchline brushed past the far post. The Falcons were awarded the penalty after an infringement at a rolling maul which culminated in a few fisticuffs from both sets of players.
A 0-0 half-time score looked very much on the cards, but the northeasterners had other ideas, and after a string of pulsating carries towards the line, coupled with patient build-up play, the visitors were awarded a penalty for an infringement at the ruck. Gopperth slotted home from 25 metres out to give his side the advantage at 3-0.
And on the stroke of half-time Gopperth extended his side’s lead to 6-0 with a carbon-copy of his first effort after referee Mark Patton penalised Bedford for offside as the Falcons piled on the pressure with the oranges looming.
Coming out for the second-half in fierce mood, the Falcons were immediately over for a try straight from the kick-off with Jonny Golding crashing over from close range.
Gopperth was the architect, breaking clear of his marker before steamrollering his way over the top of three would-be tacklers. Five metres from Bedford’s line, the ball was spun wide to Tom Catterick in space, and after he was tackled the ball was switched to the middle of the park where Golding took his chance to round off a week which started with the prop announcing his impending retirement at the end of the campaign. Gopperth’s conversion made it 13-0.
A try saving tackle from Alex Tait on 57 minutes kept the Falcons’ clean sheet intact as the Blues went in search of a way back into the contest.
Bedford were reduced to 14 men with 20 minutes left on the clock when skipper Darren Fox was sin-binned for killing the ball at the ruck.
Replacement No.10 Jake Sharp reduced the deficitt to 13-3 with 10 minutes to go thanks to a penalty from in front of the posts. Two minutes later Gopperth tried a drop-goal which flew to the left of the post.
Winger Noah Cato caught the ball from a poor 22 restart to sprint in for a try despite the attention of a scrambling Bedford rear-guard.
Gopperth failed to add the extras and the Falcons led 18-3.
Having only been on the field for five seconds after coming on for fellow No.9 Fury, Jordi Pasqualin was sent to the bin for holding back a Bedford defender when chasing a kick through.
Backs against the wall, the Falcons were made to defend in the closing stages, and Blues wing James Stephenson raced in for the first of their quick-fire double on 78 minutes.
And in injury time Mark Howard finished off a sweeping Bedford attack in the corner with Sharp unable to convert.
Bedford Blues: 15 Ben Ransom, 14 James Stephenson, 13 Brendan Burke, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 James Short, 10 Myles Dorian, 9 Luke Baldwin, 1 Darren Fearn, 2 Neil Cochrane, 3 Dan Seal, 4 Mike Howard, 5 Paul Tupai, 6 Gregor Gillanders, 7 Darren Fox (c), 8 Nick Fenton-Wells
Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling, 17 Phil Boulton, 18 Don Barrell, 19 Tom Armes, 20 Darryl Veenendaal, 21 Jake Sharp, 22 Ollie Dodge
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Jamiel Helleur, 11 Alex Tait, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Michael Mayhew, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 James Hudson, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg
Replacements: 16 Rob Vickers, 17 Scott Wilson, 18 Carlo del Fava, 19 Ollie Stedman, 20 Jordi Pasqualin, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Michael Tait
Referee: Mark Patton