Dean Richards’ reign as Newcastle Falcons boss began in earnest today with victory over Bristol at the Memorial Stadium.
A brace of tries from Luke Fielden as well as tries from Tane Tu’ipulotu and Ally Hogg ensured a winning start for Richards.
The Falcons made a slow start to proceedings and were unable to get out of their own half within the first four minutes of the game.
Sustained pressure from the home side culminated in the award of a penalty for off side and Tristan Roberts obliged from 20-metres out to give Bristol the early advantage.
From the restart the West Country outfit were penalised for crossing, and the radar boot of Gopperth took centre stage as he arrowed his kick between the posts to level the game at 3-3.
After a stuttering start, Richards’ men got into their rhythm and on 12 minutes Tu’ipulotu crossed the whitewash for a five-point score. Gopperth set the northeasterners on their way with a neat dab into the corner, forcing Mike Tagicakibau to slice his clearance into touch.
From the resulting line-out Chris Pilgrim utilised the pack with a series of drives before Gopperth sprayed the ball to Tu’ipulotu, who raced clear of his marker to score.
Gopperth failed to add the extras and the Falcons led 8-3. Undeterred by the visitors’ score, Bristol hit-back with converted try on 18 minutes courtesy of winger Ryan Edwards.
Former Falcon Luke Eves was the architect, unleashing Edwards on the overlap with a well-timed pass and the No.14 scooted in for the touchdown. Roberts made no mistake with the conversion to put his side 10-8 in front.
Roberts extended Bristol’s lead to 13-8 before a brace of quick-fire penalties from Gopperth had the game poised at 14-13 to the Falcons with just over 10 minutes left of the first-half.
With the Falcons back in the ascendancy, the North East unit showed their class, turning on the style with a Fielden try in the corner.
Summer recruit Alex Crockett drew his marker to feed the pacey Fielden and there was no catching the full-back. Gopperth nailed the conversion to give the Kingston Park outfit a 21-13 lead.
Just before the break the Falcons blew a gaping opportunity to enhance their lead with a breakaway try in the corner.
Crockett scooped the ball up following a handling error at the ruck before racing clear only to be thwarted by a scrambling Bristol defence.
From the breakdown the Falcons had numbers on the far side and the ball was swiftly moved out wide with Taiasina Tu’ifua feeding the in-form Tu’ipulotu, whose wayward pass to Higgins found touch with the try-line beckoning.
HT: Bristol 13 Falcons 21
Straight from the restart the Falcons piled on the pressure and they showed their ambition in attack when Gopperth turned down the opportunity of three points, instead electing to kick deep into the corner.
A string of drives from Sean Tomes and Will Welch put the hosts on the back foot before referee Tim Wigglesworth awarded a penalty to the Falcons for offside. This time Gopperth took the three on offer and the Falcons edged 24-13 in front.
Buoyed by the positive start to the second period, the Falcons added gloss to the score-line with a Fielden touchdown on 47 minutes, his second try of the game. Higgins escaped two Bristol defenders and his kick behind the Bristol rearguard was pounced on by Fielden to make it 29-13 to the Falcons.
On 52 minutes Bristol’s tight-head was penalised for failing to bind at the scrum and Gopperth launched the resulting penalty between the uprights for a 32-13 advantage.
The roles were reversed moments later when the Falcons were punished for an offence in the scrum, and from the pack-down Eves scythed through a gap to score despite the attentions of Higgins and Fielden. Roberts converted from an acute angle to reduce the arrears to 32-20.
However a grity display and a Hogg try in the closing minutes gave the Falcons a winning start to their Championship campaign. Gopperth skewed his conversion wide but it paled into insignificance as the Falcons ran out 37-20 victors.
Bristol: 15 Jon Goodridge, 14 Ryan Edwards, 13 Jack Gadd, 12 Luke Eves, 11 Mike Tagicakibau, 10 Tristan Roberts, 9 James Grindal, 1 Kyle Traynor, 2 Ross Johnston, 3 Wayne Thompson, 4 Mariano Sambucetti, 5 Glen Townson, 6 Iain Grieve (c), 7 Redford Pennycook, 8 Marco Mama
Reps: 16 Rhys Lawrence, 17 Bruce Douglas, 18 Ben Glyn, 19 James Merriman, 20 Ruki Tipuna, 21 Matthew Jones, 22 DavidMcIlwaine
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Luke Fielden, 14 Andrew Higgins, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Tane Tu’ipulotu, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Chris Pilgrim, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Sean Tomes, 5James Hudson, 6 Ally Hogg, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Taiasina Tu’ifua
Reps: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 James Hall, 18 Scott MacLeod, 19 Richard Mayhew, 20 Rory Lawson, 21 James Fitzpatrick, 22 Waisea Luveniyali