Dean Richards praised his Newcastle Falcons charges for their ability to overcome tricky playing conditions during Friday’s 34-3 victory at Cross Keys.
The bonus-point triumph secured a home quarter-final in the British and Irish Cup, Newcastle winning all six of their Pool D fixtures to finish well clear at the top of the table.
Battling away on a muddy Pandy Park pitch which was only cleared of deep surface water on the morning of the game, the director of rugby said: “They had about a foot of water on the field, so their grounds-staff deserve enormous credit for even getting the game on at all.
“A second cancellation was the last thing either side needed, so we were just delighted to get the thing played.”
Dominating territory and possession Newcastle led 13-0 at the interval, Ollie Stedman marking his club debut with a powerful finish down the left after a James Hudson line-out steal in the corner set the play running.
Two Jimmy Gopperth penalties took the half-time lead to 13-0 in the Kiwi’s 100th game for the Falcons, Cross Keys’ indiscipline seeing the first of an eventual three sin-binnings.
“The terrible conditions under-foot really limited what either side can do, and largely for that reason we are not getting too disappointed by the number of chances we put away,” said Richards.
The conditions were extremely difficult and dictated a lot of what the teams could do, but on the night I thought we coped better than they did.
“From a set-piece point of view things went well. We won all of our line-outs barring I think only one, we dominated in the scrum and things seemed to be working well in those departments.”
The second half was more one-way traffic for Newcastle, who had a second try within three minutes of the resumption when Welsh scrum-half Warren Fury took a gap down the blind-side and dived in at the left corner.
A pair of penalty tries with further bodies in the sin-bin completed the scoring, and was just enough to hand Richards’ men another four-try bonus point into the bargain.
The Falcons are next in action on Sunday February 10 when they take on Leeds Carnegie, with the 12noon kick-off moved to Otley RFC.
Newcastle Falcons: T Catterick (J Hodgson, 64), A Higgins (J Fitzpatrick, 65), A Crockett, J Helleur, R Shortland, J Gopperth, W Fury (R Lawson, 59); J Golding, R Vickers, O Tomaszczyk (J Hall, 59), J Hudson, S MacLeod, M Wilson (R Mayhew, 64), W Welch (captain), O Stedman (C York, 68).
Falcons scorers – Tries: O Stedman, W Fury, Penalty try 2. Conversions: J Gopperth 4. Penalties: J Gopperth 2.
Cross Keys: G David, N Williams, L Williams, A James, N Trowbridge (W Owen, 63), D Jones, R Dyer (captain, R James, 64); R Cornock (C Gould 57), M Davies, A Lott,D Hodge, O Hodge (R Nash, 62), S Higgins, S Matthews, A Powell.
Cross Keys scorers - Penalties: D Jones
Sin-bin: D Hodge (38 mins), S Matthews (43 mins), R Nash (69 mins)
Referee: E O’Dowd (Ireland)