Newcastle Falcons edged a step closer to securing a play-off spot with a narrow victory over Leeds Carnegie in the rustic surroundings of Otley.
Played in mud bath conditions, the Falcons notched up another win thanks to a Ryan Shortland converted try coupled with two Jimmy Gopperth penalties.
Making it 14 wins out of 14 in the RFU Championship, the Falcons will be pleased to have left Yorkshire with their unbeaten record still intact.
The Falcons looked dangerous in attack from the outset and went close to crossing the line through centre Jamie Helleur. Scott MacLeod gathered the ball cleanly at the line-out midway inside Leeds’ half before the ball was switched to the powerful No.12, who unhinged Carnegie’s rear-guard with a sharp burst of pace.
Tackled 15-metres from the line, the ball was switched wide where a string of drives ensued before referee Darren Gamage awarded a penalty to the visitors at the breakdown. Jimmy Gopperth slotted home the three points to give his side the perfect start with five minutes on the clock.
Four minutes later Dean Richards’ men crossed the whitewash thanks to the ingenuity of full-back Tom Catterick. Catterick broke clear down the nearside, and after drawing a Leeds defender, he unleashed winger Ryan Shortland to the line. Gopperth converted to make it 10-0.
Leeds reduced the gap to 10-3 on 23 minutes with a Joe Ford penalty after the Falcons were penalised for having hands in at the ruck. Newcastle had defended stoutly in the build-up to the award of the penalty as Leeds went in search of some points.
An altercation at the maul on the half hour mark led to Leeds’ second penalty of the game which Ford pulled to the left of the far post and the score remained 10-3.
On the stroke of half-time the Falcons eyed their second try of the game as they looked to give themselves some much needed breathing space going into the interval.
A neat dab over the top from Catterick forced Leeds to carry the ball touch in goal, but from the resulting five-metre scrum the home side won the penalty against the head.
Fred Burdon had the majority of the crowd on their feet when he burst through the middle of the Falcons’ backline a minute into the second period. A desperate North East defence thwarted the inside centre and Newcastle won the scrum 20-metres from their own line.
Leeds were really putting the pressure on Newcastle in the opening exchanges of the second-half, and even turned down a shot at goal in favour of going for touch, such was their ambition. A barrage of pressure from the Yorkshiremen followed with winger David Doherty causing the Falcons problems with his direct attacking approach.
Tom Catterick’s charge down kick from inside his own 22 sent a few Falcons’ fans hearts racing, but Leeds were unable to make the most of the opportunity.
They did however close the gap to 10-6 with a Ford penalty on 59 minutes. Even the most hardy of Falcons supporter would not have denied that Leeds merited the three points after a lengthy period of attacking pressure.
Gopperth had the chance to restore the Falcons advantage with a penalty to the left of the sticks, but his effort missed the target with the score still at 10-6.
On 70 minutes Gopperth made amends, this time from directly in front of the posts for a 13-6 lead much to the delight of the traveling contingent on the terraces.
A Ford penalty from 30-metres out ensured a nervy final five minutes for the Falcons with the score poised at 13-9.
Despite a late surge from Leeds, Newcastle stood firm to ensure they came away with the four points.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Andrew Higgins, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 James Hudson, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Taiasina Tu’ifua
Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 James Hall, 18 James Goode, 19 Ally Hogg, 20 Warren Fury, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Suka Hufanga