An improved performance was not enough to stop Newcastle Falcons Under-18s from enduring a 37-3 defeat at the hands of Northampton Saints at Penrith RFC on Saturday.
In what was a much improved team performance compared to the Leeds game before Christmas, the young Falcons fledglings matched their East Midland counterparts for large spells of the game, the telling difference being the sin-binning of No.8 Callum Chick on the stroke of half-time.
During that period, the Saints made their numerical advantage count with brutal efficiency, adding one penalty and two converted tries to take the game out of reach of James Ponton’s side.
Starting brightly on a fresh winter’s day in the Northern Lakes, the Falcons were showing a desire to take the game to the visitors with slick handling from the base of rucks allowing the backline to probe the Northampton defence. Going behind to a Harry Mallinder penalty in the seventh minute, the Falcons’ fighting spirit was not dimmed and a number of well-executed phases interlinking forwards and backs were asking plenty of questions of the Northampton rear-guard.
Holding firm, the Falcons’ attacking pressure drew just reward on 22 minutes when a surging break down the left flank caused panic in Saints’ 22. Playing advantage for offside, fly-half Brett Connon attempted to make use of the space behind the defensive line by putting through a well weighted grubber kick. Gathered in by covering Saint’s full-back Howard Packman, play was brought back to in front of the posts where Connon calmly got his team onto the scoresheet and to make it all square.
A penalty conceded after the restart for not rolling away allowed the Saints to regain their three point advantage before a fumble under a high ball, returned by Northampton from the restart, gifted the visitors a seven point score. Hacking through as the ball bobbled on the floor, openside flanker Will Allman gathered in clear territory to flop over the line, Mallinder adding the conversion for a 13-3 lead.
The young Falcons charges, buoyed on by a healthy crowd of over 200, retained their composure and launched another attack towards Saints’ line. With a heavy pitch slowing down the pace of the game, the Falcons were unable to find the break needed to finish the half chances they were creating.
With seconds remaining in the half, the Falcons were turned over in Saints’ 22 and, after conceding three penalties in quick succession, they ended the half a further three points and a man down. As play resumed after the interval, Northampton blasted out of the blocks looking to maximise the pain they could inflict on the scoreboard whilst the Falcons were down to 14 men.
Throwing everything in their armoury at the Falcons, five minutes of relentless attacks yielded a penalty and keeping the pressure applied, the Saints kicked for the corner. A side entry by the Falcons into the driving maul earned another penalty, which scrum-half Michael Morris took quickly and an onrushing Allman simply added his second of the afternoon. After a successful conversion extended the Saints lead to 23-3, another converted score at the end of the sin-bin period allowed the Saints to establish a comfortable 30-3 advantage.
Restored to their full complement of players, the Falcons found themselves stemming the tide and launching plenty of attacks of their own however, loose handling and miscommunications were conspiring to wipe out any territorial gains made and releasing the pressure on Saints. In the end, the final word of the encounter went the way of the Saints as a final rush into the Falcons created an acre of space allowing fly-half Harry Sheppard to execute a cross-field kick to winger Rotimi Segun.
Making up for two butchered attempts earlier in the game, he made no mistake to add his side’s fourth try of the day, duly converted by Mallinder. Speaking post match, academy manager Mark Laycock lamented the disparaging scoreline, saying: “I don’t think that scoreline is reflective of the game at all.
“We contested well against an organised and sizeable Northampton team, and had we taken a couple of opportunities of our own in the first half it could have been a very different result.”
Off the field, the academy manager was full of praise for hosts Penrith RFC and pleased that the second academy fixture to be played in Cumbria this season had delivered a strong crowd.
“It’s very pleasing to see a good number of people come out on a Saturday afternoon and support the under-18s. It adds to the experience for these young players and gives them a good feeling of what it’s like to play in front of a crowd as well as providing any onlookers with an idea of how physical and intense these under 18 league matches are.
“We’ve also got to pass on a huge thank you to everyone at Penrith RFC for agreeing to host the match and for all their help in organising the day.”