- Newcastle lift RFU Championship trophy after gruelling 26-game campaign
- Two tries and seven Jimmy Gopperth penalties secure the victory
Photo: Getty Images
Newcastle secured the RFU Championship title and promotion to the Aviva Premiership in a hard-fought battle at Kingston Park against Bedford Blues.
Bedford came into the second leg with a nine-point deficit to overturn, and despite producing a spirited display against the league’s top placed team, they succumbed to two Falcons’ tries to leave them 16 points behind at the final whistle.
For Dean Richards’ Newcastle Falcons, it represents an immediate return to the Premiership for a side who have dominated the Championship this season, only losing two of their 26 games.
Bedford Director of Rugby Mike Rayer had reiterated before the game how important it was for Bedford to get the first score, but a Jimmy Gopperth penalty in the sixth minute, after Gregor Gillanders strayed offside, meant that it was Newcastle who took a 3-0 lead.
However, Bedford were immediately given a chance to draw level on the night, and Jake Sharp made no mistake with his first chance – a straight penalty from 35 yards.
Bedford continued to keep the ball in hand, and when Paul Tupai’s drive was picked up in an offside position by Gopperth, Sharp punished his opposite fly half, giving the Blues a 6-3 lead after 15 minutes.
Sharp narrowed the lead even further after 19 minutes, when he kicked another long-range penalty, to leave the aggregate score at 21-18, with tie in the balance.
Lack of discipline continued to cost both teams, as an infringement at a Newcastle scrum in the Bedford 22 left Gopperth with a simple kick to restore the aggregate lead to six points.
It took over 100 minutes of RFU Championship Final rugby for the first try to come, but when it did, it did so in style.
In the twelfth phase of a Newcastle breakaway, the ball was fed to Ryan Shortland on the left wing, whose flying touchdown in the corner gave the Falcons the lead on the night.
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A well-struck Sharp drop goal and another soft penalty for Gopperth kept the aggregate lead at 10 points at the half-hour mark, before ill discipline in Newcastle’s own half gave Sharp a chance to extend his tally to 15 points for the evening, which he took.
Both sides seemed far more comfortable with ball in hand, with indiscipline continuing to cost vital points, as first Sharp, then Gopperth, notched successful penalty attempts at the close of the first half.
Sharp continued to influence the game in a positive way for Bedford after the break, and it was his breakaway and kick that led to another three points for the Blues, bringing the aggregate deficit to only five points.
However, Newcastle were determined to make their own attacks count, and when quick ball followed a sustained spell of Falcons’ pressure, full back Alex Tait crossed the whitewash for their second try of the game.
Gopperth extended the aggregate lead to 13 points after 57 minutes when Bedford were punished for coming in at the side of a Falcons ruck.
Bedford continued to pressure and nearly added a try to their seven penalties, when a Noah Cato hand stopped Gregor Gillanders from receiving the ball with five meters of grass between him and the tryline.
However, play was pulled back for a previous infringement and Sharp maintained his perfect record from the tee, to bring them back within a point on the night, with 20 minutes remaining.
Newcastle’s dominance in the scrum was a constant over both legs of the final, and it proved so again after 67 minutes, when Gopperth secured Falcons’ promotion with his sixth successful penalty of the night.
Gopperth completed proceedings following a sustained period of Newcastle pressure, bringing his personal points tally to 21, and extending the aggregate lead to beyond two converted tries.
15. Alex Tait, 14. Noah Cato, 13. Suka Hufanga, 12. Adam Powell, 11. Ryan Shortland, 10. Jimmy Gopperth, 9. Rory Lawson, 1. Grant Shiells, 2. Rob Vickers, (16. Matt Thompson 71’) 3. Oliver Tomaszczyk, (19. James Hudson 71’) 4. Carlo del Fava, 5. Scott MacLeod, 6. Mark Wilson, 7. Will Welch, 8. Ally Hogg
Unused replacements: 17. Jonny Golding, 18. Scott Wilson, 20. Taiasina Tu’ifua, 21. Chris Pilgrim, 22. Waisea Luveniyali
Tries: Shortland, Tait; Penalties: Gopperth 7
15. Ben Ransom, 14. James Short, 13. Ollie Dodge, (22. James Pritchard) 12. Mark Atkinson, 11. Josh Bassett, 10. Jake Sharp, (64. Ian Vass 64’) 9. Darryl Veenendaal, (20. Luke Baldwin 56’) 1. Ricky Reeves, (17. Phil Boulton 46’) 2. Scott Spurling, (16. Neil Cochrane 50’) 3. Dan Seal, 4. Mike Howard, (18. Ben Gulliver 52’) 5. Paul Tupai, 6. Gregor Gillanders, 7. Darren Fox (c), 8. Nick Fenton-Wells (19. Don Barrell 56’)
Penalties: Sharp 7; Drop goals: Sharp