Newcastle Falcons booked their place in the Aviva A League semi-finals for the first time on Monday evening following a pulsating 35-13 bonus point win over Northampton Wanderers at Kingston Park.
A brace of tries from Danny Barnes, accompanied scores by Rob Hawkins and Sebastian Ferreira and a total of 15 points off the combined boots of Rory Clegg and Phil Godman took the spoils from a game that both sides were looking to win, to qualify for the knock out stages.
On a wet and windy evening, it was Saints got the game off to a flying start with a penalty less than two minutes into the game followed by a high-pressured attack on the Falcons’ line. But neither came to fruition as the Saints failed to convert either chance.
An evenly matched game in the early exchanges, it was the Falcons who broke the scoring deadlock 10 minutes in when Clegg slotted home the Falcons’ first penalty of the match.
Following a period of play where neither side were able to force their way into the opposition’s 22, a succession of penalties allowed the Falcons to seize the initiative and add the first try of the night through Danny Barnes.
Choosing to kick to the corner to take advantage of the upper hand they had in the tight, a rolling maul from the line out got the home side to within two meters of the line, before the ball was whipped out to Barnes.
With the young Irish winger having the foresight to run as far in field as possible, he allowed Fly Half Clegg to have the conversion attempt from in front of the posts, which he duly added.
Shortly after the restart, several enforced changes saw Josh Furno, Chris York and Warren Fury leave the fray with Harry Snowdon, Brian Tuilagi and Dan Taylor taking their places. Furno would return to the field minutes later after a blood injury was cleaned up but for York and Fury it was the end of their evening’s work.
Heading into the final five minutes of the half Saints were pressing their way up-field with a fast-paced attack but the Falcons were saved for the second time of the evening by Chris Harris who tackled the visitors’ man into touch.
A penalty a piece on the stroke of half time saw the Falcons head to the break 13-3 and in a good position for the second half.
Having replaced Rory Clegg and Eric Fry with Phil Godman and Durham University’s Adam Brocklebank, the Falcons saw their advantage trimmed to just three points following a period of sustained attacks from the Wanderers.
After a number line breaks and threatening runs, it was prop Rikki Stout who managed to break the tackle and score a try which was converted by Will Hooley.
Another batch of tit for tat penalties saw the scores sit at 16 – 13 on 50 mins, before the Falcons added some impetus through centre Chris Harris to get themselves into Northampton territory and create their second try of the night.
Following further penalties and scrum time that were kicked to touch, the Falcons eventually managed to overcome the visitor’s spoiling tactics with a powerful drive from a line out that got hooker Hawkins over the line for a 21-13 lead.
After a missed conversion, the Falcons continued to push for their third try of the game but a combination of dogged Wanderer’s defence and handling errors conspired to keep the scoreboard static.
Ten minutes from time though, the home side managed to find another gear and following some flowing passes, Barnes picked up his second score of the game after continued pressure from the Falcons.
Converted by Godman for a 28-13 lead with seven minutes left, the final score of the night came two minutes from time after Captain Andy Saull picked up a pass from Phil Godman and raced forward.
Unable to make the score himself, aggressive work at the breakdown gave Ferreira a score under the posts, duly converted by Godman.
The Falcons will now face the team that tops the Southern Conference on Monday January 5th with Saracens Storm the likely opposition.