Luther Burrell

Biarritz 13 Falcons 17

Friday 14 January 2022

A last-minute try from George Wacokecoke saw Newcastle Falcons snatch a dramatic EPCR Challenge Cup victory away to Biarritz on Friday night.

Following a lengthy TMO referral with the clock past 80, Wacokecoke was awarded the score after showing contortion in the tackle to ground the ball inside the right corner post.

Newcastle had got themselves off to the ideal start, taking the lead after just seven minutes when scrum-half Sam Stuart scored in the left corner – mopping up the loose ball after a chip ahead from Nathan Earle.

Brett Connon converted impressively from just inside the left touchline, but a wet ball and a soft surface meant flowing handling play was at a premium.

A dogged Falcons pack won a host of penalties in the home half during the opening 40, opting for touch every time, and frustratingly failing to turn it into points as the Biarritz defence dug in.

The hosts, too, kicked to the corner without return, Newcastle at one stage pushing them back from the Falcons’ five-metre line all the way back to half-way in a superb display of defensive discipline.

The Frenchmen counter-attacked from 22 to 22 in search of points only to knock on in the red zone, in the end resorting to the boot for their only points of the half when former Harlequins fly-half Brett Herron slotted a simple penalty from out in front on the 22.

The visitors had a sniff with the very past play of the half, kicking another penalty to the right corner, but with the second try proving continually elusive, they had to make do with a 7-3 interval lead.

There were similar frustrations for the Falcons in the opening moments of the second period when yet another penalty was kicked to the right corner, only for the home team to steal the set-piece.

It was therefore to the boot that they turned to finally reach double figures on 48 minutes, Brett Connon bisecting the uprights from 35 metres out on the right after former Falcon Evan Olmstead infringed at the lineout.

Clear-cut scoring chances continued to be in short supply, Biarritz kicking deep into the Newcastle 22 only for Radwan to run the ball to safety in a game where the ball rarely got past three or four phases.

The match finally found its second try on 64 minutes, home flanker Tornike Jalagonia the man to score it in the left corner after an interception on his own 22 and a few phases eventually saw the ball worked out to the space.

The touchline conversion levelled things up at 10-10, and Biarritz took the lead for the first time of the night just seven minutes from time when Herron slotted a simple penalty from 30 metres out in front.

It looked like being the decisive blow, but with the clock well past 80 Newcastle kept the ball alive, working it wide to the right corner where Wacokecoke performed his heroics to stay infield while grounding the ball - Connon adding the touchline conversion.

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Mike Brown (captain), 14 Adam Radwan, 13 George Wacokecoke, 12 Pete Lucock, 11 Nathan Earle, 10 Brett Connon, 9 Sam Stuart; 1 Adam Brocklebank, 2 Jamie Blamire, 3 Mark Tampin, 4 Greg Peterson, 5 Rob Farrar, 6 Gary Graham, 7 Connor Collett, 8 Callum Chick.

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Conrad Cade, 18 Logovi’i Mulipola, 19 Will Montgomery, 20 Josh Basham, 21 Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, 22 Will Haydon-Wood, 23 Luther Burrell.

Scorers – Tries: Sam Stuart, George Wacokecoke. Conversions: Brett Connon 2. Penalties: Brett Connon.

Biarritz Olympique: 15 Joe Jonas, 14 Steeve Barry, 13 Vincent Martin, 12 François Vergnaud, 11 Darly Domvo, 10 Brett Herron, 9 Kerman Aurrekoetxea; 1 Baptiste Erdocio, 2 François Da Ros, 3 Giorgi Nutsubidze, 4 Evan Olmstead, 5 Joshua Tyrell, 6 Tornike Jalagonia, 7 Antoine Erbani, 8 Steffon Armitage (captain).

Replacements: 16 Bastien Soury, 17 Ushangi Tcheisvhili, 18 Luka Azariashvili, 19 Dave O'Callaghan, 20 Thomas Hebert, 21 Barnabé Couilloud, 22 Gilles Bosch, 23 Ilian Perraux.

Scorers – Tries: Tornike Jalagonia. Conversions: Brett Herron. Penalties: Brett Herron 2.

Referee: Adam Jones (Wales).

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