Newcastle Falcons fronted up in France on Friday night, the club’s squad depth evident as an ambitious attacking performance delivered an entertaining European Rugby Challenge Cup triumph over Castres at a windy Stade Pierre Fabre.
The visitors had trailed 10-9 at half-time and showed no fear during the early exchanges, Brett Connon producing a midfield line-break and his side earning a kick at goal when a dominant first scrum drew a fourth-minute penalty.
Connon’s effort was blown fractionally wide on a windy evening, but his side’s attacking ambition was unperturbed as they kept the ball in hand, earning a string of free kicks from their early scrum dominance.
The opening try almost came on 13 minutes when Tom Arscott’s fend and break got his team to within striking distance, Joel Matavesi’s inside pass to Cooper Vuna knocked on within inches of the try-line.
The very next play delivered the opening points when Connon kept his cool to slot a penalty from out in front on the 22, and the visitors were enjoying the greater field position as a ruck turnover from returning captain Mark Wilson earned a penalty which was kicked to the corner.
The resulting line-out failed to deliver the required outcome, and against the run of play Newcastle trailed on 26 minutes when winger Antoine Bouzerand scored an unconverted try in the right corner, the attempted conversion bouncing back off the right-hand post.
A clinical couple of minutes saw the same player producing the same outcome just before the half-hour, this time from further out, as his long-range try took Castres into a 10-3 lead.
Line-breaks from Tom Arscott and Pete Lucock kept the visitors in the hunt as they searched for a try of their own, but they had to make do with a second Brett Connon penalty as the fly-half slotted from 20 metres out in front.
Two became three with the last play of the half when Connon’s third penalty – this time from wider out on the right – pulled his team to within a single point, the Falcons trailing 10-9 at the interval.
Newcastle stayed true to their attacking principles despite playing into the teeth of the wind during the second half, Sam Stuart scoring for the second week in succession when he rounded off a move which saw debutant Chidera Obonna feeding fellow debut man Zach Kerr – the Ulsterman delivering the scoring pass to Stuart down the right.
That left the Falcons four in front going into the final quarter, Philip van der Walt punching some holes in Castres’ defensive line as he made his comeback from the bench.
It got even better for the visitors on 67 minutes when Tom Arscott sped down the left wing to score – Obonna’s enterprising build-up play creating the try-scoring opportunity on an impressive senior bow.
Kerr almost followed it up within two minutes when his pursuit of a kick ahead got the Falcons to within a few metres of the whitewash, the resulting tap penalty seeing the visitors knock on in the act of piling over the line as Castres had a man sent to the sin bin.
The Falcons had their third try four minutes time when Josh Basham crossed in the left corner from a quick transfer along the line, Obonna again delivering the assist, but Castres found a consolation in the dying seconds as Vilimoni Botitu scored on the intercept.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Zach Kerr, 13 Pete Lucock, 12 Joel Matavesi, 11 Cooper Vuna (Chidera Obonna, 50), 10 Brett Connon (Will Haydon-Wood, 76), 9 Sam Stuart (Callum Pascoe, 76); 1 Kyle Cooper (Adam Brocklebank, 64), 2 Charlie Maddison (Jamie Blamire, 64), 3 Rodney Ah You (Mike Daniels, 11), 4 Rob Farrar, 5 Darren Barry, 6 Tom Marshall (Philip van der Walt, 50), 7 Mark Wilson (captain), 8 Josh Basham (Freddie Lockwood, 76).
Scorers – Tries: Tom Arscott, Sam Stuart, Josh Basham. Conversions: Brett Connon. Penalties: Brett Connon 3.
Castres: 15 Clément Clavieres, 14 Bastien Guillemin, 13 Vilimoni Botitu, 12 Florian Vialelle (captain), 11 Antoine Bouzerand (Adrien Amans, 64), 10 Louis Le Brun, 9 Jérémy Fernandez (Bastien Bourgier, 40); 1 Wayan de Benedittis (Alexis Decaux, 50), 2 Kevin Firmin (Pierre Colonna, 49-53), 3 Matthew Tierney (Thomas Vidal, 50), 4 Simon Meka, 5 Dorian Clerc, 6 Stephane Onambele (Baptiste Cope, 70), 7 Kevin Kornath, 8 Hugo Hermet.
Scorers – Tries: Antoine Bouzerand 2, Vilimoni Botitu.
Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)