Newcastle Falcons ended the European Challenge Cup group phase with six wins from six after defeating Russian champions Enisei-STM for the second time in a week, this time in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on Saturday.
Already assured of a home quarter-final over Easter weekend thanks to their previous exploits, Newcastle played into a strong wind during the opening half and were forced into defensive mode when Enisei kicked a penalty to the right corner.
The Falcons’ line-out did the job on that occasion to snuff out the danger, but the Russians led on seven minutes when wing Federico Giliberti impressively regathered a kick ahead to ground the ball despite the player thumping into the goalpost prior to grounding.
Fly-half Aleksandr Budychenko converted from in front, Enisei flying furiously into contact and making life difficult for a Newcastle side who took their time finding their rhythm.
Ben Sowrey went close to a try when a trick ball to the front of the line-out almost freed the hooker for a run-in, but the Falcons’ first touch-down arrived on 19 minutes when Mark Wilson was driven over from a maul after a penalty was kicked to touch in the right corner.
Newcastle’s second try was not long in coming, the previous week’s hat-trick hero Adam Radwan showing quick feet in tight spaces to jink his way past three defenders from 20 metres out.
Toby Flood converted, the Falcons having to show all their mettle to withstand a series of close-range line-outs and scrums as Enisei earned penalties in prime position.
The visitors finally found their attacking stride around the half-hour, scoring two tries in three minutes, the first of those coming via Flood as he collected Mark Wilson’s offload from a Sam Lockwood line-break.
Radwan’s second try delivered the bonus point on 37 minutes when Flood’s delightful show-and-go put the fly-half into space on halfway, Flood feeding the ball wide left to Radwan who sped past two would-be tacklers to ground for a converted try.
That put Newcastle 26-7 up at half-time, the Falcons beginning the second half brightly as Flood put Penny through a hole for a foray into the 22. It went without reward as Enisei scrambled the ball clear following a period of phases, Callum Chick having returned to the fray after two months out with a knee injury.
The hour mark passed with neither side having added to their tally, Enisei finally breaking the deadlock when a period of red-zone pressure was rewarded by replacement Anton Sychev ploughing over from a close-range pick and go.
The game finally caught fire again with four minutes to go when Radwan completed his hat-trick, chasing down a kick to the left corner, and within a minute of the restart Enisei had repaid the compliment, the TMO awarding a forward’s try to Mikheil Gachechiladze down the left from a close-range pick and go in what was to prove the final scoring act.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Tom Penny, 12 Toby Flood, 11 Adam Radwan, 10 Craig Willis (Joel Hodgson, 54) 9 Michael Young (Sam Stuart, 54); 1 Sam Lockwood (Rob Vickers, 54), 2 Ben Sowrey, 3 Jack Payne (Trevor Davison, 54), 4 Calum Green (Callum Chick, 40), 5 Glen Young, 6 Mark Wilson (captain), 7 Simon Uzokwe, 8 Ryan Burrows.
Scorers - Tries: Mark Wilson, Adam Radwan 3, Toby Flood. Conversions: Toby Flood 4.
Enisei-STM: 15 Richard Kingi, 14 Federico Giliberti, 13 David Kacharava, 12 Dmitrii Gerasimov, 11 Jurijs Baranovs, 10 Aleksandr Budychenko, 9 Konstantin Uzunov; 1 Sergey Sekisov, 2 Shamil Magomedov, 3 Evgenii Pronenko, 4 Uldis Saulite, 5 Viacheslav Krasylnyk, 6 Mikheil Gachechiladze, 7 Vitalii Orlov, 8 Maxim Gargalic.
Scorers - Tries: Federico Giliberti, Anton Sychev, Mikheil Gachechiladze. Conversions: Aleksandr Budychenko 2.
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland).