Opeti Fonua

Falcons 16 Bath 15

Saturday 4 February 2017

Semi-final qualification was already a mathematical impossibility, but Newcastle Falcons at least ended their Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign with a hard-earned home victory over Bath on Saturday.

Zach Kibirige sped in for the winning try six minutes from time, the Falcons welcoming back a number of their injured players in a match which should prove useful ahead of the Aviva Premiership games to come.

Both prop-forwards were to the fore in the early exchanges, Paddy Ryan forcing a turnover with a midfield choke tackle while Adam Brocklebank carried hard into the heart of the Bath defence.

Fellow tight-five forward Glen Young enjoyed a burst into the visitors’ 22 as the Falcons applied plenty of width to their attack, both sides approaching the dead rubber with commendable attacking verve.

Nimble footwork from Craig Willis averted the danger when Bath charged down an attempted Falcons clearance near their own try-line, the West Country men having tried and failed to score from a close range line-out after turning down a kick at goal.

The effervescent Sinoti Sinoti was back to his old tricks, stepping the first man to raucous cheers despite having been out injured for the past few months.

Willis was taking a more pragmatic approach, kicking to the corner after Opeti Fonua’s route-one carry had delivered front-foot ball in a game which remained scoreless as it passed the half-hour mark, despite the best efforts of the respective sides.

That finally changed when Bath fly-half Adam Hastings chipped over the most straightforward of penalties from 10 metres out, following what referee Dewi Phillips judged to have been a high tackle.

Flankers Tyrone Holmes and Harrison Orr took the onus on their shoulders with a gritty response to going three behind, combining well down the left in an attack which only ended when the Falcons knocked on just inches from the Bath try-line.

Newcastle drew level with the final kick of the half when Willis slotted a penalty from the left-hand side for a 3-3 interval score-line, a succession of incursions into the visitors’ 22 having yielded plenty of opportunity but nothing more substantial.

Andrew Davidson’s half-time introduction added further impetus as the young Scot carried hard with his first touch of the ball, and his side led for the first time on 45 minutes when Fonua’s carry and Bath’s failure to roll away at the ruck allowed Willis the chance to send over a second well-struck penalty.

Hastings hooked a long-range effort wide of the uprights as the visitors attempted an instant response, and they found it shortly after when wing Jack Wilson hit a super line at first receiver and sped in on arcing line to the right corner.

Tonga captain Nili Latu made his long-awaited comeback on 50 minutes, replacing countryman Fonua – Tom Penny also introduced for his first action of the season after breaking his arm during the summer.

Penny made an immediate contribution with a lovely line-break and offload, Latu’s enthusiastic carrying also adding to the momentum as the men in orange strived to rein in their two-point deficit.

Willis managed to do that when his 35-metre penalty put the Falcons up by one around the hour mark, Penny’s comeback proving short-lived as the promising back departed the field after less than 10 minutes.

Bath snatched back the lead when replacement scrum-half Will Homer scooted into the left corner for their second try, Hastings adding the extras from the touchline as Newcastle regrouped with Tom Catterick coming on at full-back.

Ben Sowrey’s sin-binning reduced the Falcons to 14 men for most of what remained, but Zach Kibirige’s try and Willis’ conversion put them a point to the good as the winger hit a sensational inside line and rode a last-ditch tackle to dot down.

It proved to be the crucial blow as Bath centre Max Clark joined Sowrey in the sin bin, the Falcons ending the Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign with back-to-back victories, if not semi-final qualification.

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Mike Delany (Tom Penny, 51, Tom Catterick, 63), 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Nick Reynolds, 12 Fred Burdon (captain), 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Craig Willis, 9 Sam Egerton; 1 Adam Brocklebank, 2 Ben Sowrey, 3 Paddy Ryan (Andrew Foster, 60), 4 Mouritz Botha (Andrew Davidson, 40), 5 Glen Young, 6 Harrison Orr, 7 Tyrone Holmes, 8 Opeti Fonua (Nili Latu, 51).

Sin bin: Ben Sowrey (69).

Falcons scorers - Tries: Zach Kibirige. Conversions: Craig Willis. Penalties: Craig Willis 3.

Bath Rugby: 15 Harry Davies (Darren Atkins, 60), 14 Jeff Williams, 13 Max Clark, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Jack Wilson, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Chris Cook (Will Homer, 60); 1 Beno Obano (Darryl Marfo, 51), 2 Jack Walker, 3 Shaun Knight, 4 Levi Douglas (Michael van Vuuren, 74), 5 Tom Ellis (Elliott Stooke, 55), 6 David Sisi, 7 Guy Mercer (captain), 8 David Denton (Paul Grant, 63).

Sin bin: Max Clark (74).

Bath scorers - Tries: Jack Wilson, Will Homer. Conversions: Adam Hastings. Penalties: Adam Hastings.

Referee: Dewi Phillips. Attendance: 3,984.

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