Newcastle Falcons claimed maximum points from Friday’s EPCR Challenge Cup opener at home to Worcester Warriors, running in four converted tries to clinch an entertaining encounter.
A pulsating first half saw the sides tied at 21-21, having scored three tries apiece, Newcastle drawing level with the final play of the opening period.
The Falcons had taken absolutely no time to get themselves into the game, scoring straight from the kick-off when Worcester allowed the ball to bounce and Max Wright gratefully collected it for a try in the left corner in well under ten seconds.
Will Haydon-Wood converted magnificently from the left touchline, but the sides were level again on six minutes when the Warriors sent a penalty to the corner and earned a penalty try from the resulting maul.
Home skipper Will Welch was sent to the sin-bin for his part in the collapse, and his side trailed by seven points on 16 minutes after Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe collected a long, looping pass to score in the left corner – Billy Searle adding the conversion.
The hosts restored parity before the half-hour when full-back Mike Brown rode a tackle to dive in at the left corner, Haydon-Wood again converting well from the touchline, but the lead lasted less than two minutes when replacement Harri Doel collected an offload to score a converted try down the right-hand side for the Warriors.
Newcastle thought they had drawn level once again on 35 minutes when former 7s star Ollie Lindsay-Hague scampered through a ruck on the 22 to dot down, only for the TMO to rule out the score.
But there was no stopping them with the final play of the half when George McGuigan ploughed between the posts from a close-range pick and go – the Falcons having sent a kickable penalty to the corner after a Will Welch turnover.
That left the teams tied 21-21 at the interval, and the Falcons drew first blood in the second half when Lindsay-Hague collected an inside pass from Burrell to race home from the 22.
Haydon-Wood’s simple conversion put the home side, now with a bonus point to their name, seven points in front, but the Warriors achieved a bonus point of their own on 66 minutes when ex-Falcons scrum-half Will Chudley scampered in at the right corner.
Fin Smith, only just on from the bench, fired wide with the conversion to leave Newcastle ahead by two, setting up a nail-biting finish.
Newcastle’s own replacement fly-half, Joel Hodgson, made no such mistake, slotting a 40-metre penalty from out on the right four minutes from time to clinch the result for his side.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Penny, 13 Max Wright (Ollie Lindsay-Hague, 12), 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Adam Radwan, 10 Will Haydon-Wood (Joel Hodgson, 74), 9 Louis Schreuder (Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, 72); 1 Kyle Cooper (Adam Brocklebank, 57), 2 George McGuigan (Robbie Smith, 74), 3 Mark Tampin (Logovi’i Mulipola, 57), 4 Marco Fuser (Greg Peterson, 72), 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Callum Chick (Gary Graham, 66), 7 Will Welch (captain), 8 Carl Fearns (Callum Chick, 73).
Scorers – Tries: Max Wright, Mike Brown, George McGuigan, Ollie Lindsay-Hague. Conversions: Will Haydon-Wood 4. Penalties: Joel Hodgson.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Jamie Shillcock, 14 Alex Hearle, 13 Oli Morris, 12 Francois Venter (co-captain, Harri Doel, 27), 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Billy Searle (Fin Smith, 66), 9 Will Chudley, 1 Ethan Waller, 2 Niall Annett (Scott Baldwin, 25), 3 Jay Tyack (Christian Judge, 61), 4 Joe Batley, 5 Andrew Kitchener, 6 Kyle Hatherell (Matt Kvesic, 66), 7 Ted Hill (co-captain), 8 Sione Vailanu (Sam Lewis, 66).
Scorers – Tries: Penalty try, Duhan van der Merwe, Harri Doel, Will Chudley. Conversions: Billy Searle 2.
Referee: Frank Murphy. Attendance: 3,431.