Newcastle Falcons extended their unbeaten start to the season to ten games on Friday night as they chalked up a bonus-point victory over Hartpury to remain top of their Championship Cup group.
Leading 10-0 at the break and having to wait until the hour mark to secure the four-try bonus point, Dean Richards’ men finished the game strongly to add some weight to a score-line which had remained tight during the middle third.
The Falcons were a try to the good as early as the second minute, Cooper Vuna announcing himself as a Newcastle player by diving in at the left corner after collecting a scoring pass from Jamie Blamire in a move started by Josh Matavesi.
Vuna almost had a second within five minutes as he knocked on in the act of regathering his own kick ahead, but the hosts did not have to wait long as Tim Swiel cut an arcing line to wriggle over in the left corner on 11 minutes.
Sonatane Takulua’s sin-binning for a high tackle helped enable a spell of Hartpury pressure which went unrewarded on the scoreboard, the Falcons defending three close-range line-outs and a five-metre scrum before winning a turnover and clearing downfield.
Hartpury lock Will Safe almost pulled off a wonder-try in the left corner but just knocked on after collecting a kick ahead, and to their credit the visitors kept up their attacking ambition despite being unable to break down the wall of black.
That ensured the Falcons had to make do with a 10-0 lead at half-time, the home side failing to string together their multi-phase attack on a bitterly cold evening which saw Toby Flood and Vuna both departing with injury during the first 40.
Hartpury got themselves off the mark three minutes into the second half when fly-half Tiff Eden sent over a 40-metre penalty from out on the left, but he quickly followed that up by earning a trip to the sin-bin after illegally thwarting a Falcons attack which included runs from Blamire and John Hardie.
The resulting penalty was kicked to the right corner, where a well-structured driving maul was steered over the try-line, Blamire emerging from under a heap of bodies with the ball in his hands for the third unconverted try of the night.
The visitors responded almost instantly when replacement Seb Nagle-Taylor raced down the right to score a converted try, reducing the Falcons’ lead to just five as they entered the closing half-hour.
The home side resumed their dominance when a string of penalties in the Hartpury 22 and a driving maul down the left saw the ball transferred through the hands, Alex Tait scoring in the right corner.
Hodgson added the touchline conversion with the four-try bonus point wrapped up, and he did so again from much simpler range on 66 minutes when Josh Matavesi scored an interception try from 30 metres out.
Ben Stevenson was next over when the replacement powered past the last man to score in the left corner, Hodgson again converting impressively from the touchline as the Falcons’ lead stretched out to 26 points going into the last 10 minutes.
Swiel gathered a kick ahead down the left to collect his second try of the night, Hodgson once again converting, and the half-century was assured with the very last play when debutant Rob Farrar ploughed over for a try in the left corner, converted by Hodgson.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tim Swiel, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Gareth Owen, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Cooper Vuna (Ben Stevenson, 38), 10 Toby Flood (captain, Joel Hodgson, 20), 9 Sonatane Takulua (Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, 75); 1 Sam Lockwood, 2 Jamie Blamire (George McGuigan, 61), 3 Rodney Ah you (Logovi’i Mulipola, 59), 4 Darren Barry, 5 Greg Peterson (Rob Farrar, 75), 6 Will Welch, 7 John Hardie, 8 Philip van der Walt (Simon Uzokwe, 40).
Falcons scorers - Tries: Cooper Vuna, Tim Swiel 2, Jamie Blamire, Alex Tait, Josh Matavesi, Ben Stevenson, Rob Farrar. Conversions: Joel Hodgson 5.
Hartpury University RFC: 15 Mike Wilcox (Charlie Powell, 60), 14 Jacob Morris, 13 Dan Koster, 12 Joe Margetts (Jack Reeves, 62), 11 Sam Goatley, 10 Tiff Eden, 9 Harry Cochrane; 1 Des Merrey, 2 Beck Cutting, 3 Mike Flook (Ashley Challenger, 52), 4 Joe Batley, 5 Will Safe (Jack Preece, 75), 6 Aaron Hinkley, 7 Max Clementson (captain), 8 Sam Graham (Seb Nagle-Taylor, 51).
Hartpury scorers - Tries: Seb Nagle-Taylor. Conversions: Jacob Morris. Penalties: Tiff Eden.
Referee: Hamish Smales. Attendance: 3,818.