A Newcastle Falcons XV defeated England Under-20s in Saturday’s free-flowing encounter at Kingston Park Stadium.
Leading 19-17 at half-time and powering away in the closing stages, the match offered valuable game time to a host of players and showed the rich seam of talent within the Falcons’ ranks.
Newcastle dominated the early exchanges, camping themselves in the England red zone and opening the scoring when hooker Robbie Smith dotted down from a catch-and-drive in the left corner.
Last season’s England Under-20s fly-half Will Haydon-Wood was challenging the gain line as he took flat ball and committed defenders, and he showed all his goal-kicking class with a well-struck conversion from wide out following Smith’s opening try.
Ex-Scotland Under-20s back-rower Tom Marshall was among many eager carriers for the Falcons, his run around the England 22 helping open the hole which allowed Cooper Vuna to score in the left corner, the Tongan collecting a pass from Haydon-Wood after yet another incisive break.
Haydon-Wood sent through another touchline conversion to extend the lead to 14 after just ten minutes, Newcastle’s tempo driven by scrum-half Callum Pascoe whose variety from the base kept the England defence guessing.
Wing Morgan Passman was playing his first game in 15 months following the serious leg injury suffered while representing Darlington Mowden Park during a prolific National One campaign - his side snuffing out England’s first notable attack on 18 minutes when Rob Farrar earned a jackal penalty in front of his own posts.
Phil Brantingham repeated the trick by winning a penalty just outside his own 22 as Newcastle repelled an increasingly energetic English outfit, and they went up the other end to record a memorable third try when Passman finished well under heavy pressure in the right corner after slick hands from Connor Collett and Rob Farrar in the build-up.
Worcester centre Seb Atkinson got England Under-20s off the mark with a try down the left after his side kicked a penalty to the corner, Newcastle’s maul defence forcing them to play the ball through the hands, but Atkinson’s running line was just enough to force his way over, Leeds fly-half Dan Lancaster adding the conversion.
Bath wing Gabe Goss grounded England’s second try on 35 minutes, Falcons lock Darren Barry claiming an interception on his own 22 but then finding his own pass intercepted by Goss, who cantered over.
England’s third try was scored by Harlequins hooker Sam Riley as a 12-man maul in the right corner ploughed its way over, a second missed conversion attempt from Lancaster leaving Newcastle 19-17 up at half-time.
The Under-20s continued their resurgence after the break and led for the first time on 42 minutes, Northampton wing Dani Long-Martinez scoring in the right corner when a Falcons fumble under the high bomb gave England possession in the danger zone.
Almost straight from the restart the Falcons stormed back in front, Penrith RFC and Sedbergh School full-back Louie Johnson scoring a wonder-try which saw him step and gas his way past four or five defenders, Haydon-Wood converting from in front of the posts.
Newcastle’s fifth try arrived just before the hour mark when a well-worked shift-drive at a line-out in the left corner saw Freddie Lockwood piling over the line, replacement scrum-half James Blackett adding an impressive touchline conversion.
Matthew Ward – an England Under-20s wing playing for his club side – crossed for the Falcons’ sixth try with a well-executed chip-and-chase down the right, prop Jon Welsh departing to rich applause after playing an hour in his first game for two years.
Newcastle’s high-tempo offloading game continued to cause problems for England as both sides rolled on their benches, and even when England kicked a penalty to the left corner a power-packed Falcons forward unit overturned the driving maul.
Chidera Obonna almost added to the try-count in pursuit of a bouncing ball, fractionally knocking on over the line, but they had less than a minute to wait for the final points of the afternoon as a backhand flip pass from Johnson in the left corner handed Vuna a walk-in.
Newcastle Falcons XV: 15 Louie Johnson (Penrith RFC, Sedbergh School), 14 Morgan Passman, 13 Pete Lucock, 12 Joel Matavesi, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Will Haydon-Wood, 9 Callum Pascoe; 1 Phil Brantingham, 2 Robbie Smith, 3 Jon Welsh, 4 Darren Barry, 5 Rob Farrar, 6 Freddie Lockwood, 7 Connor Collett, 8 Tom Marshall.
Replacements: Marcus Tiffen (Carlisle RFC, Newcastle University), Mark Dormer (RGS Newcastle), Oscar Caudle, Bailey Ransom, Matt Deehan (RGS Newcastle), Innes Hill (Billingham RFC, Gosforth Academy), James Blackett, Chidera Obonna, Matthew Ward, Ewan Greenlaw (Horden RFC, Durham School).
Scorers – Tries: Robbie Smith, Cooper Vuna 2, Morgan Passman, Louie Johnson, Freddie Lockwood, Matthew Ward. Conversions: Will Haydon-Wood 3, James Blackett.
England Under-20s: 15 Elliot Gourlay (Sale Sharks), 14 Tom Roebuck (Sale Sharks), 13 Oscar Beard (Harlequins), 12 Seb Atkinson (Worcester Warriors), 11 Gabe Goss (Bath), 10 Dan Lancaster (Leeds), 9 Raffi Quirke (Sale Sharks); 1 Lewis Holsey (Worcester Warriors), 2 Sam Riley (Harlequins), 3 Fin Baxter (Harlequins), 4 Ewan Richards (Bath), 5 Alex Groves (Bristol Bears), 6 Ollie Stonham (Saracens), 7 Toby Knight (Saracens), 8 Nahum Merigan (Bath).
Replacements: 16 Callum Burns (Northampton Saints), 27 Andrew Turner (Bristol Bears), 18 Tristan Smith (Saracens), 19 Tom Manz (Leicester Tigers), 20 Will Trenholm (Harlequins), 21 Tom Carr-Smith (Bath), 22 George Worboys (Bath), 23 Tom Litchfield (Northampton Saints), 24 Dani Long-Martinez (Northampton Saints), 28 Kit Smith (Leicester Tigers).
Scorers – Tries: Seb Atkinson, Gabe Goss, Sam Riley, Dani Long-Martinez. Conversions: Dan Lancaster.
Referee: Andrew Jackson.