Newcastle Falcons’ gave their Gallagher Premiership survival hopes a major shot in the arm with victory over Worcester Warriors at Kingston Park Stadium on Sunday.
In doing so they reduced the gap between themselves and Worcester to five points with seven games remaining, a frantic opening period giving way to a score-less and much more cagey second half in worsening weather conditions.
Newcastle flew out of the blocks and got themselves off to the perfect start, Zach Kibirige racing 30 metres down the middle of the field to score the game’s opening try after just six minutes as his team played advantage to great effect.
Toby Flood added the simple conversion, Worcester chipping three points off the home side’s lead after 10 minutes when Duncan Weir slotted a penalty from out on the left touchline.
Flood replied with a much more straightforward penalty to restore the seven-point buffer, the home side having a try chalked off when Logovi’i Mulipola was judged to be in front of the kicker in grounding a grubber from Flood.
Despite the Falcons enjoying the better of territory and possession it was Worcester who drew the next score when a neck roll at ruck time enabled Weir to send over their second penalty, this time from right of centre just inside the 22.
Slick line-out ball almost delivered a second Falcons try when Mulipola was held up over the line in support of a Chris Harris break, but the resulting five-metre scrum brought due rewards when the ball was spun left to Flood, who ghosted through a gap to score, adding the conversion for an 11-point advantage.
Aggressive line speed from the hosts was forcing handling errors from Worcester as Newcastle looked to cut down the visitors’ thinking time, and the Falcons almost had a third try when the TMO ruled against Kibirige after a chip and chase down the right drew a fractional knock-on in the act of grounding the ball.
Flood fired wide with a penalty attempt from the left in the final minute of the half as Worcester went too high in the tackle, his side good value nonetheless for their 17-6 interval lead.
The predicted rain arrived at the midway stage to make handling difficult for both sets of players, Worcester earning a lineout in the right corner but leaving empty-handed when captain Will Welch won a relieving jackal penalty at the resulting ruck.
The worsening conditions were contributing in no small part to a lack of points as neither side enjoyed a firm grasp on the ball, Flood chipping away territory for the Falcons but his side unable to capitalise on a couple of close-range line-out opportunities.
Worcester, too, lost a succession of red-zone line-outs in their search for points, neither side able to trouble the second-half scorers as the Falcons held on for a potentially-crucial home victory.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Johnny Williams (Josh Matavesi, 75), 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Sonatane Takulua; 1 Sam Lockwood, 2 George McGuigan (Kyle Cooper, 63), 3 Logovi'i Mulipola (David Wilson, 71), 4 Calum Green, 5 Andrew Davidson, 6 Will Welch (captain), 7 Gary Graham, 8 Callum Chick (Nemani Nagusa, 63).
Falcons scorers - Tries: Zach Kibirige, Toby Flood. Conversions: Toby Flood 2. Penalties: Toby Flood.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Francois Venter (Ollie Lawrence, 51), 12 Ryan Mills (captain), 11 Tom Howe, 10 Duncan Weir (Jono Lance, 51), 9 Francois Hougaard (Michael Heaney, 71); 1 Ethan Waller (Callum Black, 60), 2 Jack Singleton (Isaac Miller, 13), 3 Nick Schonert (Gareth Milasinovich, 60), 4 Anton Bresler, 5 Michael Fatialofa (Pierce Phillips, 60), 6 Ted Hill, 7 Sam Lewis, 8 Marco Mama (Matt Cox, 58).
Worcester scorers - Penalties: Duncan Weir 2.
Referee: Wayne Barnes. Attendance: 8,005.
Hammersley, Kibirige, Harris, Williams, Sinoti, Flood, Takulua, Lockwood, McGuigan, Mulipola, Green, Davidson, Welch, Graham, Chick
Replacements Cooper, Brocklebank, Wilson, Witty, Nagusa, Stuart, Connon, Matavesi
Pennell, Heem, Venter, Mills, Howe, Weir, Hougaard, Waller, Singleton, Schonert, Bresler, Fatialofa, Hill, Lewis, Mama
Replacements Miller, Black, Milasinovich, Phillips, Cox, Heaney, Lance, Lawrence
referee: Wayne Barnes
assistant: Matthew O'Grady
assistant: Wayne Falla
TMO: Rowan Kitt