Newcastle Falcons held out for a dramatic Aviva Premiership victory at Kingsholm on Saturday, showing spirit and organisation in no small measure to further enhance their play-off credentials.
That the game even took place to begin with was a minor miracle, Gloucester’s grounds staff and supporters spending Friday and Saturday shovelling snow from the surrounding areas with the pitch well preserved under a heated dome.
Fly-half Joel Hodgson, a last-minute replacement for Toby Flood due to illness, opened the scoring just three minutes in with a simple penalty from in front on the 22, Newcastle pinning the Cherry and Whites inside their own half.
Even when the home side managed to get to Newcastle’s 22 on eight minutes the visiting defence wrapped them up and forced the turnover, but that changed on 14 minutes when full-back Jason Woodward grubbered down the left tramlines and collected his own kick for an unconverted try.
Newcastle responded on the quarter mark when scrum-half Michael Young rose highest to catch a box kick on halfway, beating two men in a penetrating run before feeding Ally Hogg for a jog-in
Hodgson converted from in front of the posts, Gloucester denied a try by Willie Heinz when the video referee correctly deemed a knock-on to have occurred in the build-up.
The home side were reduced to 14 men for ten minutes when David Halaifonua was sin-binned for a shocking high tackle on Sinoti Sinoti, the resulting penalty from the 22 seeing Hodgson extend the Falcons’ lead by a further three points.
The fly-half safely added a third penalty with the final kick of the half as Newcastle converted further pressure into points, taking a 16-5 lead into the interval following a well-struck kick from 30 metres out.
Newcastle began the second period with fire in their bellies, Hodgson’s steady boot getting them into field position for Josh Matavesi to get over the gain line in midfield. There were no points on that occasion, but the frustration was beginning to grow among the home supporters as their side searched for a foot-hold.
An increasingly high-tempo game saw frantic periods of attack from both teams, Hodgson and Maxime Mermoz grubbering well to the corner while Gloucester attacked from deep in response.
Newcastle’s well-organised defence was asking plenty of questions for the home team, who found an answer on 48 minutes when Halaifonua scored in the left corner despite the protestations of a Falcons side who believed the ball had been knocked on in the build-up.
The visitors hit straight back with their second try three minutes later, turnover ball on the home 22 worked left from Matavesi to Young, who dummied and went for a fleeting score. H
Hodgson’s touchline conversion attempt thumped back off the right post, as did Billy Burns’ on 66 minutes when a period of sustained pressure from Gloucester and a series of five-metre scrums eventually saw Mark Atkinson scoring in the right corner to narrow the deficit to six.
There was late drama when a lineout in the right corner saw Lewis Ludlow register the four-try bonus point for Gloucester, but Billy Twelvetrees’ conversion failed to find its target as the Falcons held out for another memorable away win.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti (Maxime Mermoz, 25), 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Michael Young (Sonatane Takulua, 66); 1 Sam Lockwood (Trevor Davison, 61), 2 Kyle Cooper (Scott Lawson, 61), 3 Jon Welsh (Scott Wilson, 61), 4 Calum Green, 5 Sean Robinson (Will Witty, 63), 6 Ally Hogg (Callum Chick, 66), 7 Will Welch (captain), 8 Nili Latu.
Scorers - Tries: Ally Hogg, Michael Young. Conversions: Joel Hodgson. Penalties: Joel Hodgson 3.
Gloucester Rugby: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Matt Scott (Billy Twelvetrees, 51), 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 David Halaifonua (Tom Marshall, 69), 10 Billy Burns, 9 Willi Heinz (captain, Callum Braley, 71)); 1 Val Rapava Ruskin (Josh Hohneck, 61), 2 Richard Hibbard (Motu Matu’u, 44), 3 Fraser Balmain (John Afoa, 52), 4 Tom Savage, 5 Mariano Galarza (Ed Slater, 51), 6 Freddie Clarke (Lewis Ludlow, 73), 7 Jake Polledri, 8 Ruan Ackermann.
Scorers - Tries: Jason Woodward, David Halaifonua, Mark Atkinson, Lewis Ludlow.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys. Attendance: 8,340.