Newcastle Falcons’ European Challenge Cup campaign ended at the semi-final stage as Gloucester took the spoils in Friday night’s all-English affair at Kingsholm.
Newcastle had started the game brightly, Evan Olmstead’s eager jackal work over the ball winning a penalty on halfway and setting in motion a period of patient attacking play which ultimately ended with a knock-on inside the home 22.
Their early zip was rewarded with points on eight minutes when Michael Young was taken out in the air by Billy Burns, the resulting penalty seeing the ball kicked to the left corner, Scott Lawson driven over for a textbook catch-and-drive try at the base of a well-constructed maul.
The search for a second try saw Maxime Mermoz grubbering to the right corner for the onrushing Chris Harris, but the Cherry and Whites were first to the loose ball and managed to draw level on 21 minutes through Tom Marshall. The winger latched on to a midfield line-break from full-back Jason Woodward, exploiting a simple two-on-one to score in the left corner.
Billy Twelvetrees fired wide with the conversion as they missed out on the opportunity to go in front, but the centre made amends on 26 minutes when his long-range penalty from just left of centre gave the hosts a three-point advantage.
Gloucester almost found a second try on 37 minutes when a prolonged bout of pick-and-go near the Newcastle line eventually saw them penalised for some over-enthusiastic clearing out, but they assumed a 15-5 interval lead with the last play of the half when hooker Motu Matu’u was driven over from a maul in the left corner, Twelvetrees converting.
A positive start to the second half saw plenty of enterprise and willingness to keep the ball in hand from both teams, Newcastle stealing a Gloucester lineout near halfway but needing a two-man tackle from Harris and Simon Hammersley to bundle Woodward into touch near their own try-line.
Gloucester’s third try arrived on 47 minutes when fly-half Billy Burns broke through the middle from 35 metres out, but the Falcons hit straight back when a penalty was kicked to the right corner for Lawson to score his second from another rock-solid driving maul.
Hodgson’s conversion reduced the deficit to eight going into the last quarter, the Falcons turning to their bench as Adam Radwan, Mark Wilson, Will Witty and Santiago Socino were all deployed.
Twelvetrees’ second penalty nudged the home side three points further in front, but he visitors were still showing plenty of zip with ball in hand as Josh Matavesi, among others, took the game to Gloucester.
But it was the home side who were making it count on the scoreboard, Twelvetrees’ penalty adding further distance between the two teams as the Falcons trailed by 14 going into the last 10 minutes.
That became 17 when Ben Vellacott scored from an 80-metre counter-attack, Newcastle attacking til the death but ultimately missing out on their first ever European final.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Chris Harris, 13 Maxime Mermoz (Adam Radwan, 52), 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Zach Kibirige, 10 Joel Hodgson (Tom Penny, 76), 9 Michael Young (captain); 1 Sam Lockwood (Rob Vickers, 58), 2 Scott Lawson (Santiago Socino, 55), 3 Scott Wilson (Trevor Davison, 69), 4 Calum Green (Will Witty, 53), 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Evan Olmstead, 7 Gary Graham (Mark Wilson, 53), 8 Ryan Burrows.
Scorers - Tries: Scott Lawson 2. Conversions: Joel Hodgson.
Gloucester Rugby: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Billy Twelvetrees, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Henry Trinder (Charlie Sharples, 73), 10 Billy Burns (Andy Symons, 69), 9 Callum Braley; 1 Paddy McAllister (Josh Hohneck, 56), 2 Motu Matu'u (James Hanson, 66), 3 Fraser Balmain (John Afoa, 30), 4 Ed Slater (captain), 5 Mariano Galarza (Freddie Clarke, 63), 6 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Jake Polledri, 8 Ben Morgan (Lewis Ludlow, 63).
Scorers - Tries: Tom Marshall, Motu Matu’u, Billy Burns, Ben Vellacott. Conversions: Billy Twelvetrees 2. Penalties: Billy Twelvetrees 3.
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France). Attendance: 10,587.