Newcastle Falcons continued their unbeaten start to the season in the Gloucestershire countryside on Saturday, taking the full five points from their Championship Cup trip to Hartpury University RFC.
Building a 26-14 half-time lead and securing their four-try bonus point inside 35 minutes, the Falcons were made to work for the result by a never-say-die home side who more than played their part.
A cautious start from both sets of players saw plenty of boot on ball, the game being played in the middle third and Hartpury stealing a couple of early line-outs to frustrate the Falcons pack.
Captain Tom Penny made the first line-break for the visitors when a scrum 25 metres out saw the centre hitting against the grain and biting off some territory, a sequence of slick offloads ultimately ending with a knock-on and a relieving home scrum.
Cohesion was more forthcoming on 11 minutes when the first try finally arrived, Callum Chick stealing a line-out on halfway and setting in motion a flowing passage of play which saw Alex Tait breaking down the left, Simon Uzokwe picking up possession and offloading to Sam Stuart, the scrum-half racing in from the 22 for a try converted by Joel Hodgson.
The fly-half turned try-scorer three minutes later when he rounded off a wonderful 80-metre effort started by Ben Stevenson in his own 22, the centre finding Alex Tait who fed John Hardie. The Scottish open-side put in a deftly-weighted grubber for Tait to re-gather, Tait feeding Hodgson who stepped the last two defenders before adding the conversion from in front.
Converted try number three arrived on 22 minutes when Stevenson scored from a charged-down clearance, the opportunity coming around as a result of Hodgson’s left-footed down-field kick.
Hartpury hit back just before the half-hour when a five-metre scrum saw the ball worked left, where a crash-ball run from inside centre Joe Margetts got them over for a converted try.
Newcastle’s bonus point arrived on 34 minutes when Kyle Cooper steered a driving maul over in the left corner, George Wacokecoke earning the field position with a well-judged grubber into space to force a home clearance.
Hartpury showed commendable resolve and earned a second try with the last play of the opening half, a sequence of close-range scrum penalties seeing Akapusi Qera scoring from a close-range pick and go.
Bragman’s simple conversion made it Hartpury 14 Newcastle 26 at the interval, Newcastle making a high-tempo start to the second half and almost finding a fifth try when Darren Barry’s break and offload found Stuart for a run to the 22.
Home No 8 Will Safe saw yellow for a high shot on Barry, and the numerical supremacy was almost immediately exploited by the Falcons when replacement Mike Daniels fed George Wacokecoke who sped in from the 22 for a converted try.
The visitors’ dominance was further emphasised on 54 minutes when Hodgson kicked a penalty to the corner and scored his second try from the resulting phases, the fly-half gliding over to the left corner on a diagonal line.
Alex Tait found his way into the sin bin on the hour mark as the visiting wing transgressed, and it was not until his return that the next score came, Tait hitting a straightening line around the fringes of a close-range ruck to set the stage for Simon Uzokwe to plough over.
Captain Tom Penny produced a super individual try on 75 minutes when he hit a fabulous line on halfway, chipping the last man before regathering the bouncing ball to score in the left corner, Connon slotting the touchline conversion as the Falcons passed the half-century.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tim Swiel, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Ben Stevenson (George Wacokecoke, 29), 12 Tom Penny (captain), 11 Tom Arscott, 10 Joel Hodgson (Brett Connon, 69), 9 Sam Stuart (Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, 69); 1 Trevor Davison (Sam Lockwood, 57), 2 Kyle Cooper (Charlie Maddison, 65), 3 Rodney Ah You (Mike Daniels, 40), 4 Darren Barry, 5 Sebastian de Chaves (Sean Robinson, 61), 6 Callum Chick, 7 John Hardie (Connor Collett, 54), 8 Simon Uzokwe.
Falcons scorers - Tries: Sam Stuart, Joel Hodgson 2, Ben Stevenson, Kyle Cooper, George Wacokecoke, Simon Uzokwe, Tom Penny. Conversions: Joel Hodgson 4, Brett Connon 2.
Hartpury University: 15 Mike Wilcox, 14 Sam Goatley, 13 Jack Reeves, 12 Joe Margetts, 11 Jake Henry (James Simpson, 72), 10 Joshua Bragman, 9 Luke Carter (captain, Harry Cochrane, 62); 1 Dan Murphy (Mike Flook, 60), 2 Will Crane (Will Tanner, 11), 3 Alex Gibson (Ashley Challenger, 40), 4 Joe Batley, 5 Harry Butler, 6 Akapusi Qera (Jack Preece, 45), 7 Max Clementson, 8 Will Safe.
Hartpury scorers - Tries: Joe Margetts, Akapusi Qera. Conversions: Joshua Bragman 2.
Referee: Ian Tempest.