Newcastle Falcons went within inches of snatching a memorable Aviva Premiership victory over Gloucester Rugby on Sunday afternoon, but had to settle for a losing bonus point.
Trailing by six points with less than 20 seconds remaining on the clock, the Falcons piled on the pressure with the forward line trundling the ball up to the line. Gloucester seemed to be buckling under immense pressure with last ditch tackling coming to the rescue for Nigel Davies’ men. Ally Hogg looked to have touched down with the Falcons’ last charge to the line, however referee Andrew Small deemed the Scot to be held up over the line to ensure Gloucester left the North East with the spoils.
It all started in emphatic fashion for the Falcons with Tom Catterick opening up the scoring as early as the first minute. Skipper Will Welch coasted through Gloucester’s defensive line with ease before offloading to Hogg, who in turn showed his experience with a composed pass to Catterick on his outside. Clegg’s touchline conversion put the hosts 7-0 in front to the delight of the 5,000 plus Kingston Park crowd.
With the ten minute mark looming, Dean Richards’ men should have gone 14-0 up when Adam Powell blitzed through Gloucester’s backline only for his pass to Noah Cato to be knocked on by the former Saracens man with the try line at his mercy.
Newcastle were on top at this stage and continued to make their presence known particularly in defence, with a James Fitzpatrick special on Freddie Burns livening things up. On 18 minutes the northeasterners extended their lead to 10-0 by virtue of a Clegg penalty after the visitors were penalised at the scrum. Gloucester reduced the deficit to 10-3 two minutes later when Burns slotted home a penalty from in front of the posts.
Clegg increased his side’s advantage to 13-3 just short of the half hour mark; the forwards’ dominance at the rolling maul, which will have pleased forwards coach John Wells, earned the penalty. Burns had the chance to hit back immediately with the boot, but his effort skewed wide of the upright.
However, Gloucester would register the next score in the shape of a Rob Cook try via a TMO decision. In the build-up to the try, James Simpson-Daniel thought he was going to cross the whitewash only for a last ditch defensive effort by Tom Catterick and Alex Tait thwarting the winger. At the ruck the ball was switched to Cook at full tilt, who managed to stay in the field of play to touchdown. Burns’ conversion went across the face of goal and the Falcons held the upper hand at 13-8.
Gloucester threatened with a series of attacks of their own as half-time approached, but the Falcons’ scrambling defence ensured they had a 13-8 lead going into the break.
The second period began frantically with Gloucester putting the Falcons on the back foot immediately from the restart. Alex Tait prevented a certain Gloucester try with a textbook covering tackle, but after four minutes of intense pressure on the Falcons’ line, Gloucester made sure they left their opponents’ half with points to show for their attacking endeavour. Turning down two shots at goal during their period of sustained pressure, Burns elected to kick for goal on the third occasion. Making no mistake in front of goal to narrow the gap to 13-11, Gloucester soon took the lead for the first time in the contest when winger Jonny May raced into the corner on the overlap. Burns failed to convert but the Falcons were 16-13 behind.
That missed conversion proved significant in the immediate aftermath with Newcastle levelling the score thanks to a simple penalty from replacement fly-half Phil Godman. Orchestrated by experienced scrum-half Mike Blair, the Falcons heavies got within inches of Gloucester’s try line before referee Andrew Small awarded the penalty for killing the ruck.
With score nicely poised, there was undoubtedly drama yet to unfold on Tyneside in the closing stages. 15 minutes from the end the Falcons gifted the West Countrymen a penalty in front of goal which Burns duly obliged, before the England international repeated the trick on 77 minutes to extend his side’s advantage to 22-16.
Hard-hitting centre Fitzpatrick had the majority of the crowd believing in a Falcons triumph when he crashed through three defenders to get Newcastle into Gloucester’s 22. The move broke down, but the Falcons still had time for one last throw of the dice, and after phase after phase of attacks the Falcons were just unable to get the ball over the line and Gloucester punched the air in celebration and relief as Mr Small blew for full-time.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Adam Powell, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Tom Catterick, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Franck Montanella, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Rob Vickers, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Sean Tomes, 20 Chris York, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Phil Godman, 23 Alex Crockett
Gloucester Rugby: 15 Alex Tait, 14 James Simpson-Daniel, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 1 Dan Murphy, 2 Darren Dawidiuk, 3 Shaun Knight, 4 Tom Savage (c), 5 Will James, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Matt Kvesic, 8 Ben Morgan
Replacements: 16 Koree Britton, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Rupert Harden, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Mike Tindall, 23 Charlie Sharples
Tait, Cato, Powell, Fitzpatrick, Catterick, Clegg, Blair, Montanella, Thompson, Tomaszczyk, MacLeod, Barrow, Wilson, Welch, Hogg
Replacements McGuigan, Vickers, Wilson, Tomes, York, Fury, Godman, Crockett
Cook, Simpson-Daniel, Trinder, Twelvetrees, May, Burns, Cowan, Murphy, Dawiduik, Knight, Savage, James, Kalamafoni, Kvesic, Morgan
Replacements Britton, Thomas, Harden, Stooke, Evans, Robson, Tindall, Sharples
referee: Andrew Small
assistant: Robin Goodliffe
assistant: Paul Dix
TMO: Trevor Fisher