Newcastle Falcons began their European Challenge Cup campaign with a defeat at Ospreys on Friday night, a much-changed side showing plenty of endeavour against experienced opposition.
The home side led 19-0 at the interval despite Newcastle making much of the early running, an international half-back pairing of Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar doing much of the damage as they clinically dispatched the opportunities which came their way.
A Falcons side showing 13 changes from the one which defeated Bristol six days earlier made a positive start to the night, regathering their own kick-off and keeping the ball in hand. Debutant Harrison Orr was among the many willing ball carriers, and there was equal gusto being shown in defence as aggressive counter-rucking forced a midfield turnover.
Fly-half Joel Hodgson showed his jackalling skills to win a penalty when he turned over Alun Wyn Jones at a breakdown on his own 22, Dan Temm stripping another Ospreys attack as the Falcons played a full part.
But a home side laden with international stars began to show their test class on 19 minutes when Webb’s dummy and break from a ruck on the 22 created a two-on-one for the first try, scored and converted by Biggar.
Webb added the second when he chipped over a close-range ruck and regathered his own kick to dot down, centre Ashley Beck scoring the last try of the half with a burst down the blindside as the home side probed the left.
Glen Young’s crucial line-out steal denied Ospreys a further scoring opportunity as they kicked a penalty into touch, Hodgson among the Newcastle line-breakers as they made inroads but failed to finish them off.
The second half saw another encouraging start for the Falcons as Hodgson and Brett Connon kicked the territory, Temm aggressively handing off Biggar while Belisario Agulla came hunting for work infield.
Juan Pablo Socino’s introduction for Hodgson forced a back-line reshuffle as Craig Willis shunted from centre to fly-half, Sam Lockwood also entering the fray in the search for further forward momentum.
But it was the home side who were making their pressure count on the scoreboard, hooker Scott Baldwin bagging the four-try bonus point from a driven maul in the left corner before Justin Tipuric scored a 50-metre solo try in hunting down his own kick.
Both sides turned to their benches for the final 25 minutes, the result by this stage a formality as Keelan Giles scored the Ospreys’ next try in the left corner from another kick ahead, repeating the trick for his second on 72 minutes as they finished the game strongly.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Brett Connon, 14 Marcus Watson, 13 Fred Burdon (captain), 12 Craig Willis, 11 Belisario Agulla (Alex Tait, 68), 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Michael Young (Sam Egerton, 56); 1 Alex Rogers (Sam Lockwood, 40), 2 Ben Sowrey (David Nelson, 74), 3 David Wilson (Andrew Foster, 68), 4 Will Witty, 5 Nick Civetta (Mouritz Botha, 56), 6 Glen Young, 7 Daniel Temm (Callum Chick, 59), 8 Harrison Orr.
Ospreys: 15 Daniel Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Ben John (Josh Matavesi, 40), 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb (Tom Habberfield, 61); 1 Paul James (Gareth Thomas, 56), 2 Scott Baldwin (Sam Parry, 63), 3 Ma'afu Fia (Rhodri Jones, 52), 4 Rory Thornton, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (Lloyd Ashley, 62), 6 Dan Lydiate, 7 Justin Tipuric, 8 Dan Baker (James King, 65).
Ospreys scorers – Tries: Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Ashley Beck, Scott Baldwin, Justin Tipuric, Keelan Giles 2. Conversions: Dan Biggar 5. Penalties: .
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland). Attendance: 7,352.