Saints 34 Falcons 26

Wednesday 30 March 2022

Newcastle Falcons ended their Premiership Rugby Cup pool campaign with a battling defeat away to Northampton Saints on Wednesday night.

A chaotic start to the game saw end-to-end action, with Newcastle trailing 19-7 at the midway point.

They almost opened the scoring just four minutes in when Ollie Lindsay-Hague intercepted an offload in front of his own posts and fed Iwan Stephens, who raced 60 metres down the left before being hauled down.

Northampton twice kicked close-range penalties to the corner only to come away with no points – Newcastle repelling the maul threat and forcing handling errors from the home side.

But they made amends at the third attempt, kicking a penalty to the right corner and earning a converted try when lock Luke Frost ploughed over from a close-range pick and go.

Newcastle drew level within two minutes when they, themselves, kicked a penalty to the corner, hooker Robbie Smith ruthlessly steering a driving maul over the whitewash fort Joel Hodgson to add the conversion.

Northampton missed another chance to profit from a red-zone line-out when George Merrick stole set-piece ball for the Falcons, but on 24 minutes they nudged back ahead when a close-range ruck provided the platform for flanker JJ Tonks to propel himself over for an unconverted try.

The Saints’ third try arrived on the half-hour when, with hooker Smith in the sin bin, they tapped a quick penalty five metres out - scrum-half Jake Garside darting in for the converted score.

Newcastle ended the opening half with a barrage of possession in the home 22, but still trailed 19-7 at half-time as they failed to make it count on the scoreboard.

The Falcons began the second half with gusto, earning prime possession through a 50-22 kick, but crucially failed to retain possession from the resulting line-out.

Northampton then did likewise on 45 minutes when they kicked a penalty to the left corner only to concede a penalty of their own at the maul, but both sides managed a converted try in the space of two minutes around the hour mark.

Hooker Smith was driven over for his second Newcastle try from a line-out in the left corner, opposite number Reece Marshall scoring the Saints’ bonus-point try almost straight from the restart.

Centre Pete Lucock crossed for Newcastle’s third try when a five-metre scrum saw him hitting a super straightening line in midfield, Hodgson’s conversion narrowing the deficit to just five points.

Grayson made it a two-score game with a simple penalty on 68 minutes, and the points kept on coming as home centre Tom Litchfield raced 45 metres down the left wing to score an unconverted try.

The Falcons replied within minutes when Marcus Tiffen marked his debut with a super try in the left corner, the flanker supporting a Zach Kerr break to dot down the four-try bonus point.

The missed conversion left Newcastle down by eight – a margin which proved too big to rein in.

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait (Louie Johnson, 68), 14 Ollie Lindsay-Hague, 13 Max Wright (Zach Kerr, 58), 12 Pete Lucock (captain), 11 Iwan Stephens, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 James Blackett (Ben Douglas, 63); 1 Conrad Cade (Kyle Cooper, 50), 2 Robbie Smith (Ollie Fletcher, 58), 3 Richard Palframan (Phil Brantingham, 50), 4 George Merrick, 5 Rob Farrar (Arinze Okemuo, 63), 6 Charlie Maddison, 7 Marcus Tiffen, 8 Matt Deehan (George Bennett-Teare, 68).

Scorers – Tries: Robbie Smith 2, Pete Lucock, Marcus Tiffen. Conversions: Joel Hodgson 3.

Northampton Saints: 15 George Hendy (Frankie Sleightholme, 69), 14 Josh Gillespie, 13 Tom Litchfield, 12 Joel Matavesi, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro (Ethan Grayson, 30), 10 James Grayson (captain), 9 Jake Garside (Pete Smith, 57); 1 Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, 2 James Fish (Reece Marshall, 8), 3 Ed Prowse, 4 Luke Frost, 5 Tom Lockett (Callum Burns, 40), 6 Duane RatuVilai Willemsen (George Patten, 31), 7 JJ Tonks, 8 Geordie Irvine (Karl Garside, 50).

Scorers – Tries: Luke Frost, JJ Tonks, Jake Garside, Reece Marshall, Tom Litchfield. Conversions: James Grayson 3. Penalties: James Grayson.

Referee: Jack Makepeace.

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