Newcastle Falcons A team head into the new Aviva A League campaign in good shape after completing their pre-season preparations with a 12 – 19 victory over Micky Ward’s Blaydon, at their near neighbours Crow Trees ground on Saturday afternoon.
In bright and breezy conditions, three tries, one from back row forward Ollie Hodgson and a pair from winger Sean Brown accompanied by two conversions from Tom Penny saw James Ponton’s side claim the spoils ahead of their first competitive match at Kingston Park against Sale Sharks on September 9th.
In what was an evenly contested encounter, it was the Falcons who enjoyed the brighter opening passage of play.
After kicking off, the Kingston Park team looked to take the initiative by pouncing on a number of Blaydon handling errors and miscued line outs. Allied to the Falcons choosing to turn down a pair of kickable penalties in favour of attacking line outs, the majority of the first 10 minutes were played in and around the Blaydon 22.
However handling errors of their own, coupled with excellent defence work from Blaydon meant the Falcons were unable to turn the territorial advantage into points and as the match approached the 20 minute mark the score remained 0 – 0.
With both teams getting the measure of each other the tempo soon ratcheted up a notch and it was Blaydon who created the first clear cut try scoring opportunity after full back Nathan Bailey’s neat pass led to a line break from the half way line.
The move continued sweeping towards the Falcons line however the final pass failed to find its intended recipient with the try line begging. The Falcons, showed no such profligacy five minutes later when they secured the first score of the game, a well taken try by flanker Hodgson after aggressive breakdown work forced a turnover in the Blaydon 22.
Left Wing Tom Penny proceeded to add a touchline conversion for a 0 – 7 lead and the half seemed to be heading to a close with the Falcons in the ascendency.
Ward’s charge’s however, who finished the 2012/2013 campaign in a fine third place in SSE National League One, had other ideas and used a penalty against Falcons centre James Fitzpatrick to provide them with the field position to reduce the arrears.
After kicking to touch and winning the line out, Blaydon’s pack rumbled forward and while the Falcons defence were able to repel the initial surge, the secondary drive overcame their efforts and added a deserved five points from flanker Rob Bell. With the conversion missed, the teams headed for the break at 5 – 7.
While the first half came to the boil slowly, the second exploded into life almost immediately as the Falcons added their second try of the afternoon almost immediately after the restart.
Going back for a scrum on half way after Blaydon put their kick off out on the full, the Falcons earned a penalty through their opponents wheeling the scrum. Taking a quick tap, the A team backs launched several quick attacks to gain territory with wing Tom Penny getting the Falcons into the Blaydon 22 before being bundled into touch.
After a messy defensive line out, the ball was scooped up by the Falcons and worked wide where an acre of space allowed Michael Tait, who had replace James Fitzpatrick during the break, to run a clever line to draw in the remaining defenders.
With the space created, the young Scotsman then provided a soft, crisp pass to the onrushing Brown who duly took full advantage of his team mate’s effort to collect a well worked try to take the score to 5 – 12.
The lead was to be short lived though as the hosts proceeded to draw the scores level a mere five minutes later after the Falcons were penalised for side entry into a ruck as they attempted to clear their lines from the restart.
In keeping with the rest of the afternoon, Blaydon kicked to touch and from the resultant line out, a cohesive shove from the pack drove Harry Bate across the whitewash for a try, converted by number 10 Jamie Guy.
For the next twenty minutes, two evenly performing sides served up a thoroughly entertaining match. Blaydon working excellently as a team to probe at and ask questions of the Falcons defence while the Falcons themselves used all of their experience and skill to make inroads of their own.
As the 70 minute mark hovered into view, it was the experience and quick thinking of scrum half Chris Pilgrim that settled matters in favour of the Falcons.
After being awarded a penalty following Blaydon hands playing the ball on the floor at a ruck just on half way, Pilgrim, spotting the home defence disjointed and unset, took a lightning quick tap penalty and raced towards the 22.
As the cover defence attempted to close the 27 year old number nine down, Pilgrim found Brown on his inside shoulder with the youngster able to steam in and add his second try of the afternoon under the posts. Tom Penny resumed kicking duties and made it two from two to make the score line 12 - 19.
With time running out, both sides continued the even nature of the match as they each went looking for scores to tie the fixture in Blaydon’s case or add additional gloss in that of the Falcons however nothing more was to be found.
Speaking after the match, academy manager Mark Laycock expressed overall satisfaction with his sides work. He said, ““It was a good outing for us, and although we played pretty well at times I think Blaydon probably deserved to win. Blaydon are a tough, physical side and it gave a lot of our younger lads something to think about with just how physical they were at the breakdown. Rob Bell was outstanding and Blaydon seem to be in a pretty good place going into their new season.”
He added, “There are still a few things we need to tweak to make sure we are playing to our strengths but when we moved the ball into space we were really dangerous.”
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Sean Brown, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Tom Penny, 10 Craig Willis, 9 Chris Pilgrim, 1 Gary Strain, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Trevor Davison, 4 Josh Hedley, 5 Sean Tomes, 6 Nick Cairns, 7 Ollie Hodgson, 8 Chris York (c)
Replacements: 16 David Nelson, 17 Sam White, 18 Aston Whitlow, 19 Matt Perks, 20 Will Witty, 21 Josh Bragman, 22 Tane Tu’ipulotu, 23 Michael Tait