Newcastle Falcons came through unscathed to beat Bucharest Wolves 13-12 at the Arcul de Triumf in Round 1 of the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Ever since the draw was made back in June a trip to the Romanian capital has always been an intriguing prospect for the Kingston Park club.
Lying on the banks of the Dambovita River, this once Communist city which is still undergoing modernisation provided the setting for the Falcons’ return to European rugby.
A hearty crowd assembled in the centrally based stadium to see the cream of Romanian rugby take on the Aviva Premiership outfit.
And despite their side being edged out by a professional, well-drilled Newcastle team, they were not left disappointed with the entertainment on view from both sides.
The Falcons took the lead as early as the first minute courtesy of a Joel Hodgson penalty after Bucharest were penalised at the breakdown. However, the Romanians hit-back with two quick-fire penalties of their own from the boot of Vali Calafeteanu. The Wolves were making hard yards upfront with their typically aggressive attack, culminating in the award of the penalties.
Bucharest edged further ahead on 18 minutes with another Calafeteanu penalty, his third of the afternoon. The hosts were preventing the Falcons from finding their rhythm, forcing a series of knock-ons when they were on the attack.
With the half hour mark imminent Calafeteanu extended his side’s lead to 12-3 with a well-executed penalty from 35 metres out, before the Falcons went close to crossing the whitewash straight from the restart. Adam Powell unleashed Sean Brown through a hole, who in turn fed George McGuigan on the charge but the Ireland Under-20s international was hauled down just short of the line.
The Falcons pushed for a try in the minutes leading up to the break, but a resolute Bucharest rear-guard stood firm against the direct potent running of James Fitzpatrick and strong go-forward of Harrison Collins and Mark Wilson. Dean Richards’ men would not be denied a try though, and right on half-time centre Powell crashed through a gap to stretch over and touchdown. Hodgson added the extras to narrow the deficit to 12-10 at the interval.
Newcastle picked up where they had left off with a string of attacks in the first 10 minutes of the second-half, but were unable to penetrate Bucharest’s defensive line. Hodgson very nearly got the breakthrough on 63 minutes when he broke the line with a weaving dart to the line. At the ruck the ball was switched to Kieran Brookes, but the replacement tighthead lost control of the ball in the collision.
With time running out for the Falcons, Hodgson had the opportunity to put his side in front with a penalty out wide, but his effort cannoned the outside of the post.
Making his first start of the season following an injury layoff, Ryan Shortland went close to touching down when he took an inch perfect pass from Tom Catterick to sprint clear only for his pass to the supporting Mark Wilson to fall just behind the Cumbrian back-row. The Falcons managed to keep possession, and with numbers on the right Bucharest winger Stephan Hihetah deliberately knocked on. The No.11 was subsequently sin-binned. From the resulting attack Newcastle were awarded a penalty within kicking range, and Catterick took over the kicking duties to slot home a crucial three points to give his team a slender 13-12 triumph.
Bucharest Wolves: 15 Catalin Fercu, 14 Madalin Lemnaru, 13 Catalin Dascalu, 12 Paula Kinikinilau, 11 Stephan Hihetah, 10 Vali Calafeteanu, 9 Florin Surugiu, 1 Constantin Pristavita, 2 Eugen Capatana, 3 Petru Tamba, 4 Johan Van Heerden, 5 Valentin Popirlan, 6 Daniel Ianus, 7 Viorel Lucaci, 8 Stelian Burcea (c)
Replacements: 16 Otar Turashvili , 17 Alexandru Tarus, 18 Vlad Badalicescu, 19 Andrei Bucurescu, 20 Adrian Ion, 21 Ciprian Caplescu, 22 Csaba Gal , 23 Florin Vlaicu
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Ryan Shortland, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Alex Crockett (c), 11 Sean Brown, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Chris Pilgrim, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 5 Sean Tomes, 6 Chris York, 7 Mark Wilson, 8 Harrison Collins
Replacements: 16 Kieran Brookes, 17 Gary Strain, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Dom Barrow, 20 James Fitzpatrick, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Matt Thompson, 23 Noah Cato