A place in the quarter-finals of the British and Irish Cup beckons for Newcastle Falcons after a 16-6 triumph over a dogged Connacht Eagles outfit at Kingston Park.
Connacht attempted to strike the first blow on four minutes with an audacious penalty five-metres inside their own half through centre Tadhg Leader, but his effort eased past the post despite having the distance.
This seemed to gee up Dean Richards’ men and a period of sustained pressure on the Connacht try line immediately ensued. Winger Luke Fielden went close to squeezing in at the corner in the eighth minute, but a scrambling Irish rearguard thwarted the predatory finisher.
The move started from deep inside Newcastle territory when Waisea Luveniyali’s attempted clearance was charged down with the ball falling into the path of James Fitzpatrick, who unleashed Tane Tu’ipulotu up-field. However, despite numbers out-wide the Falcons failed to capitalise.
20 minutes on the clock and still no score as the visitors defended stoutly against an avalanche of Falcons attacks much to their credit.
But the Eagles succumbed to the northeasterners’ attacking prowess and Newcastle broke the deadlock on the half hour mark thanks to Jonny Golding. The loose-head crashed over from close-range thanks to an inch-perfect delayed pass from scrum-half Warren Fury. Fijian international Luveniyali slotted home the conversion from in front of the posts to give the hosts a 7-0 lead.
A resolute defensive display from Connacht kept the score at 7-0 going into the break, and it was time for the under-9s and under-10s to take to the hallow Kingston Park turf for some tag rugby.
Connacht reduced the arrears three minutes into the second period by virtue of a Leader penalty for an infringement at the breakdown.
On 61 minutes replacement fly-half Joel Hodgson extended the margin to 10-3 with a sweetly struck penalty from 30-metres out. Promising prop Scott Wilson made an immediate mark as a second-half replacement, earning the penalty at the scrum.
An altercation on the touchline gifted Connacht the chance to reduce the gap to 10-6 with a penalty from an acute angle. Leader made no mistake with the subsequent penalty via the inside of the far post.
Hodgson restored his side’s advantage with a carbon-copy of his first effort ten minutes from time, before repeating the feat moments later to make it 16-6.
Connacht tested the Falcons’ defensive resolve in the closing stages of the game with a series of clean breaks, but Newcastle stood firm to seal their place into the knock-out stages of the competition.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Luke Fielden, 13 Tane Tu’ipulotu, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Andrew Higgins, 10 Waisea Luveniyali, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Carlo del Fava, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Richard Mayhew
Replacements: 16 Michael Mayhew, 17 Scott Wilson, 18 James Hudson, 19 Chris York, 20 Rory Lawson, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Alex Crockett
Connacht Eagles: 15 Steve Macauley, 14 Mark McCrea, 13 Tom Leader, 12 Brian Murphy, 11 Conor Finn, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Dave Moore, 1 Rodney Ah’You, 3 JP Cooney, 4 Conor Kindregan, 5 Dave Gannon, 6 TJ Anderson (c), 7 Dave Heffernan, 8 Aaron Coeely
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Finlay Bealham, 18 Ultan Dillane, 19 Charlie Butterworth, 20 Marcus Walsh, 21 Mata Fi’fili, 22 Finn Gormley
MOM Sponsored by Matthew Clark: Mark Wilson
Referee: Kevin White (SRU)