Newcastle Falcons are back in the Aviva Premiership after defeating Bedford Blues in the RFU Championship play-off final.
Tries from Ryan Shortland and Alex Tait secured a 31-24 victory on the night and a 49-33 triumph over the two legs to spark scenes of celebration at Kingston Park.
Champagne corks popping and the bellowing sound of Falcons ringing around the arena, it is a night that will live long in the memory for everyone associated with the club.
A campaign that began at Bristol eight months ago, the Tyneside club has taken in the sights of Cornish Pirates, Moseley and Jersey on their path to the Promised Land.
Two penalties from either side in the opening eight minutes of the contest had the score finely poised at three apiece with the Falcons leading 21-9 on aggregate.
But back came Bedford, and after exerting a period of sustained pressure they got their reward with two quick-fire Jake Sharp penalties.
Jimmy Gopperth, who was making his last appearance for the Falcons ahead of his summer move to Leinster, narrowed the gap to 9-6 with the boot after the Falcons’ supremacy at the scrum told.
Kiwi wing Shortland crossed in the corner on 26 minutes following a TMO decision to edge Newcastle 11-9 in front. Shortland managed to squeeze in at the corner following wave after wave of Falcons attacks. Bedford had been defending for their lives, but there was no let-up from Dean Richards’ men as they turned their pressure into a five-point score. Gopperth failed with the touchline conversion.
Sharp kept Bedford in touch with their North East counterparts with a sublime 35 metre drop-goal 11 minutes from the break.
And after Gopperth restored the Falcons’ lead, Sharp was at it again with the boot to make it 18-14 to the Blues. On the stroke of half-time Gopperth reduced the deficit to 18-17 with a well-executed penalty in front of goal.
Sharp continued his perfect kicking display early in the second period, but Tait’s try midway through the second stanza will have settled any nerves that the Falcons may have had as the tie reached the business end.
Willed on by a sea of Newcastle supporters in the South Stand, the end that the Falcons were now attacking, Tait drove his way through three would-be tacklers to score. A series of carries from Oliver Tomaszczyk, Suka Hufanga and Adam Powell had Bedford on the backfoot, before the ball was switched wide to Tait for the try.
Sharp hit back with another penalty, but Gopperth landed three further penalties to rubberstamp the Falcons promotion back to the Aviva Premiership.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Suka Hufanga, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Carlo del Fava, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg
Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 Jonny Golding, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 James Hudson, 20 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 21 Chris Pilgrim, 22 Waisea Luveniyali
Bedford Blues: 15 Ben Ransom, 14 James Short, 13 Ollie Dodge, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jake Sharp, 9 Darryl Veenendaal, 1 Ricky Reeves, 2 Scott Spurling, 3 Dan Seal, 4 Mike Howard, 5 Paul Tupai, 6 Gregor Gillanders, 7 Darren Fox (c), 8 Nick Fenton-Wells
Replacements: 16 Neil Cochrane, 17 Phil Boulton, 18 Ben Gulliver, 19 Don Barrell, 20 Luke Baldwin, 21 Ian Vass, 22 James Pritchard
Referee: Greg Garner