Newcastle Falcons are now two games away from promotion to the Aviva Premiership after edging past Leeds Carnegie in their RFU Championship play-off semi-final second leg clash at Kingston Park.
Avenging last week’s 24-19 first leg defeat at Headingley Carnegie, the Falcons managed to overturn a five point deficit to win 15-6 on the day and 34-30 on aggregate to set up a play-off showdown with Bedford Blues.
The final which is also over two legs will take place on Thursday 23 May and Wednesday 29 May respectively with the club still to confirm the venues for each.
Newcastle took a seventh minute lead courtesy of a Jimmy Gopperth penalty after the visitors were penalised for an infringement at the breakdown five metres from their own line.
Gopperth doubled his tally for the afternoon midway through the first-half thanks to another shot at goal, before the Kiwi fly-half failed to repeat the trick from just inside Leeds’ half two minutes later.
From similar range Gopperth made amends just shy of the half hour mark with the Falcons going 28-24 ahead on aggregate to the delight of the 6,000 plus crowd. Gopperth was at it again eight minutes from the break after the impressive Adam Powell was tackled high following a clean break through Carnegie’s rear-guard.
Leeds reduced the aggregate deficit to four points on 36 minutes by virtue of a Joe Ford penalty with the Falcons holding a 12-3 advantage on the day. Ford had the chance to close the gap to just one point in the tie as half-time loomed, but the son of former Falcons defence coach Mike Ford sliced his effort wide of the far post.
Had Ford slotted the penalty home there may well have been a different complexion on proceedings going into the interval.
The hosts came out for the second period in positive fashion with Dean Richards’ men looking to keep the ball in the forwards. Mark Wilson, who was having a sublime game in the back-row was testing Leeds’ defensive resolve with his direct go-forward with ball in hand.
Despite Newcastle’s bright start to the second stanza, Ford kicked a 30 metre drop-goal to reduce the arrears to 12-6 and cut the Falcons’ advantage down to just a single point.
Gopperth restored the Falcons’ four point aggregate cushion on 54 minutes with his fifth penalty of the day after Powell’s potency in attack earned a penalty.
Newcastle came closest to a try just short of the hour mark when a barn-storming break from man-of-the-match Wilson got the North East outfit within touching distance of the whitewash. However, a steely Leeds defence kept the Falcons at bay to their credit.
The tie could have been all but put to bed with just over ten minutes remaining with two quick-fire penalties from Gopperth flying past the post.
Leeds knew that a try in the closing stages would be enough to secure their place in the final, and a break on the far side from David Doherty did have a few Falcons’ hearts fluttering.
However, scrum-half Warren Fury brought the game to a close deep into injury time as he smashed the ball into touch much to the relief of everyone on Tyneside.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Tom Catterick, 13 Suka Hufanga, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Carlo del Fava, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg
Replacements: 16 Rob Vickers, 17 Jonny Golding, 18 James Hall, 19 James Hudson, 20 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 21 Rory Lawson, 22 Joel Hodgson
Leeds Carnegie: 15 Stevie McColl, 14 Oli Goss, 13 Josh Griffin, 12 Fred Burdon, 11 David Doherty, 10 Joe Ford, 9 James Doherty, 1 Ben Harris, 2 Scott Freer, 3 Damien Tussac, 4 Calum Green, 5 Pierce Phillips, 6 Rob Baldwin, 7 Jacob Rowan (c), 8 Ryan Burrows
Replacements: 16 Phil Nilsen, 17 Lee Imiolek, 18 James Currie, 19 Richard Beck, 20 Chris Walker, 21 Craig Hampson, 22 Christian Georgiou
Referee: Wayne Barnes