Newcastle Falcons continued their preparations for the Aviva Premiership season with a 23-10 victory over Connacht Rugby at Kingston Park.
Tries from Ryan Shortland and Andrew Higgins coupled with the boot of Joel Hodgson and Phil Godman put the RaboDirect Pro 12 side to the sword.
Former RGS pupil Hodgson was on target with a magnificent 35 metre penalty six minutes into the contest to give the Falcons the advantage at 3-0.
Looking sharp in the early exchanges, experienced scrum-half Mike Blair was orchestrating affairs with quick ball at the breakdown, forcing Connacht to concede the penalty which Hodgson duly obliged with.
With a quarter-of-an-hour on the clock, the visitors were enjoying a period of sustained pressure on the Falcons’ try line. Trundling the ball up with a series of menacing drives, the Connacht heavies, which included Super 15 winning captain Craig Clarke, went within inches of the whitewash before referee Tim Wigglesworth penalised Dean Richards’ men for coming in at the side.
Dan Parks, RaboDirect Pro 12 all-time top point’s scorer made no mistake from 25 metres out to level the score. It could have been so much more for the Irish province had it not been for a well drilled Newcastle defensive line.
A second Hodgson penalty of the afternoon came on 26 minutes thanks to some excellent counter-rucking from the Falcons pack. Blair’s downfield kick was chased through by a sea of black jerseys before Mr Wigglesworth awarded the penalty directly in front of goal.
Rain lashing down for much of the first-half, both sides endeavoured to weather the greasy conditions. Renowned for his hard-hitting, abrasive carries, James Fitzpatrick was in typical form at the heart of the Falcons’ backline with a string of breaks to light up proceeding.
Despite the elements, Newcastle to their credit were giving the ball air to the satisfaction of all inside Kingston Park. The Falcons pushed for a try on the stroke of half-time with Blair very nearly the architect for a five-point score, but the score remained 6-3 to the hosts going into the interval.
Replacing Hodgson at the break, another of Richards’ latest acquisitions, Phil Godman, took to the field. And the Scotland international wasted no time in introducing himself to the Kingston Park faithful with a penalty 35 metres out to extend his side’s lead to 9-3.
On 48 minutes the Falcons crossed for the first try of the day courtesy of winger Ryan Shortland, who crashed over from close range.
A combination of Blair’s high tempo at the breakdown, and Godman’s vision in attack were the catalyst for the score. Godman’s composure was evident as his delayed looping pass found Noah Cato in space on the far side, before the ball was switched back to the middle of the park where Shortland, at full throttle, latched on to Godman’s inch-perfect flat pass. Godman converted to put the Falcons 16-3 ahead.
The northeasterners were over for their second try of the game with just over 15 minutes remaining thanks to Andrew Higgins. Nimble hands from Jamie Helleur and Tom Catterick worked the ball left to Alex Crockett who found Higgins on the overlap to squeeze in at the corner in front of the South Stand. Godman’s touchline conversion added further gloss to the score-line at 23-3.
Connacht reduced the deficit to 23-10 with full-time looming; flanker Willie Faloon putting the finishing touches to a rolling maul. Miah Nikora landed an impressive touchline conversion to set-up an interesting final few minutes.
But the Tyneside club remained calm and assured to remain unbeaten this pre-season going into their third and final warm-up game this Friday against Edinburgh Rugby at Mansfield Park, home of Hawick RFC (kick-off 7.45pm).
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Gary Strain, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Dom Barrow, 5 Carlo del Fava, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg
Replacements: 16 Rob Vickers, 17 Matt Thompson, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Fraser McKenzie, 20 Scott MacLeod, 21 Chris Pilgrim, 22 Phil Godman, 23 Jamie Helleur, 24 Chris York, 25 Alex Crockett, 26 Andy Higgins
Connacht Rugby: 15 Fionn Carr, 14 Tiernan O’Halloran, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Conor Finn, 11 Shayne Layden, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Frank Murphy, 1 Brett Wilkinson, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 3 Nathan White, 4 Mick Kearney, 5 Craig Clarke, 6 Eoin McKeon, 7 Willie Faloon, 8 George Maoupu
Replacements: 16 Sean Henry, 17 Rodney Ah You, 18 Ronan Loughney, 19 Michael Swift, 20 Andrew Browne, 21 John Muldoon, 22 Jake Heenan, 23 Kiernan Marmion, 24 Miah Nikora, 25 Brian Murphy, 26 Steve McAuley