Top-of-the-table Falcons collected a bonus point win, but were made to work hard by a Hartpury team which showed a significant improvement from last weekend’s lacklustre performance at Ealing.
“Both teams went out to play,” said Falcons Director of Rugby, former England and Lions forward, Dean Richards. “It was an evenly contested game. In the end, we were just more clinical than Hartpury at the key moments.”
Hartpury had picked a strong side, with the only question mark being at loose-head where three likely starting options, Dan Murphy, Des Merrey and Mike Flook were all absent with injury. Olly Adkins, who was playing for the Hartpury U18 team not too long ago, was called up, with Ashley Challenger – normally a tight-head – providing cover on the bench. In the end, both were to acquit themselves well.
The home team enjoyed plenty of territory and possession in the first quarter, but lacked the guile needed to break down a Premiership-quality defence. A number of promising attacking situations were created, but Hartpury remained pointless.
Newcastle were far less profligate. In their first sustained attack of the game, late in the opening quarter, they came away with points.
A Joshua Bragman clearance from a defensive scrum was long, but fell nicely for Falcons full-back, Tom Arscott, to run back strongly. As the ball was worked to the right, George Wacokecoke stepped past a Hartpury tackler and sprinted to line, recovering from a Sam Goatley tap-tackle in the process.
With the Falcons now enjoying more of the ball, Micky Young was next to cross. A tapped free kick on half-way took Falcons into Hartpury territory and, from the breakdown, the scrum half had the footwork to take him through the home defence.
Hartpury will feel that Young should have been stopped, and they would certainly have been right to think that, when impressive Number 8, Nemani Nagusa, smashed his way through some questionable Hartpury tackling to add another, five minutes before the break.
There was a fear that Hartpury might be in for a second serious beating in successive weeks but, to their credit, they rallied and got some reward for their efforts in the final play of the half.
The forwards drove close to the line with a series of pick and goes, but were again held up by the Falcons defence. Newcastle eventually knocked-on in the tackle and the attacking scrum finally provided the platform.
Seb Nagle-Taylor broke from the base with Luke Carter, Bragman and George Simpson all moving the ball quickly for Jake Morris, who had a good game overall, to finish well in the corner (pictured, courtesy LNC Images).
Hartpury did not want to let the game get away from them, as it had in their previous meetings with the Falcons this season, but they were quickly under pressure after the break, as penalties handed Falcons the field position for a series of line-outs deep in the home 22.
Although Hartpury initially seemed to have survived, the Newcastle forwards worked infield through a series of drives to give prop, Longovi’i Mulipola, the chance to crash over from short range.
Hartpury looked to have scored themselves, shortly afterwards. Fijian Akapusi Qera appeared to have capped a strong individual performance by grounding the ball at the foot of a post, following a quickly-tapped penalty by Lock Simon Linsell, but referee Kirby was unsighted.
There was to be no further scoring in the match, but both sides were now running the ball at every opportunity to provide an entertaining final quarter.
Hartpury will be pleased that they managed to keep a good defensive shape for most of the second half and were enjoying themselves with the ball towards the end. Goatley, Simpson and Morris all ran well for the hosts.
“A huge improvement from where we were last week,” was the verdict Head Coach, Mark Cornwell. “We were disappointed not to get more from our possession, particularly early in the game, but you’ve got to remember that we were playing the Championship’s top team.”
Hartpury: Simpson, Morris (Try 40), Smith, Eves, Goatley, Bragman, Carter; Adkins, Tanner, Armstrong, Hawkins, Linsell, Graham, Qera, Nagle-Taylor. Bench: Crane, Challenger, Gibson, Scott, Safe, Preece, Reeves, Cochrane.
Falcons: Arscott, Tait, Wacokecoke (Try 19), Williams, Sinoti, Connon (Cons 29, 36, 45), Young (Try 28); Mulipola (Try 44), McGuigan, Daniels, Peterson, Robinson, Chick, Welch, Nagusa (Try 35). Bench: Blamire, Ah You, Tampin, De Chaves, Uzokwe, Tukulua, Flood, Owen.
Referee: Mr Fergus Kirby