Newcastle Falcons 50 – Hartpury University RFC 10

It looks like a hammering, but the consensus was that the final tally did not reflect a game in which Hartpury played a full part and matched the Falcons for long periods.

On a freezing Tyneside night, it was not until the final quarter that the hosts finally stretched away and a late flurry of tries gave a score-line that was harsh on Hartpury.

The Red & Blacks used the Championship Cup to give game-time to a few squad members who had been on the side-lines during the recent good run.  They also fielded academy players – mostly former students – from both Gloucester and Bristol.

The Falcons – also heavily changed – were able to give debuts to ex-Wallaby and Tongan international, Kerry Cooper Vuna, as well as Philip van der Walt, formerly of the Sharks and Biarritz.

Hartpury would have wanted a good start, or at least to frustrate the Falcons, but neither happened as Newcastle were quickly off the mark.

A chip ahead in midfield was comfortably dealt with by the Falcons who quickly countered down the left.  They overloaded the Hartpury defence and Cooper Vuna’s Newcastle career was off to the best possible start.

Former England man, Toby Flood, was off target with the conversion, as he was eight minutes later, after Newcastle’s impressive full-back, Tim Swiel, had managed to wriggle over after being half-held.

With two tries conceded in the first 10 minutes, there was a concern that the floodgates might open early.  However, Hartpury had other ideas and, after the tentative opening, began to impose themselves on the game.

Scrum half Harry Cochrane (pictured) was at the heart of everything that Hartpury were doing well, clearing the ball quickly from the breakdown and keeping the tempo high.

Falcons were reduced to 14 after Sonatane Takulua was binned, for a high shot on Cochrane, and Hartpury had the option of a simple three points.  Instead, they went to the corner in search of more, but could not get the drive moving against a physically bigger Falcons pack.

Flood was forced off shortly afterwards with a head knock, but Falcons were not inconvenienced as his replacement was the in-form Joel Hodgson.  Similarly, Ben Stevenson was a perfect replacement when Cooper Vuna’s debut came to a premature end.

One aspect of Hartpury’s play that continues to cause concern is their inability to unlock defences at the higher end of the Championship.

Will Safe, who was another to have an excellent game, was agonisingly close to latching on to a kick ahead for a certain try, but the ball just escaped his grasp.

Hartpury had seen plenty of ball and, only 10-0 down at the interval, were far from out of it.  They will be frustrated at not taking points – a Tiff Eden penalty that fell just short being their other near effort.

Eden, however, did land a kick from a similar range with five minutes of the second half played and it was somewhat against the run of play when Falcons extended their lead in the 48th minute.

Eden picked up a yellow card for interference at the breakdown in front of the Hartpury posts.  It would have been a simple three points for Hodgson but Falcons went to the corner.

This time their pack did have the grunt to get the job done, hooker Jamie Blamire getting the congratulations.

Three minutes later, Hartpury had their best moment of the match.  Safe was again involved, making a huge break through the middle of the Falcons defence before feeding half-time replacement, Seb Nagle-Taylor, who on his shoulder to finish under the posts.

With Eden off the field, Jacob Morris added the extras.

The score was then 15-10 and a good reflection of the match to that point.  Even when Alex Tait was set free to finish in the corner after 55 minutes, there was no sense of panic.

Sadly, for the visitors, the final quarter belonged to the Falcons and 28 points in the final 16 minutes were their reward.

An interception in midfield produced a simple finish for Matavesi, before Stevenson was next on the scoresheet as Hartpury, looking to create something, again gave up possession.

Tries in the final 10 minutes for Swiel and another debutant, Rob Farrar, were tough on a Hartpury team that had given everything.  The club now have another challenging away fixture, at Jersey Reds next Saturday, before out final cup game against Doncaster Knights on December 14th.

Newcastle Falcons: Swiel, Tait, Owen, Matavesi, Cooper Vuna, Flood, Takulua; Lockwood, Blamire, Ah You, Barry, Peterson, Welch, Hardie, Van der Walt. Bench: McGuigan, Brocklebank, Mulipola, Farrar, Uzokwe, Nordii-Kelemeti, Hodgson, Stevenson.

Falcons scorers – Tries: Cooper Vuna, Swiel 2, Blamire, Tait, Matavesi, Stevenson, Farrar. Conversions: Hodgson 5.

Hartpury University RFC: Wilcox, Morris, Koster, Margetts, Goatley, Eden, Cochrane; Merrey, Cutting, Flook, Batley, Safe, Hinkley, Clementson, Graham. Bench: Crane, Seville, Challenger, Nagle-Taylor, Preece, Carter, Reeves, Powell

Hartpury scorers – Tries: Seb Nagle-Taylor. Conversions: Jacob Morris. Penalties: Tiff Eden.

Referee: Hamish Smales.

Attendance: 3,818.

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