They say travel broadens the mind, but Newcastle Falcons must be glad just to put behind them a physically and mentally draining fortnight trudging round continental Europe.
A fortnight’s worth of labour leaves them tucked nicely in behind the top two in the Amlin Challenge Cup’s Pool C and, for all the frustrations of Saturday’s 23-16 loss in Brive, they remain well placed to seize their place in the quarter-finals.
The Falcons at least held on to a losing bonus point for their troubles in central France after winning by a whisker in Romania the week before, Brive building on a 13-5 half-time lead in the battle of the two countries’ newly-promoted clubs.
It had all the hallmarks of a second-tier encounter, lacking the elan of the Heineken Cup on a night when dropped passes, penalties and the occasional big hit provided a fair chunk of the drama.
It was not without its merits, but symptomatic of two teams still a way off from Europe’s elite echelon.
“A bit like last week in Bucharest, we missed a lot of opportunities,” lamented Newcastle’s director of rugby Dean Richards.
“Brive missed a couple too, and it was a bit of a bizarre game, really.”
Much of Richards’ frustration revolved around over-reliance on the television match official, as he fumed: “The game as a spectacle was ruined by the officials.
“I don’t know whether it was the referee, the TMO or the touch judges behind it, but you have to have the ability to call a try and there were some very strange calls out there.
“The game developed into a farce towards the end because it was so stop-start and there has to be some accountability as to why you go to that length to ruin a game.”
It was not even a match played in particularly bad spirits, Brive taking a sixth-minute lead through centre Thomas Laranjeira’s firmly-struck penalty from 40 metres out down the right.
Firing wide from longer range quickly after, his side soon trailed as a fired-up Falcons pack made their set-piece count.
Firstly getting home lock Simon Pinet sin-binned for sacking a well-constructed rolling maul in the left corner, the visitors gambled on a try rather than a kick, and won.
Identifying the scorer amid a heap of bodies threw up at least three possibilities, hooker Scott Lawson seeming to emerge with the credit for a team effort as the Newcastle pack inched its way over.
“Scott acquitted himself well,” said Richards, denied the use of his Scottish international for the past six weeks due to a hand injury, having signed him from this Sunday’s visitors London Irish.
“He is a very mobile hooker whose throwing in was accurate on the day, and in difficult circumstances he put in a strong performance.”
He did that all right, but Richards was less enthusiastic about the manner in which his team ended the half, shipping a second penalty to Laranjeira and then a sloppy try to the same player.
“It was there for us to win, but we gave a silly try away at the end of the first half which probably swayed the balance,” he said, the centre given a walk-in after a loose midfield pop saw winger Venione Voretamaya scoop up the loose ball, beat his man with a sway of the hips and feed Laranjeira for the converted try and an eight-point interval lead.
It seemed a fair reflection on the play, not that Richards was convinced after the final whistle, saying: “I don’t know if Brive deserved to win.
“To be honest, I don’t think they particularly did.
“A draw would probably have been a fair reflection on the 80 minutes, but the whole thing was marred by endless referrals to the television match official.”
He had a point there, although the eye in the sky was not required for Ryan Shortland’s try down the left five minutes after the resumption, the Kiwi taking a ball on the 22 and showing the kind of finishing power so lacking from some of his side’s early-season showings.
Godman levelled matters with a penalty from 30 metres after firing wide with the touchline conversion, exchanging a further kick apiece with Laranjeira as the teams remained pegged at 16-16.
Then came the decisive period, each side losing a forward to the sin-bin as, first, Brive flanker Fabien Laurent went for pulling down a maul, followed swiftly by Oliver Tomaszczyk for a horrible tackle in which the prop led with his fore-arm.
Voretamaya was the chief beneficiary as the winger held his balance for the winning try, somehow staying the right side of the touchline as his side snatched the lead and clung on to it.
BRIVE: L Ferres (A Niesen, 66), A Mafi, S Galala (B Delage, 63), T Laranjeira, V Voretamaya, R Sola, D Neveu; D Lavergne (J Coetzee, 50), G Ribes (F Da Ros, 50), T Leupolu (V Laval, 50), V Lebas, S Pinet (T Univi, 66), F Laurent, H Briatte (S Hireche, 21), K Murphy.
Sin-bin: S Pinet (18 mins), F Laurent (55 mins).
Brive scorers – Tries: T Laranjeira, V Voretamaya. Conversions: T Laranjeira 2. Penalties: T Laranjeira 3.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: N Cato, S Brown, A Powell, J Fitzpatrick, R Shortland (C Pilgrim, 61), P Godman, W Fury (captain); R Vickers (G Shiells, 50), S Lawson (G McGuigan, 50), S Wilson (O Tomaszczyk, 50), S Tomes (A Hogg, 69), F McKenzie (S MacLeod, 60), D Barrow (K Brookes, 62), M Wilson, C York.
Falcons scorers – Tries: S Lawson, R Shortland. Penalties: P Godman 2.
Sin-bin: O Tomaszczyk (58 mins)
Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ire).