Bucharest Wolves 12 Newcastle Falcons 13

Tom Catterick's last-minute penalty bails out the Falcons as they sneak victory in low-key Amlin Challenge Cup opener

Newcastle Falcons player Scott Macleod in action
Newcastle Falcons player Scott Macleod in action

As clubs and national unions squabble over the future of European rugby, an instantly- forgettable Amlin Challenge Cup opener will feature nowhere near the negotiating table.

Nor should it, the late drama of Tom Catterick’s match-winning penalty adding artificial sheen to a game high on perspiration but found woefully wanting on inspiration.

As if further evidence was required of how far removed the second-tier equivalent is from the fantastical fare on offer in the Heineken Cup, just sit down and watch the video of this one.

Not that it was entirely without its merits, Dean Richards taking the opportunity to blood a number of his youngsters in the kind of dust-up which will serve them well as their careers develop. “We had a number of young guys out there, and I thought Harrison Collins, Sean Brown and George McGuigan all played their part,” said the director of rugby. “They played exceptionally well, considering this was their first senior start.”

Of that there is no doubt, and when Joel Hodgson stroked over a second-minute penalty there was a sniff in the air this could be a walk-over.

Far from it, as it turned out, the Falcons trailing 12-3 just after the quarter mark as fly-half Vali Calafeteaunu stroked over four penalties from four attempts, the first two from in front and the latter pair from tougher range.

The score was no facade, either, a Wolves side made up of the best players from all of Romania’s clubs giving a sound demonstration of elbow grease, if not quality.

Richards added: “The one thing you know when you come over here is they will be totally committed and bring that typically Latin approach. Bucharest’s physicality was good, as you would expect, but had we taken our scoring opportunities we would be talking about a different game.”

They had the chances, returning wing Ryan Shortland breaking the line on a number of occasions but failing to turn it into points.

Three times kickable penalties were turned down for set-pieces and on all three the visitors left empty-handed.

The one try they did manage, with virtually the last play of the half, came from a scrum on the 22, Bucharest free-kicked for a crooked feed by Scottish referee Andrew McMenemy.

Chris Pilgrim, who showed slick service on his first start of the season, fed Adam Powell and the centre’s twinkle-toed footwork took him past two tacklers to dot down between the posts.

Hodgson converted for a 12-10 half-time deficit, but the stand-off was not having an altogether happy time after a pair of charge-downs and three occasions of kicking the ball out on the full.

The usual eye for a gap was still there in abundance, but as a mission in prising the No 10 shirt away from Rory Clegg and Phil Godman it lacked the control and execution of the simple things.

He created plenty through the hands, even if the finishing was not there, and he had a new man beside him for the second half due to Alex Crockett’s injury.

Richards said: “Alex bumped his ribs, so we will have him looked at.”

The less said about the second half as a spectacle, the better – neither side achieving any fluency as Newcastle dominated what little play there was, but failing to make it count.

Hodgson hit the post with a penalty five minutes from time as his side still trailed, before Catterick stepped up for the match-winner at the death.

Richards added: “Other than the boat-load of opportunities we didn’t take, I was pleased.”


David Whetstone
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