Calvisano 10 Newcastle Falcons 25

No bonus point for Newcastle Falcons, but they're still on course for quarter-finals as decider against Brive looms next month

Action Images / Ed Sykes  Zach Kibirige scores the first try for Newcastle Falcons
Zach Kibirige scores the first try for Newcastle Falcons

Newcastle Falcons got most of what they wanted from their trip to fog-bound northern Italy, but fell a single score short of the four-try bonus point which would have taken them clear at the top of Amlin Challenge Cup Pool C.

As it is they sit tied on points with Brive, the group destined to be decided when the French club visit Kingston Park next month.

TV will decide this week which game to screen live, and a Thursday night slot in front of the cameras seems nailed-on.

There was no such widespread interest in Saturday’s proceedings, a match which went largely to the script and threw up few surprises.

The Falcons laid down a statement of intent on three minutes when a period of patient phase play culminated in Zach Kibirige racing 40 metres down the right wing to score, Phil Godman converting from the touchline.

The Scottish fly-half would go on to leave the field on 20 minutes after taking a heavy contact in the act of tackling Calvisano’s all-action fly-half Kelly Haimona, director of rugby Dean Richards stating: “Phil took a knock to his upper body.

“It was more precautionary than anything else when we decided to take him off.

“He wanted to play on and see how he was at half-time, but with someone like Rory Clegg on the bench there was no point in risking him.”

Richards had shown no great desire to wrap his stars in cotton wool, playing most of his senior men with an eye on Saturday’s trip to Exeter.

Captain Will Welch left the fray around the hour after suffering a stinger being cleared out at a ruck, on an afternoon in which both he and Andy Saull buzzed around the field.

Playing two open-sides in the same team has long been a temptation for coaches (think Phil Waugh and George Smith, Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric), and on this occasion it seemed to work.

Welch, with six on his back, was his usual industrious self, while Saull is now finally showing up as the player everyone thought he was when he joined from Saracens in the summer.

Free from injury, it seems inconceivable the Falcons could now go into a Premiership game without him. Richard Mayhew’s bulk and direct running off-set that balance nicely, a penalty apiece keeping the board turning before Clegg latched on to Warren Fury’s sniping break for the second try on 23 minutes.

“Scoring a try inside three minutes makes it a more difficult because it lulls you into thinking it will be a little bit too easy,” said Richards, his side 20-3 up at the interval thanks to a long-range Clegg penalty with the last kick of the half.

“There were a lot of bits of the game in which you could see us moving forward. Calvisano were a physical side and it was very similar to playing over in France where you know full well it is going to be a different kettle of fish to playing them in England.

“Our style probably suited the game a bit more and in parts it was good.

“The boys will look at the video and rue the missed opportunities, but at the same time there was a lot of good stuff out there and I was pleased.”

The bonus-point which had seemed a formality at half-time looked even more so when Kibirige added the third try just 10 minutes after the resumption, Saull and Scott Wilson breaking down the left.

Alex Crockett stood up the defence with a penetrating midfield incursion, leaving Noah Cato to exploit a two-on-one in the right corner.

With half an hour left to grab the fourth try Newcastle still failed to find it, part victim of their own frustration and not helped by the manic refereeing of Romanian novice Vlad Iordescu, who seemed happy to let Calvisano indiscretions go but seized immediately on any retaliation.

That saw Scottish forwards Scott Lawson and Fraser McKenzie both sent to the sin-bin, and it was the hosts who crossed for the last remaining try of the day when former Darlington Mowden Park lock Paino Hehea barged his way over from a close-range ruck.

“It would have been nice to get that bonus point,” mused Richards, spending time chatting and sharing a drink with supporters at the aptly-named Stadio Peroni.

“Our fans are absolutely fantastic and yet again they have travelled in their numbers.

“Speaking to some of them after the game they came all sorts of weird and wonderful ways to get to northern Italy and it is just brilliant for the club we can rely on that kind of backing.”

That same support could be key for what realistically seems the group decider next month. The director of rugby said: “It has set up a very interesting game at home to Brive in the second week of January.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say it is winner takes all, but if we manage to win that one then it puts us in a really strong position.

“Full credit to Calvisano here, because they put us under a lot of pressure throughout the game.

“It is not nice to say we were better than them man for man, but when you look at the game it was interesting how it unfolded.

“We had a little more experience in our side and we tried different things compared to what Calvisano did.”

Two-try winger Kibirige added: “This was a tough place to come, but we have gained the result and things are set up nicely.

“We were happy to get the four points because Calvisano really threw everything at us, even though we missed the bonus point.

“In terms of myself I’m really enjoying every chance I get and I am starting to find some form again after my hamstring injury earlier in the season.

“The senior guys around me are really helping me out with everythin. That makes such a difference for a young player coming into professional rugby like this.”

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