NEWCASTLE Falcons showed no New Year’s hangover as the Championship’s top-versus-bottom clash went the way of the form book.
Dean Richards’ league leaders ran in four tries against committed but limited opposition, a bonus-point showing extending their lead at the top of the table to 17 points.
Right from the outset the Falcons were into their stride, anchoring the scrum with a strong right shoulder and pilfering line-out ball at will – James Hudson and Carlo del Fava seemingly inside the heads of the home jumpers.
Luke Fielden’s switch to full-back made the most of his vision and counter-attacking qualities.
Tane Tu’ipulotu’s return steadied the midfield and the manner in which forwards and backs linked in unison was pleasing on the eye.
Big forwards hitting holes down the middle and quick backs exploiting the space out wide – it sounds simple, but many a team has fallen victim to rugby’s them-and-us separation between the shire horses and the show ponies.
A penalty exchange between visiting stand-off Joel Hodgson and home full-back Jamie Lennard kept honours even after the opening skirmishes, but Newcastle’s superior strength and shape was growing by the minute.
It was therefore no surprise when the first try eventually arrived just before the quarter mark, repeated re-sets of a five-metre scrum on the right seeing Taiasina Tu’ifua pop the ball for Rory Lawson to scamper in down the blind-side. The Scottish scrum-half had assumed the captaincy from James Hudson in the wake of their 12-9 struggle against London Scottish and rose to the challenge on an assured afternoon which also welcomed the return of regular skipper Will Welch from the bench after a back injury.
Home hooker Rhys Buckley saw yellow as increasing indiscipline heaped more yet more pressure on the Knights and a seven-man pack buckled under the strain as Newcastle’s scrum racked up a ninth penalty try of the season.
Fourteen soon became 13 when centre James Tincknell joined his team-mate in the sin-bin for a cynical tug-back on Tane Tu’ipulotu as the Tongan latched on to a Joel Hodgson line-break. However, despite their numerical disadvantage, the Falcons still plundered the last try of the half.
Home pressure in the left corner tied in the Newcastle defence, and with a penalty advantage forthcoming, a speculative cross-field kick to the right corner paid dividends when Lennard received the tap-back to dot down.
The full-back converted his own try impressively from the right-touchline to reduce the lead to 15-10, but the momentum did not carry on after the break as the visitors resumed their dominance.
Hodgson’s second penalty got the scoreboard ticking just two minutes in and within a whisker the gap was up to 13 when Tu’ifua’s line-break and grubber allowed Zach Kibirige to maintain his try-a-game scoring rate.
The four-try bonus point seemed a matter of course, but they were made to wait for it as sound build-up play was repeatedly thwarted by a mixture of dogged defence and sloppy execution.
Former Falcon Kieran Brookes departed before the hour mark with a shoulder injury after a low-key showing at tight-head from the Leicester loanee and, with Newcastle emptying their bench, the impatience around the crucial fourth touch-down grew.
Waisea Luveniyali thought he had scored it when he chipped and regathered a favourable bounce in the left corner, only for referee Ian Tempest to chalk off the effort.
He bizarrely deemed to have spotted a foot in touch when the Fijian seemed well within the whitewash and a frustrating climax was dragged out until the final two minutes when runs from Hudson and Welch and slick hands from the back-row created the telling chance.
Kibirige was the man to exploit it, the Teesside teenager showing a clean pair of heels to his marker before bashing his way over the last man to plant the ball down.
They had almost missed out on the maximum, but were well worth it in the end.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: L Fielden, Z Kibirige, A Crockett (J Helleur, 70), T Tu’ipulotu, R Shortland, J Hodgson (W Luveniyali, 64), R Lawson (captain, W Fury, 58); J Golding, R Vickers (M Thompson, 54), O Tomaszczyk (S Wilson, 55), C Del Fava (J Goode, 68), J Hudson, M Wilson, R Mayhew (W Welch, 55), T Tu’ifua.
Falcons scorers - Tries: R Lawson, Penalty try, Z Kibirige 2. Conversions: J Hodgson. Penalties: J Hodgson 2.
DONCASTER KNIGHTS: J Lennard, D Flockhart, D Mama, J Tincknell, T Lewis (A Symons, 40), C Braid, L Silver (C Hallam, 45); T Davies, R Buckley, K Brookes (B McGovern, 54), M Challinor (captain), D Parsons (R Cadman, 67), S Pailor (A Boyde, 73), J Rawling (W Hafu, 52), C Planchant.
Doncaster scorers - Tries: J Lennard. Conversions: J Lennard. Penalties: J Lennard.
Sin-bin: R Buckley (23 mins), J Tincjnell (30 mins)
Referee: I Tempest