Falcons open up with defeat against Bath

Newcastle Falcons made a losing start to life back in the Aviva Premiership, ex-boss Gary Gold leaving Kingston Park with the points

Newcastle Falcons player Rob Vickers
Newcastle Falcons player Rob Vickers

The boot of George Ford and a late forward surge proved the difference in a scrappy encounter which never really got going, a rolling maul just after the hour mark settling it.

Less than a month ago the two sides had drawn a friendly encounter 21-21 in a sun-baked corner of south-west France, but the 35-degree heat seemed a million miles away as a week of sunshine gave way to the rain.

Matt Thompson’s late withdrawal due to illness forced some last-minute reshuffling to the Newcastle front-row on a night when the new scrummaging laws came under the microscope, the sodden turf contributing to an early collapse and a spate of re-sets.

Both sides limited by the conditions, it was Bath who made the first dent on the score-board when mid-field offside at a ruck on the Falcons’ 22 allowed Ford a pop at the posts which he chipped over with ease.

As an opening-night showcase for the league it was far from ideal but, for lovers of rough-and-tumble, it was nectar. Jamie Helleur might not have thought so, having been stretchered from the field just eight minutes in after a heavy collision.

It was Bath who emerged the brighter from the five-minute stoppage, Stuart Hooper pilfering a home line-out, stout ruck defence forcing a turnover and Mike Blair being bundled into touch after slack hands from Noah Cato.

Patient pick-and-go work from the home forwards was undone by a rash cross-kick as Phil Godman and Cato were on different wavelengths, and referee Wayne Barnes was not feeling the love for the RFU Championship winners.

Matt Banahan and Blair traded well-weighted kicks for the corner as clear-cut opportunities proved impossible to find, the defensive line-speed and organisation proving a notch or two up from anything the Falcons faced in the second tier last season.

Godman’s search for points saw an optimistic drop-goal easily charged down, but his side’s mauling game was providing a steady enough platform as Under-20s World Cup winner Dom Barrow and Italian lock Carlo del Fava got their hands dirty.

Kieran Brookes used Rob Webber as a turnstile with a barnstorming carry which left his opponent buckled on the ground, and the returning tight-head was instrumental in the scrum which handed Godman a 30-metre penalty from out on the right.

The Scot’s effort was blown wide by the wind, Ford having no such problems with a strike from longer range as Del Fava was penalised for a needless offside.

That left Bath 6-0 up at the break, Alex Tait clearing tidily down the tramlines as the visitors continued their territorial dominance.

With half-an-hour to go Newcastle finally made a break, Andy Saull finding his way through the line from a quickly-tapped penalty. Danny Barnes collected the ball in support, but the Irish centre’s intended pass to Tom Catterick was fractionally off target.

It seemed like meaningful progress, but Ford’s third penalty just before the hour mark nudged the Falcons out of bonus-point range and in severe danger of emerging empty-handed.

Those fears multiplied when a rolling maul propelled Anthony Perenise over the try-line on 65 minutes, and even with Ford’s conversion bouncing back off the post a 14-point deficit always seemed beyond reach.

It was not a game entirely without its positives for Dean Richards’ side, who travel to Sale Sharks on Friday.

A largely water-tight defence will stand them in good stead, and their nudge in the scrum was noticeable.

But with forward pressure leading to a late penalty try, it was not to be their night.

 

NEWCASTLE FALCONS: A Tait, N Cato, D Barnes, J Helleur (A Powell, 8), T Catterick, P Godman, M Blair; F Montanella, R Vickers (G McGuigan, 78), K Brookes (S Wilson, 57), C del Fava (M Wilson, 57), S MacLeod, D Barrow, A Saull, A Hogg (captain).

BATH: A Watson, S Rokoduguni, J Joseph, K Eastmond (G Henson, 38), M Banahan, G Ford, P Stringer (M Young, 56); P James (N Catt, 52), R Webber (R Batty, 52), D Wilson (A Perenise, 52), S Hooper (captain, D Day, 52), D Attwood, M Garvey, M Gilbert, L Houston.

BATH SCORERS - Tries: A Perenise, Penalty try. Conversions: G Ford. Penalties: G Ford 3.

Referee: W Barnes

Attendance: 4,616

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