Newcastle Falcons 21 Rotherham Titans 22: Mark Smith's match analysis

New pitch, but still no victory for Newcastle Falcons as Rotherham Titans claim the pre-season honours by a single point

Newcastle Falcons took on Rotherham Titans at Kingston Park
Newcastle Falcons took on Rotherham Titans at Kingston Park

Before Newcastle Falcons can milk the home advantage of their new plastic pitch they have got to work out how to play on it, and that journey still has some distance to go if Saturday is anything to go by.

Despite years of trudging through the Kingston Park mud now being a thing of the past they still resorted to rolling mauls for two of their three tries in a single point loss to opposition from the league below, and did not manage to find the right balance between forcing the issue and taking care of the basics.

Director of rugby Dean Richards admitted as much afterwards, saying: “The understanding of when to play and how to play is important, because sometimes the weather dictates you can’t do certain things.

“At times on Saturday we didn’t quite grasp that.”

Having lost 26-25 in Bayonne a fortnight earlier, a second single-point loss was not enough to shake Richards’ resolve, the Falcons boss reiterating his long-held belief that performance outranks scoreline during the summer warm-up window.

“We said beforehand that it was not about the result – it was about trying things and understanding things in preparation for the league season, ” he said.

“The boys were naturally disappointed to lose and nobody wanted a defeat but, at the same time, the big thing is actually getting the opportunity to try things out against a side we don’t normally play against.”

A competitive 80 minutes was far from a wash-out for the Falcons, who had some of their first-teamers playing for the Under-23s the same day in a 40-26 loss at Doncaster.

Of the six new signings to start against Rotherham the first to seize the initiative was Tongan flanker Uili Kolo’ofai, the well-travelled veteran an athletic line-out presence who repeatedly ran over the top of the Titans’ fringe defence.

Ex-Rotherham star Juan Pablo Socino used his low centre of gravity to get beyond the gain-line on a succession of occasions, although it was his former side who made their forays count on the scoreboard.

Curtis Wilson put them seven ahead when an 80-metre counter-attack saw him collecting a two-on-one, James Broadley registering the second when Callum Green’s sin-binning allowed them to exploit the extra man in the right corner.

Newcastle’s hugely-dominant scrum had them on the front foot, but it was the line-out that delivered their first try when hooker Scott Lawson wriggled over from the back of a rolling maul in the right corner.

Rory Clegg’s touchline conversion drew the half-time deficit in to 14-7, Rotherham adding another five to that on 51 minutes when full-back Sean Scanlon hit a well-timed outside line to cross down the left, Falcons captain Will Welch hitting back with a try from a rolling maul.

“Rotherham’s coach, Lee Blackett, said they were expecting to get a bit of a tanking,” said Richards.

“I said to him I was surprised to hear that, because I know their side really well. The way that they play suits our new pitch, and I knew it would be a tight game. They were very competitive, and I think they are a good side with a strong coach.”

All of which is true, but it was Newcastle who ended the brighter, even when James McKinney’s penalty meant they needed two late scores to end up in front.

That proved just too big an ask, although there was plenty to like about their third try as another rock-solid line-out saw replacement scrum-half Warren Fury deliver a sublimely-weighted pass to Socino at pace on the 22.

The Argentinian was unstoppable as he sped over the line on a straightening angle, converting his own try.

Simon Hammersley was another to shine as the former England Student was unshakeable at full-back and, for all that a win would have been nice, failure to achieve it was far from catastrophic.

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