DEAN Richards had precious little cause for complaint after watching his side run in eight unanswered tries against last year’s Championship finalists.
Putting in arguably their finest performance of the season to go 20 points clear at the top of the table, the Falcons secured themselves a semi-final spot with six games left to go in a performance dripping with class.
Even Saturday’s Arctic conditions could not defeat them after a heroic effort from management, grounds staff and players to get the game on, Richards leading the charge during five hours of pre-match snow shovelling.
The director of rugby joked: “It was either that or getting on a bike and trying to lose some weight in the gym!
“No, I just had to get out on the field and help the boys who were shifting the snow, and it was a fantastic effort from the supporters and everybody at the club to even get the game on at all.
“Thankfully it stopped snowing at 2.30pm which gave us a window of opportunity to push through and get the thing cleared, but a few hours earlier the prospects hadn’t looked great.
“Hopefully we rewarded the people for all their efforts with the performance that followed.
“I am very happy, and the boys are happy too.”
Racking up the half-century for only the third time in a season of runaway score-lines, this was a mixture of dominant collisions, a rock-steady set-piece, incisive running lines and clinical finishing.
To have all those facets falling into place simultaneously remains rugby’s Holy Grail, made all the more remarkable by freezing finger-tips and a soaking-wet ball.
As early as three minutes in they were a score to the good, skipper Will Welch poaching the first of his two tries with a pick-and-go from a ruck in the left corner.
The open-side flanker was in his element, hitting anything that moved, sniffing support lines all evening and leading his side in an effort which saw James Hudson add a second from Ryan Shortland’s fleeting break.
The Kiwi winger has been hit and miss during his two years on Tyneside, but was to the fore in virtually everything. His chip and chase set up the five-metre scrum from which Scott MacLeod scored the Falcons’ third try, and they had the bonus point by half-time when Oliver Tomaszczyk muscled his way over. Going 26-3 up and cooking on gas, there was no let-up after the interval as another four tries rained in. It was certainly a performance to prick up the ears of potential play-off rivals, Rory Lawson scooting away from the scrum base for the fifth score before Welch supported a jinking Tom Catterick run for the next.
In an open game belying the winter wonderland around it there was still time for two more, Samoan Taiasina Tu’ifua breaking through and feeding countryman Jamie Helleur before Jimmy Gopperth supported Shortland’s counter down the left for the eighth and final try.
“It was a great game,” said Richards, whose side have not always managed to align performance levels with their unbeaten run of results, but emphatically did so on this occasion.
“If you look at Cornish Pirates on paper then this perhaps was not their strongest side, but they still had the Phil Burgesses of this world and I thought he played well.
“Our forwards were exceptional, and I really thought the Pirates entered into the spirit of it bearing in mind how bad the conditions were.”
The Falcons’ next challenge comes at Rotherham on Saturday, with the Championship leaders expecting minimal changes to their line-up.
Richards said: “We will have to wait and see how Tom Catterick is, because he took a bit of a bad blow to his leg towards the end.
“I felt the boys played really well, though, and having stability in selection really makes a difference.”
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: T Catterick (J Hodgson, 67), A Higgins, M Tait, J Helleur (A Crockett, 67), R Shortland, J Gopperth, R Lawson (W Fury, 59); G Shiells, M Thompson (M Mayhew, 62), O Tomaszczyk (J Hall, 62), S MacLeod (J Goode, 72), J Hudson, M Wilson, W Welch (captain, T Tu’ifua, 59), A Hogg.
Falcons scorers - Tries: W Welch 2, J Hudson, S MacLeod, O Tomaszczyk, R Lawson, J Helleur, Gopperth. Conversions: J Gopperth 5.
CORNISH PIRATES: W Davies, B Mercer, G Pointer (T Riley, 56), T Bedford, A Smith, A Penberthy, T Kessell; R Storer (O Hambly, 73), D Semmens (R Elloway, 62), P Joyce (B Prescott, 62), G Johnson (captain), D Barry (D Lyons, 56), P Burgess, A Cheesman, J Tyas (K Marriott, 62).
Pirates scorers - Penalties: A Penberthy.
Referee: S Lee. Attendance: 2,208