Newcastle Falcons suffered their first defeat of pre-season, but showed more than enough to suggest they are ready for next Friday’s Aviva Premiership kick-off.
Scoring the only try of a feisty work-out and turning down repeated opportunities to kick at goal, director of rugby Dean Richards will be losing no sleep over a scoreline which disguised a performance in which his side went nicely through the gears.
Edinburgh’s decision to farm their ‘home’ game out to Hawick seemed to meet with the approval of a local support base bereft of professional rugby since the disappearance of the Border Reivers, coached by former Falcons boss Steve Bates during their brief existence.
They turned up in their thousands and, whipped up by the pre-match sounds of the traditional pipe band, it had a feeling of how things used to be. Walls of Bill McLaren memorabilia at the legendary commentator’s home club added to the sentiment, and the on-field action lived up to the occasion.
On the 500th anniversary of the battle of Flodden there were no cheap yards, Scott MacLeod earning a raucous cheer in his home town with a line-break in the very first minute – a passage of play which ended with Phil Godman slicing a penalty attempt from the left.
Scotland scrum-half Greig Laidlaw had no such problems from 40 metres out after former Edinburgh Fraser McKenzie’s shoulder charge, and the one-time Falcons target doubled his side’s lead with a second penalty from half the distance.
The selection of twin open-sides Will Welch and Andy Saull was always going to pose questions of back-row balance, and who would shoulder the ball-carrying burden. Ally Hogg and Fraser McKenzie both put in a shift, but a resurgent Edinburgh grew into the half as Welch departed with a knock after 20 minutes.
Godman’s trademark miss-passes offered tantalising sniffs at an interception for the Scottish side’s enthusiastic midfield, Newcastle’s defensive line holding firm despite repeated spells of pressure inside their own 22.
Home referee Neil Paterson’s penalty-count was quickly mounting up against the Falcons, who can ill afford such indiscipline when their league campaign gets underway on Friday night at home to Bath.
But on the occasions they had possession they looked useful, offloading to willing runners and searching for space.
Mike Blair’s searing break saw the half-back scurrying 50 metres after ghosting through a gap, igniting a frantic passage of play which ended with Edinburgh hacking upfield and almost scoring on the counter.
An even contest in the scrum saw neither side especially dominant as both packs grappled with the new laws, but it was Edinburgh chipping away at the score as a third Laidlaw penalty from in front extended the half-time to 9-0.
Handed a kickable penalty two minutes after the resumption Newcastle instead kicked for the corner, losing the attacking line-out. Still, they probed, repeated pick-and-go work close to the try-line going similarly unrewarded.
Again turning down points from five metres out following Nick De Luca’s sin-binning, the Falcons’ scrum set the platform for Tom Catterick to have a run at the left corner. The full-back bounced the ball as he dived under pressure for the line, but his side were enjoying their best period.
Godman finally turned it into points on 51 minutes with a poacher’s try down the blind-side after yet another penalty was dabbed into touch, Blair feeding him from a ruck near the left corner.
Adam Powell’s charge-down almost produced a second as the hour mark passed by, Godman’s attempted drop-goal narrowly missed its target and it was Newcastle making the running. Despite this it was Edinburgh doing the scoring – Piers Francis striking a 40-metre penalty against the run of play.
The fly-half completed the scoring with a second strike on 76 minutes, but it was the performance rather than the result which will most have pleased Newcastle.
Newcastle Falcons: T Catterick, A Higgins, D Barnes, J Helleur, R Shortland, P Godman, M Blair; F Montanella, S Lawson, K Brookes, F McKenzie, S MacLeod, W Welch (captain), A Saull, A Hogg. Replacements: R Vickers, M Thompson, S Wilson, D Barrow, M Wilson, W Fury, J Hodgson, A Powell, A Tait.
Falcons scorers – Tries: P Godman.
Edinburgh: G Tonks, J Cuthbert, D Fife, N De Luca, T Brown, P Francis, G Laidlaw (captain); A Dickinson, R Ford, WP Nel, G Gilchrist, I van der Westhuizen, S Cox, R Grant, D Denton. Replacements: A Lutui, L Niven, G Cross, O Atkins, H Watson, S Kennedy, S Hidalgo-Clyne, D Basilaia, B Atiga.
Edinburgh scorers –Penalties: G Laidlaw 3, P Francis 2.
Sin-bin: N De Luca (46)
Refereree: N Paterson (Scotland)