Jimmy Gopperth's boot fires Newcastle into top flight and ensures Dean Richards' redemption


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The Independent Online

Dean Richards' return to rugby's top table was confirmed last night after Newcastle posted a 49-33 aggregate Championship play-off victory over Bedford Blues.

The win means there will be no legal challenges this summer. Had Bedford won they suggested they would have appealed against the Premiership's ruling that their Goldington Road ground was not up to standard.

Richards, who in 2009 was banned from any involvement in the game for three years for his part in Harlequins' "bloodgate" scandal, when the club tried to engineer a substitution with a fake injury, led Newcastle to a regular-season finish 24 points clear of second-placed Nottingham. After last night's victory his redemption was finally complete.

Newcastle, who hosted the Blues holding a nine-point lead from the first leg after the Falcons' 18-9 win at Goldington Road, scored the only tries of the game with Ryan Shortland and Alex Tait crossing either side of the break. But Jake Sharp, the Bedford fly-half, kept his side in it in the first half with a series of penalties and a drop goal.

Sharp kicked three penalties to give the visitors a 9-3 lead after 25 minutes, with Jimmy Gopperth, in his last game for Newcastle before he moves to Leinster, replying with his first penalty of his 21 points for the Falcons.

Then Shortland crossed for Newcastle, only for Sharp to add a drop goal and two more penalties to help send Bedford into the break with a narrow 18-17 lead on the night.

Sharp added another penalty soon after the restart but Tait burst through following a penalty advantage for Newcastle's second try – converted by Gopperth – to restore the home side's lead to 10 points on aggregate.

Gopperth and Sharp exchanged penalties, before the former added two more to give his side a 31-24 win on the night and fans a summer free of legal wrangles.