Dean Richards cut a disconsolate figure in the press room after the final whistle. His Newcastle Falcons made a flying start yesterday and very nearly summoned a flying finish, too. Ultimately, though, with replacement lock Sean Tomes held up on the Gloucester line in overtime, the top-flight returnees came up short of a first home victory.
They did claim a bonus point, and their first try in the Premiership for 16 months, but their rugby director was in no mood for consolation. “I think it’s a disappointing day,” Richards said. “There were points available to us other than the bonus and we didn’t take them.
“For 25 minutes we played exceptionally well but we took our foot off the gas and let them in. If we had shown more control we wouldn’t have been in the position we were in at the end.”
In preparation for their step up to the Premiership, Richards has his players bobbing and weaving in the boxing ring but the only try-scoring blow they could land yesterday came in the opening minute. They caught their opponents cold from a clean line-out take by their big unit of a lock Dom Barrow. Mike Blair made a couple of swift dents in Gloucester’s defensive line before Newcastle captain Will Welch spotted a half-gap and shipped the ball wide via Ally Hogg for wing Tom Catterick to gallop over on the left.
Rory Clegg, Blair’s half-back partner, added the extras and Richards’ men might have built on their seven point head start had outside centre James Fitzpatrick managed to find Noah Cato after finding some daylight on the right.
Seventeen minutes in, the Falcons pack had the Cherry and Whites backpedalling and buckling at scrum-time, Clegg picking off a penalty to make it 10-0. Not until the end of the opening quarter did Gloucester start to get a grip. Freddie Burns landed his first penalty attempt but Clegg swiftly replied with his second.
The tide started to turn in the final 15 minutes of the first half. Burns was beaten by the capricious Kingston Park wind with his second penalty chance but Gloucester kept on the front foot and, when the increasingly prominent Ben Morgan fed the ball out from a close-range ruck on the right, full-back Rob Cook squeezed over in the right corner.
Burns’ conversion miss left the Falcons with a five-point lead at the interval but that looked on the flimsy side of wafer-thin when they came out all in a flap at the start of the second-half. It was all they could do peg the initial damage to a Burns penalty but there was an air of inevitability when Jonny May trotted over on the overlap in the 52nd minutes.
Again, though, Burns failed to nail the conversion and the Falcons drew level at 13-13, thanks to the right boot of replacement fly-half Phil Godman. It proved to be a temporary reprieve.
Burns relocated his kicking boots in the 65th minute, converting a penalty from wide on the right. The visitors ought to have been in the comfort zone by the closing stages but they allowed Newcastle the chance to rage against the dying of the light. The home side laid siege to the Gloucester try-line for the last three minutes but Tomes – son of Alan, the 1984 Scotland Grand Slammer – could not quite find a scoring touch.
Scorers: Newcastle: Try Catterick; Conversion Clegg; Penalties Clegg 2, Godman. Gloucester: Tries Cook, May; Penalties Burns 4.
Newcastle: A Tait; N Cato, A Powell, J Fitzpatrick, T Catterick; R Clegg (P Godman, 53), M Blair (W Fury, 70); F Montanella (R Vickers, 53), M Thompson (G McGuigan, 70), O Tomaszczyk (S Wilson, 53). S MacLeod (S Tomes, 15-20, 67), D Barrow, M Wilson, W Welch (capt), A Hogg.
Gloucester: R Cook; J Simpson-Daniel, H Trinder (M Tindall, 75), B Twelvetrees, J May; F Burns, J Cowan (D Robson, 60); D Murphy (Y Thomas, 3), D Dawiduik (K Britton, 73), S Knight (R Harden, 50), T Savage (capt), W James (E Stooke, 65), S Kalamafoni, Kvesic, B Morgan (G Evans, 65).
Referee: A Small (RFU).