Falcons 54 Braves 12
Newcastle Falcons A 47
Exeter Braves 12
Mark Stevens at Kingston Park
Newcastle’s stay within the top flight of English Rugby may be about to come to an end in a few weeks’ time, but the Falcons may well depart with silverware in the bag as they advanced through to the final of this season’s Premiership Rugby Shield with victory over the Exeter Braves.
In a dominant display in the North East, the Falcons set up a final outing against Saracens Storm after they brushed aside the visiting Braves with an eight-try success at Kingston Park.
First half tries from Ben Stevenson, Adam Radwan (2) and George Wacokecoke - all of which were converted by fly-half Brett Connon - gave them the perfect springboard for success, the Braves countering with a close-range score from hooker Jack Innard, converted by Sam Morley.
After the break, Harry Strong gave Exeter a brief lifeline with an early score, but it was the Falcons who eventually pulled clear adding scores through Tim Swiel, Josh Hodge and skipper Sam Stuart.
Having topped the Northern Conference, it was a powerful Falcons outfit that took to the field for this last four encounter. The hosts paraded a number of first-team stars, including lock Will Witty, who next season will be donning the colours of the Chiefs.
It was, however, speedster Radwan that helped set up their opening try after just two minutes. The Newcastle speedster burst through the middle off the Exeter midfield, before linking with skipper Sam Stuart, who in turn fed Stevenson for the easiest of scores.
Connon landed the extras to that effort and Newcastle’s second, which arrived on 10 minutes. Having positioned themselves deep within the Braves 22, they went wide off a five-metre scrum, using a slick backs move to send Radwan over in the right corner.
Not quite the start the Braves would have envisaged, the visitors did their best to find a way back into the contest. They pushed and probed in attack, but they were struggling to find a way through the home defence.At least four penalty kicks went deep into the Falcons 22, but none of them brought reward as a combination of poor execution and stout home defence held them at bay.
Having survived the threat, the Falcons hit their rivals with a third try, this time capitalising on turnover ball on Harry Strong, who was collared trying to field a hacked clearance. Using possession to their advantage, the home side exploited the numbers game out wide, creating the opening for Wacokecoke to stroll over unopposed.
Sadly, it would get no easier for the Devonians, who leaked a fourth try just before the half-hour mark. Again, it was a powerful counter from the Falcons, who having lapped up a mis-firing Exeter line-out through Jamie Blamire, again worked the opening out wide for Radwan to scorch over. Connon’s conversion made it 28-0.
To their credit, the Braves refused to lie down and with James McRae, Onehunga Kaufusi and Rus Tuima ever-willing runners, they banked themselves another penalty from referee Nick Wood. Again, it went to the corner, but this time the Exeter pack came together as one, propelling Innard over for the converted score.
HALF TIME NEWCASTLE FALCONS 28 EXETER BRAVES 7
Innard’s score just before the break helped to re-ignite Exeter’s cause and they started the second period strongly, making the most of a spilled restart to set up camp early on.
Just as they had done in the first half, the Braves huffed and puffed in attack, but the lack of a killer instinct close to the line was killing their hopes and the Falcons were happy to soak up the pressure.
Skipper Tom Hendrickson threatened with a decent raid through the middle shortly after, but that would prove the last action for the Exeter centre who departed just a minute or so later following a bang to the head.
The departure of the Cornishman meant Strong was switched from the wing to the centre and his first action in midfield was to canter over for Exeter’s second try, built around solid approach work involving Kaufusi and Joe Snow.
It was just what the doctor ordered for the Braves in their hopes of a fightback, but just as they gave themselves a sniff of hope, they were hit with a try double by the Falcons.
Collett was driven over from a five-metre line-out, before Hodge picked off an intercept pass close to his own posts, raced over half the field, before offloading to Swiel to score in the corner. Connon bagged conversions to both to keep up his unblemished record.
The Falcons, though, were far from finished and with both sides having taking the opportunity to empty their benches, it was Hodge who stole over for a seventh try with just ten minutes remaining to help put the seal on an impressive display from the hosts.
This time, Connon’s deadly accurate boot went awry, pulling his testing kicks from the left flank wide of the post.
It mattered not in the grand scheme of things as the Falcons happily closed out the game in efficient style, claiming a late converted score through Stuart, thus ensuring them home advantage in next Monday’s final.
Falcons: T Swiel; B Stevenson, G Wacokecoke (C Nordli-Kelemeti 70), P Bettencourt (J Hodge 52), A Radwan; B Connon, S Stuart (capt); A Brocklebank (C Cade 72), K Cooper (S Sociono 56), R Ah You (O Caudle 56); W Witty (T Cavubati 50), G Young; J Blamire, C Collett, S Uzokwe. Replacements (not used): R Farrar, T Marshall.
Tries - Stevenson, Radwan (2), Wacokecoke, Collett, Swiel, Hodge, Stuart; Conversions - Connon (7)
Braves: J Snow; H Strong, T Hendrickson (capt, C Davis 54), B Karea (L Mehson 65), J Short; S Morley, S Maunder (P Thompson 67); M Low (J Kenny 56), J Innard (M Norey 70), M Street (A Petch 56); T Salmon, L Pearson (C Teague 70); O Kaufusi (T Lawday 56); J McRae, R Tuima.
Tries - Innard, Strong; Conversion - Morley
Referee: N Wood