Newcastle Falcons took a giant step towards Aviva Premiership Rugby safety with a crucial win over Leeds Carnegie that leaves the Yorkshire club marooned at the foot of the table.
Leeds are seven points adrift of their northern rivals with eight games still to play – including a return match at Kingston Park in April – yet the Falcons delivered a psychological blow with this comprehensive victory. Ally Hogg set them on the road to four points with an eighth-minute try and Jimmy Gopperth added 12 points with the boot before Jeremy Manning crossed to seal the win, after Scott Freer had given Leeds hope with a try.
Leeds, for all the pain they would go on to endure, actually made the brighter start with some slick passing, but it was Newcastle, on their first attack, who opened the scoring. After Gopperth had kicked a penalty into touch from inside his own half, Tim Swinson won the lineout to set Micky Young in motion. He fed prop Jon Golding, and then Luke Fielden, before number eight Hogg charged over from 15 yards, carrying full-back Ceiron Thomas with him.
Thomas was struggling with his kicking, but both sides carried an attacking threat with ball in hand. Leeds forged into the opposition 22 only for Kearnan Myall to undo their hard work by spilling the ball.
Territory and possession was being bossed by Leeds, but Newcastle were swift on the counter. They perhaps should have had a second try from Gopperth’s cross-field kick but Peter Wackett made a try-saving tackle on Alex Tait.
Handling errors continued to thwart Leeds, who were again reprieved when Warren Fury threw a pass straight at Falcons captain James Hudson but he lacked the confidence to run it back for a try and eventually knocked on.
Gopperth extended Newcastle’s lead to 11 points before the break with two penalties, the first after Leeds were found guilty of infringements in the scrum, the second a result of crossing in midfield, though Gopperth’s 50-metre kick on the angle was perfectly executed.
Newcastle pressed at the start of the second half and were rewarded for their endeavour when Leeds were twice penalised for indiscipline in the scrum, Gopperth making it four from four to extend the lead to 17-0. Leeds flickered into life when Michael Stephenson broke from halfway and fed Lachlan Mackay but he had no support as full-back Manning bore down on him.
Their task was made easier when Newcastle hooker Matt Thompson was sin-binned for not releasing and Leeds, with a raft of backs replacements on, began to ask a few serious questions. From an attacking lineout, 22-year-old replacement hooker Freer scored off the back of a maul, but Adrian Jarvis missed the conversion. Any hope of a comeback was extinguished by Manning’s late score in the corner after good approach play.