'Mission accomplished' - Bath Rugby stutter pass Newcastle Falcons to strengthen play-off position

Bath Rugby moved a step closer to the Gallagher Premiership play-offs with a 28-17 win over rock-bottom Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park on Friday night with just one round of the regular season remaining.

The away side secured the attacking bonus point in a rampant first half – Thomas du Toit, Ben Spencer, Joe Cokanasiga and Matt Gallagher all scoring tries – with only Jamie Blamire’s double providing respite for their opponents. The returning Finn Russell was imperious from the tee, nailing all four conversions to give his side a commanding 28-10 lead at half-time. But this was not the same Newcastle side that rolled over away at Bristol a few weeks ago and Sam Stuart’s try after the interval was reward for a spirited display from the home side, who stopped Bath from notching any points to add to their first-half haul – but there was no comeback for the crowd to savour, with the Blue, Black and White moving second in the table at least overnight.

READ MORE: Newcastle Falcons 15-28 Bath Rugby LIVE: Reaction and highlights from Kingston Park

Bath head of rugby Johann van Graan reflected: “We scored four tries in the first half, they fought back, it is always tough to come here so mission accomplished, five points in the bag.

"It wasn't our best performance of the season but it didn't need our best performance. We needed to get over the line today and get our five points. We spoke before of how tight this league is. We needed points and we came and got them."

Scottish fly-half star Russell was restored to the starting line-up for the visitors, his first start since picking up a groin injury in the Champions Cup defeat by Exeter last month. It took less than five minutes for his side to open the scoring, Du Toit scooping up a loose ball and dotting down for his 11th try of the season.

The onslaught continued, with the Falcons unable to stop the yellow tide early on. Spencer was next to score, taking the ball from a ruck in the 13th minute and weaving his way through the posts, also surviving a TMO review.

The hosts should have cut the deficit seven minutes later when Cameron Hutchison broke through the line to force a two-on-two situation, but his offload to Guy Pepper was left too late and the tackle from Gallagher was enough to break the continuity of the attack and the chance was gone. Falcons were punished in the 28th minute when Cokanasiga went over on the right wing with a stupendous finish, skittling four defenders on his way to the line – Russell nailed the tricky conversion to extend the lead to 21-0.

Blamire finally provided some cheer for the North East faithful nine minutes before the break, scoring from a maul in the right corner, but the usually reliable Brett Connon sent his kick wide.

Bath’s bonus point was secured when Gallagher finished off a superb team move, arcing beyond the home defence thanks to a pin-point flat pass from the visionary Russell., before Blamire doubled his tally from another maul with the last play of the half to give the Falcons some hope going into the interval.

After a lengthy period of pressure, the hosts finally grabbed their third try through Stuart sniping down the blindside. Connon added the extras for the first time on the night to reduce the arrears to 11 points.

The reverse fixture was one of the Falcons’ closer games this season, only losing by eight points on the opening league weekend, and they were proving a nuisance in the second period here, limiting Bath’s attacking chances and crafting openings of their own.

But as has been the case all season, a lack of ruthlessness and their habit of having to chase the game cost them in the end while Bath will now switch their attention to Northampton Saints in the final game of the regular season.

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Louis Brown, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Cameron Hutchison, 11 Ben Redshaw, 10 Brett Connon, 9 Sam Stuart; 1 Adam Brocklebank, 2 Jamie Blamire, 3 Eduardo Bello, 4 Tim Cardall, 5 Sebastian de Chaves, 6 Sam Cross, 7 Guy Pepper, 8 Callum Chick (captain).

Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Mark Dormer, 18 Richard Palframan, 19 John Hawkins, 20 Freddie Lockwood, 21 James Elliott, 22 Rory Jennings, 23 Oli Spencer.

Bath Rugby: 15 Matt Gallagher, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Ollie Lawrence, 12 Cameron Redpath, 11 Will Muir, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ben Spencer (c), 1 Beno Obano, 2 Tom Dunn, 3 Thomas du Toit, 4 Quinn Roux, 5 Charlie Ewels, 6 Ted Hill, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Alfie Barbeary.

Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Jacques du Plessis, 20 Miles Reid, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Orlando Bailey, 23 Josh Bayliss

Referee: Tom Foley

Assistant referees: Sara Cox and Hamish Smales

TMO: Dean Richards