Rugby: Newcastle Falcons back to top flight

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Newcastle secured an immediate return to the Aviva Premiership with a pulsating victory over Bedford in the Championship Final second leg at Kingston Park.

Newcastle Falcons 31 - 23 Bedford Blues

Newcastle won 49-33 on aggregate

Scorers: Newcastle: Tries: Shortland, A Tait; Pens: Gopperth 7. Bedford: Pens: Sharp 7. Drop goal: Sharp.

Ryan Shortland and Alex Tait crossed for Newcastle while stand-off Jimmy Gopperth, playing his last game before joining Leinster, kicked seven penalties.

Bedford stand-off Jake Sharp scored all of the Blues’ points, but it was not enough as Newcastle, 18-9 up from the first leg, closed out promotion to replace London Welsh in the top flight.

The result also marked immediate success for Falcons coach Dean Richards in his first season back in the game following a three-year ban for his involvement in the “Bloodgate” scandal while coach of Harlequins.

Gopperth scored all of Newcastle’s points in the first leg and he quickly picked up where he left off with three more from the penalty tee. However, Sharp’s boot also kept Bedford in it.

Shortland settled nerves when he crossed for a try after Newcastle’s first real attacking play. The Falcons worked through 13 phases and put the Blues under real pressure before Shortland crossed in the left corner. But Bedford hit back immediately thanks to Sharp’s quick thinking and a well-taken drop goal, before he traded two penalties with Gopperth to leave the visitors 18-17 ahead at half-time but still eight behind on aggregate.

Sharp cut the overall margin further with his sixth successful penalty early in the second half and Newcastle hit back immediately through full-back Tait, who crossed in the corner to edge the home side ahead before Gopperth’s conversion attempt hit the bar.

The No 10 was back on target from the penalty tee midway through the second half as Newcastle led 25-21, 13 points overall.

Newcastle were lucky to avoid conceding a try when the ball appeared to strike Noah Cato’s hand during an attack. Bedford were however, awarded a penalty for an earlier infringement, Sharp slotting the ball from in front of goal.

Gopperth scored another penalty to keep the hosts’ 13-point margin and added his seventh of the match with three minutes remaining to ensure Newcastle were home and dry.

Newcastle: A Tait; Cato, Hufanga, Powell, Shortland; Gopperth, Lawson; Shiells, Vickers, Tomaszczyk, Del Fava, MacLeod, M. Wilson, Welch, Hogg. Subs: Thompson, Golding, S Wilson, Hudson, Tu’ifua, Luveniyali, Pilgrim

Bedford: Ransom; Short, Dodge, Atkinson, Bassett; Sharp, Veenendaal; Reeves, Spurling, Seal, Howard, Tupai, Gillanders, Fox, Fenton-Wells. Subs: Cochrane, Boulton, Gulliver, Barrell, Baldwin, Vass, Pritchard.

Attendance: 7,651

Referee: Greg Gardner.