Gloucester powered through to a convincing victory over Newcastle Falcons at Kingsholm to head into the Challenge Cup final in Bilbao next month.
(Photo credit: @gloucesterrugby)
The Cherry and Whites will be lapping up some extra vitamin D in May as they travel to sunny Spain for the Challenge Cup final after comprehensively beating Falcons at home by 21 points earlier this evening.
Johann Ackermann's charges did well to keep Newcastle to just five points during a sluggish opening quarter, displaying impressive defensive capabilities throughout the full 80.
Within the first 15 minutes, Newcastle had looked set to tear into a comfortable lead at any moment threatening with plenty of intelligent running angles from a backline not short of strike runners. Gloucester's defence must be credited with limiting the potential damage dealt by their opponents while settling into the game with a beautifully taken score for Tom Marshall after a scintillating linebreak from Jason Woodward, the first of many this evening.
Once they hit their groove, Gloucester did well to utilise the imposing presence of Mark Atkinson and Billy Twelvetrees in midfield, drawing in plenty of attention from the Falcons defenders. The space created by the sizeable centres allowed Woodward to do what he does best, carve through defences like a petrol-powered carving knife at Christmas.
Billy Burns got the better of his opposite man, Joel Hodgson, marshalling his troops with distinction. His performance was topped with a well-taken try after spotting a gap in Newcastle's defence after some confusion at the breakdown. The cherry on top of a successful evening for the youngest of the Premiership's Burns brothers. Hodgson himself did show plenty of promise in attack, taking the ball to the line well enough, but made too many poor decisions to steer his side to a victory whilst under the cosh.
Dean Richards' Falcons weren't at the races in the same way they have been in the Premiership so far this season. Compounding errors and poor decision-making matched with impressive pressure in defence from Gloucester meant Ed Slater's men were worthy victors. The line speed of the home sides defensive line forced Falcons into uncharacteristic mistakes. Ruan Ackermann, Jake Polledri and in the latter stages Lewis Ludlow must be credited for squeezing their opponents enough to knock them off their rhythm and stunt the chances afforded a potentially deadly Falcons backline.
The Shed were treated to a thoroughly entertaining victory, with fan favourites Burns and Woodward bringing plenty of entertainment to a spring evening at Kingsholm. An honourable mention must go the way of Falcons hooker Scott Lawson for scoring two tries against his former club.
Newcastle will hold tight to the disappointment of tonight's result and take it out on two monumental final rounds of their Premiership campaign. England's most northern club finish their season with fixtures against Leicester Tigers (away) and Wasps (home), two clubs that will not roll over easily and will ensure Falcons have a tough time maintaining their spot in the final four. Both Midlands outfits will have their own designs on securing playoff spots and Newcastle are very much blocking their path.
All three sides are in the running to join Exeter Chiefs and Saracens in the semi-finals and must treat the next two weeks as knockout rugby. One dropped game or merely a lack of winning/losing bonus points could be the difference come the fifth of May.
Editor and Founder of Crashball rugby