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Falcons teach the French a lesson; GLASGOW TAME THE DRAGONS IN HEINEKEN CUP CLASH.

Albi 14 Newcastle Falcons 16 THE Falcons put a foot into the quarter-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup last night with victory in South West France. Newcastle's success against French basement dwellers Albi means that Steve Bates' side now only need a home victory this coming Friday against Italian minnows Petrarca Padova to seal their place in the last eight as Pool 5 champions.

The Falcons were made to toil all the way on a soft and sandy surface at Stade Municipal, as their French hosts provided physical and committed opposition.

But it was not enough to stop a Newcastle side which will now be aiming to secure home advantage in the quarterfinals, and a potentially mouth-watering clash against one of the Heineken Cup giants in early April.

They had to wait until late in the day to snatch the dramatic result though, as Tongan international Josh Afu levelled the scores with a try six minutes from time, to dampen the spirits of a vocal home crowd.

That left a touchline conversion for flyhalf Jimmy Gopperth to seal the result, and the Kiwi duly obliged as the Falcons grafted their way to a well-deserved triumph.

Much focus ahead of the game had been on the key positional switch of Matt Thompson to tight head prop.

But the hooker wasted no time in stating his case as the first scrum of the game yielded the penalty from which Gopperth opened the scoring just two minutes in.

After a hectic start, Albi gradually tightened up their play to get back in the game via a string of energy-sapping carries round the fringes of the ruck.

However, their lack of ambition stifled their scoring options as the Falcons defence coped comfortably with their predictable tactics. Only a questionable offside call from Irish referee John Lacey denied Newcastle an opening try just before the half hour as Tane Tu'ipulotu clawed in an interception to break clear, only to be halted by the whistle as he raced for the line.

Albi fly-half Blair Stewart stroked home the resulting penalty to draw the teams level, but within minutes Newcastle were again three points up as Gopperth sent over a second penalty following Saula Radidi's sin-binning.

The final act of the opening half saw Stewart respond with a second penalty of his own, the Falcons' cause dampened further by the yellow card shown to Brent Wilson as the sides went in tied at 6-6. Whilst Thompson's propping experiment was by no means a failure, the presence of club captain Carl Hayman gave the visitors a visible lift as the second half got underway.

And the Kiwi legend put himself about in typically abrasive fashion.

But it was Albi who assumed supremacy on the scoreboard on 51 minutes when giant replacement flanker Yogane Correa rumbled over in the left corner.

Stewart, however, proved erring with the touchline conversion attempt as the home side's lead was restricted to five.

The Falcons sent on the heavies for the remainder of the game in the form of Adam Balding, Rob Vickerman and James Hudson, hoping for some added power and direct running lines on the slow and boggy Stade Municipal surface.

It almost paid immediate dividends as Balding broke through a tackle on his first carry, only for his offload to fall agonisingly short of the supporting Tu'ipulotu just five metres out.

Buoyed by their new-found momentum, the Falcons registered their first points of the half just after the hourmark.

Gopperth sent over a 40-metre penalty from out in front as Albi could not resist the temptation to fringe offside at a midfield ruck.

Stewart hit back with an almost identical effort to restore the five-point margin, but it was Newcastle who were making all the running in a frantic finale to the game and Josh Afu came within a whisker of a sensational team try in the right corner.

The Tongan atoned for his error in spectacular fashion, however, as he raced his way into the very same corner two minutes later, stepping the last man and stretching out his right arm to plant the ball down.

Gopperth duly nailed the touchline conversion attempt to send the Falcons into the lead.

And having negotiated a furious last few minutes his side now have only Petrarca Padova standing between them and a place in the quarter-finals.

MATCH FACTS ALBI: 15 Geoffrey Palis, 14 Lucas Borges, 13 Saula Radidi, 12 Baptiste Hecker, 11 Pierre-Gilles Lakafia, 10 Blair Stewart (John Stewart, 74), 9 Anthony Poujol, 1 Nicolas Frize (Stphane Delpuech, 34), 2 Cyriac Ponnau (Pierre Saby, 74), 3 Florian Prime , 4 Thomas Vervoort (Crisjan van der Westhuyzen, 60), 5 Franois Tisseau, 6 Daniel Farani, 7 Laurent Baluc-Rittener (Yogane Correa, 12), 8 Vincent Clement (captain, Clment Maynadier, 35) Scores: Tries: Correa. Pens: B Stewart 3 NEWCASTLE FALCONS: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Danny Williams, 13 Gcobani Bobo (Rob Vickerman, 57), 12 Tane Tu'ipulotu (Rob Miller, 69), 11 Tom Biggs, 10 Jimmy Gopperth (captain), 9 Micky Young, 1 Laurence Ovens (Micky Ward, 19), 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Matt Thompson (Carl Hayman, 40), 4 Tim Swinson (James Hudson, 55), 5 Mark Sorenson , 6 Josh Afu, 7 Brent Wilson, 8 Filipo Levi (Adam Balding, 55) Scores: Try: Afu. Cons: Gopperth. Pens: Gopperth 3 Referee: John Lacey (Ireland) Att: 3,413


TRYING GAME Johnnie Beattie (with ball) celebrates scoring for Glasgow as his side beat Newport-Gwent Dragons 29-25 in the Heineken Cup.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 16, 2010
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