Newcastle regroup after energy-sapping journey; THE MATCH: Enisei-STM 24 Newcastle Falcons 7.
NEWCASTLE Falcons are not yet closing the door on the European Challenge Cup despite defeat in Russia hitting their hopes of a quarter-final place.
Whether or not their 17-point loss at Russian champions Enisei-STM is a terminal blow remains to be seen, the Falcons becoming only the second English team to lose a European match against opponents from outside of the Six Nations.
Victory in Saturday's visit of French club Brive is now a must to stand any chance of repeating last year's progression through to the last eight, and even then they will be left looking over their shoulders as results elsewhere determine whether or not they have enough points to push on in the competition.
Director of rugby Dean Richards, disappointed as he was with defeat on the Black Sea coast, now faces the task of putting his team back out on the pitch after an arduous 2,500-mile journey which saw them arriving home last night via Istanbul and Edinburgh.
He said: "We will get the journey out of the lads' legs and be back into training next week, ready to face Brive on Saturday.
"The focus is on going out and winning that game."
The French side were 13-9 victors when Newcastle visited Stade Amedee Domenech back in November, Richards saying: "We were in some ways unfortunate not to take the win against them over in France back in November. We certainly played a lot of good rugby.
"If we can use that performance as a starting point and add in some good home support, then we should be well placed."
Managing to find some positives from Saturday's emphatic defeat against an Enisei side whom they had beaten 55-7 on Tyneside as recently as November, the Falcons' boss added: "We selected a young team with Callum Chick and Adam Redman both making their first senior starts, and the side as a whole can take a lot forward from the game.
"Enisei are a good side and, as we said earlier in the week, they have improved immensely since we played them back in November.
"They beat a quality Brive side here back in December, and they certainly showed why they are in this competition.
"They had a side that was filled with experience, they were very physical and they earned their win."
Richards was right to credit the effort and organisation of the home side, the match having been moved 3,000 miles from their home base of Krasnoyarsk as temperatures in the Siberian city dipped as low as minus 28 degrees Celsius.
Sochi was a more temperate 13 degrees on the Black Sea coast, Enisei's small but vocal band of supporters celebrating a fifth-minute try when Denis Simplikevich cut inside from his left wing berth to fend his man and score down the right.
Russian international fly-half Iurii Kushnarev converted, Newcastle regaining parity midway through the opening half when George McGuigan's burst and offload handed a try to Calum Green - the second-rower picking a well-judged supporting line.
But it was to be the last score by a Falcons side which had to remodel its back line following the injuryenforced departures of Tom Penny and Belisario Agulla, academy players Adam Redman and Dan Marshall thrown into the fray.
Their side trailed 14-7 at half-time, Georgian World Cup centre David Kacharava taking an inside pop from Kushnarev to wrong-foot the home defence and register a converted try.
Newcastle's attempts to play a more fluid brand of rugby after half-time made little difference to the balance of play, the hard running and basic offloading of Enisei seeing them maintain their stranglehold as the Falcons' line-out failed to deliver a sure platform.
Within five minutes of the resumption the visitors were 14 points down, Kacharava's second try a carbon copy of his first as he gratefully accepted another inside ball from Kushnarev to flat-foot the onrushing defence.
Kushnarev converted and added a further penalty when Mouritz Botha was sin-binned for slowing down the ball at a close-range ruck, neither side adding to their totals in the closing quarter.
For Newcastle it was a third loss from five games in a difficult Challenge Cup group. Saturday's game offers them the opportunity to end the group stage on a positive, but they will need to improve significantly on this performance to stand any chance whatsoever.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: T Penny, Z Kibirige, A Powell, JP Socino, B Agulla, T Catterick, J Booth; A Rogers, G McGuigan, P Ryan, C Green, W Witty, R Mayhew (captain), D Temm, C Chick. Replacements: R Hawkins, B Harris, A Foster, M Botha, K Thompson, R Dawson, A Redman, D Marshall. Sin-bin: M Botha (47) Falcons scorers - Tries: C Green. Conversions: T Penny. ENISEI-STM: R Gaisin, J Baranovs, D Kacharava, M Babaev, D Simplikevich, I Kushnarev, A Shcherban; A Volkov, N Gasanov, I Zykov, U Saulite, V Krasylnyk, V Orlov, A Temnov, A Rudoi. Replacements: S Selskii, A Polivalov, E Pronenko, M Sidorov, S Kuzmenko, N Serkov, D Simonov, P Butenko.
Enisei scorers - Tries: D Simplikevich, D Kacharava 2. Conversions: I Kushnarev 3. Penalties: I Kushnarev.
Referee: T Trainini (France). Attendance: 400.
REGIONAL ROUND-UP A weather-ravaged local rugby programme saw plastic pitches at least offering a handful of fixtures.
With Northern's McCracken Park pitch unplayable they moved their North One East match with West Hartlepool to the artificial surface at Newcastle Falcons' Kingston Park stadium.
West claimed a 22-3 away triumph to remain third in the table, leading 10-3 at half-time thanks to a try from Joe Willis.
A yellow card for each side saw 14 v 14 for a part of the opening half, West adding a pair of tries after the break to hammer home their advantage.
South Shields Westoe moved their home date with Driffield to the 3G pitch at Harton Technology College.
The relegation-threatened Shieldsmen fell to a 25-13 defeat which keeps them second-bottom in the standings.
In Durham and Northumberland One Durham City climbed to the top with a 55-7 home win over Medicals, while second-bottom Ponteland battled to a 41-29 triumph against Hartlepool Rovers. Stockton were 13-7 winners over Consett, In National One, Blaydon's relegation fears deepened without them even playing a game. Having seen their home match with Loughborough Students postponed a full 24 hours before kick-off due to a frozen pitch at Crow Trees, the fourth-bottom outfit saw two of the teams beneath them playing out a draw which does them few favours.
Bottom club Cinderford, now led by former Newcastle Falcons No 8 Adam Balding, battled to a 26-26 home draw with a Wharfedale side who are now just three points behind Blaydon.
Darlington Mowden Park, whose visit of Blackheath was postponed, dropped down to eighth thanks to Rosslyn Park's 49-0 thrashing of Hull Ionians.
<BNewcastle Falcons facing Enisei-STM at Kingston Park in the European Challenge Cup; the return was a lot tougher