The 23 November marked the first game past the halfway point of the season for the Newcastle first team as they came up against Leeds University.
It was a top of the table clash as the teams sat first and second respectively. Last time these two teams met Newcastle ran out comfortable winners in a strong performance. Leeds, however, have won five and lost only one since the defeat, making Newcastle well aware of the threat Leeds posed and that it would be a very different opposition to the one they beat back in October.
The weather was far from ideal as a vicious wind swirled around Cochrane Park, alongside a light drizzle, thus creating greasy conditions, which threatened to hamper the expansive rugby both teams have displayed this season.
However, both sides right from kickoff showed their intent with nice passages of play and a couple of crunching tackles that set the tone for the intensity and high skill level that was to come.
Leeds, playing with the wind, then put in series of good kicks that pinned Newcastle within their own 22 as Leeds looked to apply the early pressure. Newcastle’s line-out though, under the leadership of Bailey Ransom and Declan Horrox, held firm and provided a good platform for the Newcastle backs throughout the game.
Leeds chose to keep using the wind to their advantage by kicking deep into Newcastle’s half, yet the work rate from the team and retention of ball was good as Newcastle suffocated Leeds of any ball.
Eventually Newcastle’s superior possession led to a series of line breaks, from players such as Harry Glover and Declan Horrox, before good patience and carries from the forwards on Leeds’ try line allowed the backs space to feed outside centre James Boustead to cross the whitewash. Conversion missed 5-0.
Yet the work rate from the team and retention of ball was good as Newcastle suffocated Leeds of any ball
The early try seemed to spark Leeds into life as from the restart they began to play with a bit more ball in hand with their no. 13 proving to be a strong ball carrier. A short back and forth possession ensued before Leeds’ kicking game came to good use as their winger showed blistering speed from a kick ‘n chase that seemed destined to result in a try only for Newcastle’s captain Dan Nutton to slide in for a last ditch effort putting the ball out of play.
From the line-out Leeds regained possession and through phase play sucked the Newcastle players narrow before sending a cross field to their other winger who gathered and dotted down. Conversion missed 5-5.
The rest of the half belonged to Newcastle who pressed for a second score but sloppy hands and resolute defense from Leeds kept thwarting the attack.
Eventually Newcastle managed to barge their way over the try line after a good driving maul got the team close enough to allow a forward to squeeze over from a pick and go. Conversion good 12-5. The last few minutes of the half were a bit of an arm wrestle as neither team could make possession count and Newcastle saw two kicks on goal just go wide with the wind proving to be too strong. Half time 12-5.
Second half began and with the wind in Newcastle’s favour the game plan was to pin Leeds in their own half and force them to play from deep. Leeds however also came back with a game plan feeding their strong backline runners ball and a series of breaks put Newcastle under a lot of pressure.
Newcastle’s forwards, though, had been strong and largely superior for most of the game, which made life difficult for Leeds who couldn’t quite make their attacks count. The game really was on a knife edge as both teams knew the next score could be crucial as a few scraps and handbags from both sides highlighted the frustration and desperation from both sides to score.
From then on it was Newcastle's game with the backs and forwards putting in some crunching tackles as they wore down a dogged Leeds side
Eventually though it was Leeds whose ill discipline led to mistakes meaning Newcastle rumbled over from a driving maul with Joe Gutteridge claiming the try. Conversion missed 17-5.
From then on it was Newcastle’s game with the backs and forwards putting in some crunching tackles as they wore down a dogged Leeds side. It wasn’t long then until Newcastle grabbed the crucial bonus point try with Matthew Woodward breaking off tackles to go under the sticks. Conversion good 24-5. Newcastle were now really into their stride playing full of confidence and ended the game with a lovely backs try sending James Boustead into the corner uncontested to end the game 36-5.
Newcastle’s strong set piece and game management in the second half seemed to suffocate Leeds of any hope of getting back into the game resulting in a huge win. Newcastle now stretch their lead at the top to four points and will hope to carry on the momentum into the Nottingham clash next Wednesday.