By Richard Grainger
AS EXPECTED, Newcastle Falcons dominate the Championship at the half-way mark of Stage One after their 31-15 win over Plymouth at Kingston Park on Friday night.
Despite the 16-point victory margin, and sitting 12 points clear at the top of the table, Head Coach Dean Richards expected more.
“We had five or six chances which went begging, and we should have finished them off,” Richards told the Newcastle website. “The fact that the players are not happy is a nice thing, and we have got to rectify this.”
Richards will not need reminding that pole position in the Championship is no guarantee of a bounce back to top-flight rugby. As events at Twickenham showed, even the favourites can have an off day. He will be acutely aware of the challenge that Bedford, Nottingham and, in particular, Bristol will present, come the play-offs.
Aaron Carpenter opened the scoring for Plymouth in the third minute before flanker Mark Wilson peeled off a driving maul to level the score. Albion struck back straightaway with a well-taken try from Thomas Bowen, but three penalties from the boot of Jimmy Gopperth send the hosts in 13-7 ahead at half time.
Despite dominating the second period and creating numerous opportunities, the Falcons could only add a further two tries from Luke Fielden and Samoan centre, Jamie Helleur.
At the other end of the table, Clive Griffiths watched his men move off the bottom after his first week in charge at Castle Park, on Friday night.
The Knights raced to a 22-3 lead with tries from wingers Tyson Lewis and Dougie Flockhart and from hooker Rhys Buckley. However, Jersey, whose lineout fell apart in the first half, rallied after the break and replied with tries from scrum-half Nick Griffiths and winger Ed Tellwright.
But Doncaster held on to win 22-17 and move four points clear of Jersey. The stand-out player was Canadian fullback Connor Braid, who recently signed for the Knights.
Bristol are starting to put their early season mediocrity behind them and demolished London Scottish 43-16, scoring five tries at the Memorial Stadium on Friday night.
The Exiles, who are still too close to the drop zone for comfort, were in the hunt at half-time at 16-16, with a try from Andy Reay and three penalties and a conversion from the boot of James Love.
However, Bristol’s third consecutive league victory was built on their forwards’ dominance: in particular new-signing Samoan No8 Alafoti Fa’osiliva, who finished off three driving mauls after the break. Another player to impress was Maori scrum-half, Ruki Tipuna, who created Bristol’s opening try for George Watkins.
New boss Alex Codling watched his Rotherham side score three tries at Billesley Common on Saturday with a 16-20 win over relegation battlers Moseley.
The Titans’ positive play and ambition will have pleased him rather more than their lack of discipline, which resulted in 16 penalties and a yellow each for Luta Makaafi and Gareth Denman.
“Our discipline killed us today however and that is something that we really need to work on,” Alex Codling told the Titans’ website. “When you give silly penalties away and pick up yellow cards, it gives the opposition a huge amount of momentum… [Moseley] gave us a few nervous moments at the death, but I’m absolutely delighted with the win.”
On Sunday the Cornish Pirates ground out an 11-10 win over Nottingham in a mud lark at The Mennaye.
While one half of the country froze, the other was under water. The home side emerged victorious after 80 minutes of wallowing in Cornish mud which produced a try a-piece but very little else in the way of entertaining rugby.
And finally, a serious leg injury to Bedford’s stand-in skipper, Sacha Harding marred their seven try mauling of Leeds at Cross Green, the home of Otley RFC, on Saturday.
With the visitors leading 13-33 the game was over as a contest by half time, and referee Mr Ian Tempest called a halt to proceedings after 65 minutes. Following the lengthy hold-up that led to Harding leaving the field on a stretcher, Mr Tempest ruled that the pitch had started to freeze.
The next two weekends sees a return to British and Irish Cup action. So this leaves the table looking like this…
Follow Richard Grainger on Twitter @maverickwriter