NEWCASTLE Falcons secured an immediate return to the Aviva Premiership with a pulsating 31-24 victory over Bedford in the Championship Final second leg at Kingston Park.
Ryan Shortland and Alex Tait both crossed for Newcastle while fly-half Jimmy Gopperth, playing his last game for the club before joining Leinster, kicked seven penalties.
Bedford stand-off Jake Sharp scored all of the Blues’ points in an evenly-matched game, but it was not enough as Newcastle, who had a nine-point cushion thanks to their 18-9 win in the first leg, closed out promotion with a 49-33 aggregate win to replace London Welsh in the top flight.
The result also marked immediate success for Falcons coach Dean Richards in his first season back in the game following a three-year ban for his involvement in the ‘Bloodgate’ scandal.
Richards, while coach of Harlequins, had been a central figure in the faking of a blood injury by Quins wing Tom Williams during a Heineken Cup game against Leinster in August 2009, which earned him a worldwide ban from the sport.
Gopperth scored all of Newcastle’s points in their first leg win and he quickly picked up where he left off with three more from the penalty tee, however the early score was soon cancelled out by opposite number Sharp with a 40-metre strike.
Bedford looked keen to unleash their backline early on, with full-back Ben Ransom trying to test the Falcons defence with a neat grubber kick intended for wing Josh Bassett, only for the ball to find touch.
Sharp added two more penalties as Falcons’ indisciplne threatened to wipe out their first-leg advantage, but Gopperth slotted a kick before Shortland settled nerves around Kingston Park when he crossed for a try after Newcastle’s first real attacking play.
Bedford hit back immediately thanks to Sharp’s well-taken drop goal, before he traded two penalties with Gopperth to leave the visitors 18-17 ahead at half-time but still eight behind on aggregate.
Sharp cut the overall margin further with his sixth successful penalty early in the second half and Newcastle hit back immediately through full-back Tait.
Tait crossed in the corner to edge the home side ahead before Gopperth’s conversion attempt hit the bar.
The fly-half was back on target from the penalty tee midway through the second half as Newcastle led 25-21, 13 points overall.
Sharp kicked another penalty but Gopperth responded with his seventh of the match with three minutes remaining to ensure Newcastle were home and dry.