England Under-21 out-half Toby Flood scored a try, two conversions and three penalties to help Newcastle Falcons defeat Connacht in Friday's European Challenge Cup quarter-final.
EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP: QUARTER-FINAL: Friday, March 31
NEWCASTLE FALCONS 23 CONNACHT 3, Kingston Park Stadium (Att: 4,486)
Scorers: Newcastle: Tries: Toby Flood, Mike McCarthy; Cons: Flood 2; Pens: Flood 3
Connacht: Pen: Paul Warwick
Connacht's European dream is over for another season after a frustrating night in the saturated north east of England.
The men from the west must now switch their attentions to the Celtic League where progress to June's Heineken Cup qualification play-off is still very much on the cards, with four home games to come in the last five.
On Friday night, the 10-point margin at the break was a little harsh on the visitors, but Connacht managed to keep the large travelling support on the edge of their seats up until the 64th-minute when Newcastle flanker Mike McCarthy was driven over for what proved to be the crucial score - against his former province.
When they look back on the game, Connacht's players will rue the unforced error count and their failure to capitalise on good scoring opportunities in both halves. Most of all, they will rue a stroke of bad luck that saw the lively Flood made great headway with a turnover and 50-yard kick and chase that ultimately led to Newcastle's first try.
Flood's superb conversion to his try and his penalties before and after that score left the Falcons 13-0 ahead after the half-hour. Paul Warwick, who shook off a hamstring injury to start, made up for some earlier misses with a simple three-pointer to give Connacht hope, but it was still frustrating to trail by ten at half time, considering Newcastle had hardly been in the province's 22.
Connacht started the second half with renewed vigour but two breakouts led to nothing and Flood added a late penalty - with lock Christian Short in the sin bin and after McCarthy's try - to seal the win, dumping Connacht out of the competition at the last-eight stage.
Newcastle coach Rob Andrew paid tribute to Connacht afterwards for the performance they put in. The former England number 10 said: "It was a difficult match, and all credit to Connacht. But we played some intelligent rugby. We played with intensity and passion and I felt we deserved to win."
His Connacht counterpart Michael Bradley admitted: "We're very disappointed. We failed to attack them consistently, but that is rugby and sometimes it goes like that for you on the day. Newcastle have certainly up their performance levels over the last couple of weeks and they deserved the win."
Newcastle Falcons: Matthew Burke; Tom May, Jamie Noon, Mark Mayerhofler, Anthony Elliott; Toby Flood, Hall Charlton; Jonny Williams, Matt Thompson, Micky Ward, Luke Gross, Geoff Parling, Mike McCarthy, Cory Harris, Colin Charvis (capt).
Replacements used: Andy Long for Thompson, Robbie Morris for Williams (both half time), James Grindal for Charlton (44-48 mins), Andy Perry for Gross (60), Ben Woods for Harris (72), David Walder for Elliott (74), Owen Finegan for Parling (80+1), Jonny Williams for Ward (80+5).
Connacht: Mark McHugh; Matt Mostyn, Andrew Mailei, Keith Matthews, Conor McPhillips; Paul Warwick, Chris Keane; Ray Hogan, John Fogarty, Stephen Knoop, David Gannon, Andrew Farley (capt), John Muldoon, Matt Lacey, Colm Rigney.
Replacements used: David Slemen for McPhillips, Christian Short for Gannon (both 46 mins), Gavin Williams for Slemen (54), Tom Tierney for Keane (67), Michael Swift for Rigney, Adrian Clarke for Knoop (both 71), Joe Merrigan for Fogarty (79).
Sin Bin: C Short (Connacht) (74 mins)
Referee: Eric Darriere (France)