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NEWCASTLE snatched a dramatic 23-20 victory over star-studded Montpellier to go top of their pool in the Champions Cup.
With England head coach Eddie Jones in the stand, Newcastle led 16-6 at half-time and, after last weekend’s heroics against Toulouse, the Falcons looked to be heading for another win against a side boasting a dozen internationals led by France number eight Louis Picamoles.
But Ruan Pienaar kicked two crucial penalties and lock Paul Willemse rumbled over for a try to give the visitors a 20-16 lead. But, with the clock showing full-time, the Falcons mounted one last attack following a penalty to the corner and, after a staggering 39 phases, lock Callum Chick was driven over and Joel Hodgson converted for a last-gasp victory that takes Newcastle top of pool five.
An early break from Jonny Williams led to a second-minute penalty from Hodgson for offside and they were 10-0 to the good when Williams’s one-handed overhead pass sent Gary Graham over in the corner for a fourth-minute try which Hodgson converted.
Pienaar’s 10th minute penalty from a scrum collapse got Montpellier on the board and, with Newcastle under pressure, another scrum penalty followed in the 16th minute and Pienaar fired it over from 45 metres again for 10-6.
Newcastle should have scored when Alex Tait skipped through, but the full-back just did not have the gas to finish it.
Hodgson hammered over a further penalty in the wind and rain for 13-6 in the 25th minute and when Kyle Cooper won two successive penalties at the breakdown, Hodgson squeezed another kick just over the bar in the 31st minute for 16-6 at the interval.
Pienaar missed a penalty in the 48th minute after a high tackle from Graham and the Newcastle number eight was penalised again three minutes later for the same offence, but Pienaar kicked the goal to make it 16-9 in the 51st minute. Seven minutes later a further offside infringement from Newcastle allowed him to make it 16-12.
Montpellier edged in front when they drove the line-out and Willemse crashed over in the 67th minute for 17-16, with Pienaar missing the conversion. He kicked a penalty five minutes later to make it 20-16 and, when Logovi’i Mulipola was sin-binned for a high tackle, there looked to be no way back for the Falcons until that dramatic final flourish.
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