Leeds came close to ending Newcastle’s perfect 20 at Otley on Sunday where they pushed the Falcons all the way, but had to be content with a losing bonus point, as the North-easterners dug in to win 9-13.
Diccon Edwards’ men haven’t had their troubles to seek this season with a poor disciplinary record and a newly laid pitch that lasted less time than a New Year’s resolution.
But their past two outings have showcased a more orderly approach, and if they can just make it into the final four, there is belief in the camp that they could yet go all the way.
And nowhere was this better evidenced than on Sunday, when the Falcons were unable to escape from their own half for the entire third quarter.
However, the visitors were ten points up in as many minutes when Jimmy Gopperth put them ahead with a penalty and then Tom Catterick burst through a tackle to put Ryan Shortland in at the corner. When Gopperth converted, things looked ominous for the Yorkshiremen.
But the Leeds forwards gradually got their side on top, and when Joe Ford kicked his second penalty after 60 minutes, just four points separated the sides.
Gopperth and Ford traded penalties to set up a tense last 10 minutes, but the Falcons held out to leave them 15 points clear of Bedford with a game in hand.
“The try in the first-half was very well-taken bearing in mind the conditions so I was delighted with the final outcome,” head coach Dean Richards told the Falcons’ website. “The boys managed to come through with the win which is the main thing, and I thought our scrambling defence was pretty good.”
Bedford bounced back into second slot by virtue of a 38-21 win over Jersey at Goldington Road on Saturday, and aided by London Scottish’s 25-13 defeat of Nottingham at the Athletic Ground.
Jersey’s director of rugby Ben Harvey blamed referee Mr Greg McDonald’s over-zealous award of a yellow card to Chris Levesley shortly before the interval for his side’s capitulation.
Leverley’s absence cost the visitors 8 points and swung the game away from them.
However, despite a valiant effort from the Channel Islanders, they never moved the scoreboard close enough to Bedford’s total to put themselves in contention.
Bedford picked up the bonus-point in the 76th minute when Mark Atkinson collected Luke Baldwin’s pass to go in under the posts.
Earlier hooker Neil Cochrane finished off a forward rumble to claim his second try, Jake Sharp scorched down the right wing to score, and, in the 80th minute, Ben Gulliver rounded a good afternoon off for the Blues with his first try for the club.
Jersey managed two late tries through Nicky Griffiths and, on the stroke of time, Guy Thompson. Former Blue Ross Broadfoot’s boot gave them respectability with three penalties and a conversion, but the East Midlanders were never seriously troubled.
Meanwhile in Richmond, Nottingham had no answer to London Scottish’s impressive defensive line speed and, despite the hosts having two men in the sin bin for 8 minutes on the hour mark, left the capital empty-handed.
The Exiles had two tries from Miles Mantella from turnovers and 15 points from the boot of James Love to thank for a win that lifts them further away from a relegation scrap.
The Green and Whites faced a 14-0 deficit at the interval, but their comeback with two penalties from James Arlidge was wiped when Mantella scored his second try to give Scottish a commanding 19-6 lead.
David Jackson went over for the visitors when the numerical advantage finally told, but Love’s fifth successful penalty sealed the 25-13 win with ten minutes to go.
Scottish, whose star is clearly on the rise, have now pushed Newcastle to breaking point, beaten Bedford, Doncaster and now Nottingham in recent outings.
In a thriller at Clifton Lane on Saturday, Plymouth considered themselves unfortunate not to come away with more than a losing and a try bonus-point, going down to Rotherham 34-31.
It was very much the Charlie Mulchrone show as the scrum half dominated the game and scored two tries to add James McKinney’s score and a penalty try.
Plymouth, who haven’t won a Championship game since November, managed four tries themselves. However, it was Gary Law’s his second penalty in the 80th minute, to add to his four conversions, that finally separated the two sides.
On Sunday the Cornish Pirates proved too strong for bottom-placed Doncaster notching a 31-18 bonus-point win on a soggy Mennaye Field. Darren Semmens scored twice to add to tries from Laurie McGlone and Matt Evans, and Keiran Hallett added a conversion and three penalties.
The Knights managed three tries — two from Rhys Buckley and one from Sam Pailor but it wasn’t enough to get them a much-needed bonus-point.
Finally, Moseley were forced to postpone Bristol’s visit to Billesley Common, and all this leaves the table looking like this: