Newcastle Falcons 15, Leeds Carnegie 6
(Newcastle win 34-30 on aggregate)
Head coach Diccon Edwards is immensely proud of his Leeds Carnegie players after they lost by four points over the two legs of the RFU Championship semi-final against leaders Newcastle, who will play Bedford in the final.
Leeds outscored the Falcons two tries to one over the two games but it was the boot of Newcastle fly half Jimmy Gopperth that ultimately proved the difference between the sides.
Edwards said: “I am very proud of the players and they deserve a lot of credit for what they have achieved this season.
“We have a young group of players – the youngest in the competition – and they have come within a try of knocking the biggest side out.
“Things did not go our way today and we allowed Newcastle to dictate how they wanted the game to be played.
“However, there are lots of positives from this group and we look forward to next season with real optimism.”
Leeds started brightly but expected an early storm from the hosts.
In the first leg, Leeds had enjoyed the lions share of success in the scrum and line-out but the Newcastle eight were a different unit this time, director of rugby Dean Richards having changed a third of the starting line-up that he had announced 48 hours earlier.
They got their first score after Stevie McColl spilled a high kick on his own 22-metre line.
Newcastle were fastest to react and turned the ball over before pounding the Leeds line and eventually getting a penalty, which Gopperth kicked.
He soon erased the five-point gap with a second penalty soon after as Newcastle took advantage of their control, but Gopperth missed a third attempt before extending the lead.
Leeds had chances, notably when McColl broke and put Ryan Burrows through a gap.
However, just as the visitors were building up a head of steam, Jacob Rowan was penalised for going over the top and Gopperth kicked a fourth penalty to put his side seven points in front.
Carnegie finally got into their stride after that, Joe Ford calmly converting a penalty.
Outstanding defence kept Newcastle out in the second half, a Gopperth penalty being cancelled out by a Ford drop goal.