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RFU Championship final: Newcastle seal return to Aviva Premiership
Tries from Ryan Shortland and Alex Tait in either half helped Newcastle Falcons beat Bedford Blues 31-24 at Kingston Park to seal a return to the Aviva Premiership at the first attempt.
Jimmy Gopperth notched all Newcastle's points in their 18-9 RFU Championship play-off final first leg win and kicked seven penalties in the return as Dean Richards' side won 49-33 on aggregate.
But Bedford made a real fist of it with Jake Sharp, one of six changes Mike Rayer made to the visitors' starting line-up from the first leg, kicking all their 24 points to make it nervous at times for the hosts.
Newcastle made one change to their starting line-up, with Rory Lawson replacing the injured Warren Fury at scrum-half, as Gopperth, in his last game for the Falcons before joining Leinster, carried on where he left off from the first leg by kicking a fifth minute penalty.
But Sharp responded with three penalties to leave Bedford - who had lost all four of their previous clashes with Newcastle this season - trailing by just three points on aggregate.
After the visitors were penalised for collapsing a scrum, Gopperth gratefully kicked his second penalty on the night and Shortland then went over in the corner in the 25th minute to give the Falcons some breathing space.
Sharp landed a drop goal to keep his side in touch before Gopperth and Sharp kicked two more penalties apiece to leave Bedford eight points adrift at the break.
Sharp continued his perfect kicking early in the second period to reduce the arrears to five points but Tait ran in Newcastle's second try to make it 22-21 on the night and ease the home fans' nerves.
While Sharp kicked another penalty, Gopperth landed three more penalties to make it 21 points on the night - and 39 personal points on aggregate - as the Falcons sealed their return to the Premiership.
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