Having season his Newcastle Falcons side triumph 15-6 against Leeds Carnegie in Sunday’s RFU Championship semi-final second leg, director of rugby Dean Richards admitted he is expecting the unexpected from Bedford Blues in the final.
Falcons overturned a 24-19 first leg deficit against Leeds to set up the final against the Blues as the two sides are set to meet at Goldington Road for the fourth time this season in the first leg on Thursday, May 23.
He said: “We understand that Bedford are a good side and they play an expansive game, so it will be interesting to see what they have to offer against us.
“We think that we know them reasonably well, but I am sure they will try to pull a few rabbits out of the hat at some stage.”
Running out victors in each of the three so far this season, table-topping Falcons have opted to play away in the first leg with the return on Wednesday 29 May (kick-off 7.45pm).
Reflecting on a well-earned win when the pressure was really on the Falcons, Richards said: “It was a hard-fought victory, and the weather probably put paid to any open free-flowing rugby.
“It was unfortunate to see the rain coming down just before kick-off.
“It was a job done and that is the main thing – I thought Mark Wilson and Will Welch played well in the back-row as well as Carlo del Favo, who put himself about.
“I was pleased with the pack as a whole.”
Richards was keen to pay tribute to a dogged Leeds unit who showed a steely resistance in defence as Newcastle went close to breaching the visitors’ rearguard in the second-half.
He said: “I think Leeds are a great side, and they have got better as the season has gone on. They played with a lot of unity against us, and they have a talented fly-half in Joe Ford.
“From my perspective they deserved their place in the play-off semi-finals, and had they performed like this at the start of the season we would have probably been facing them in the final.”
Kicking all 15 points, Falcons number 10 Jimmy Gopperth admits he was impressed with the atmosphere generated inside Kingston Park with a sea of flags sweeping around the ground.
Gopperth said: “The flags made the atmosphere so much better, and the fans really helped us at the end to get over the line and seal a place in the final.
“I thought it was a controlled win, and we played the conditions well with the pack in fine form to give us the platform in which to put points on the board.”
The kiwi goal-kicking supremo, who has won the Aviva Premiership Golden Boot Award on back-to-back occasions, misfired with two penalties late on which would have made the tie more comfortable for his side.
“I couldn’t believe it myself when I missed those kicks,” said Gopperth.
He added: “When you have the rain coming down sideways you just try and judge the wind, but in the end I feel I hit the ball to hard and straight.”