Former Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby coach Peter Russell's dreams of two major trophies in his first season in the Northern Hemisphere were kept alive when his Newcastle Falcons scraped through the English Championship semifinals early yesterday.
Down five points to Leeds Carnegie after a surprise defeat in the away leg on the Bank Holiday six days earlier, Newcastle rebounded with a 15-6 win on their home ground to claim a 34-30 win on aggregate from the two matches.
They now play a two-leg final on May 23 and May 29 against Bedford Blues who sealed their place with semifinal triumphs home-and-away against Nottingham, the winner claiming promotion to the Aviva Premiership from which Newcastle were relegated 12 months ago.
Winning 31 of 33 games since the UK competition season started in September, Newcastle finished 27 points clear of third-placed Bedford on the 22-match minor-championships table.
But the Blues provided consistently tough opposition, Newcastle winning 29-20 and 17-15 in the sides' championship games, and 18-15 in a semifinal in the British and Irish Cup, in which the Falcons have a home final early on Saturday against Irish club Leinster's Second XV.
Leinster's top side, coached by former Napier Boys' High School and new Irish national team coach Joe Schmidt, on Saturday plays Ulster in an all-Irish final in the RaboDirect Pro12 Championship, formerly the Celtic League and now a combined Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy equivalent of the English Premiership.