Newcastle Falcons marked their Gallagher Premiership return with a classic smash-and-grab at the Rec on Saturday, defying their underdog status to defeat Bath on their own patch.
Keeping the ball in hand and showing discipline by the lorry-load, last season’s unbeaten Championship title winners showed they are back in the big time with a performance to be proud of.
The Falcons began the game brightly and led 12-7 at the midway point, an early period of fluent phase play earning a penalty 25 metres out after forays from players including Luther Burrell, Greg Peterson and Tom Penny.
The resulting shot at goal was wide of its target, and his side soon found themselves behind when a back-of-the-hand offload freed England wing Joe Cokanasiga to score down the right, converted by Rhys Priestland.
Bath almost doubled their lead on 13 minutes when a loose ball in midfield was mopped up and worked to the left, the TMO judging Cameron Redpath to be knocking on in his attempted pass to the supporting Ben Spencer.
Newcastle finally got themselves on the scoreboard on 26 minutes when swift thinking from Adam Radwan saw his quick line-out finding Gary Graham five metres out, the Scotland international ploughing over to reduce the deficit to two.
Connon fired just wide with a 50-metre penalty two minutes from the interval after a man-and-ball tackle from Radwan had earned the pop at goal, but his side led 12-7 at half-time when a period of sustained pressure saw Graham snaffling his second try of the day from a close-range quick tap down the left, converted by Connon.
Within four minutes of the restart Bath had reined in the gap, Falcons old-boy Josh Matavesi scoring an unconverted try down the right to level proceedings.
But the visitors were in no mood to roll over, a sustained period of red-zone pressure seeing Ben Stevenson diving in at the left corner following wave after wave of patient Newcastle attack.
Connon’s touchline conversion put the Falcons seven ahead going into the closing half-hour, and they almost had a bonus point around the hour mark when another prolonged attacking burst ended with Radwan being bundled into touch near the right corner post.
Home lock Charlie Ewels was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle on Adam Radwan as Newcastle’s dominance continued, Connon missing the opportunity of further points via a penalty out on the right but his team still enjoying the momentum.
Opposite number Rhys Priestland was similarly off-beam with a 65th-minute penalty attempt as the game entered its nail-biting climax, but the Falcons maintained their stranglehold and closed out a memorable victory.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Penny, 14 Adam Radwan (Pete Lucock, 60), 13 Luther Burrell, 12 Toby Flood, 11 Ben Stevenson, 10 Brett Connon, 9 Michael Young (captain); 1 Trevor Davison 9Adam Brocklebank, 67), 2 George McGuigan, 3 Logovi’i Mulipola (Mark Tampin, 54), 4 Greg Peterson, 5 Marco Fuser, 6 Sean Robinson, 7 Connor Collett, 8 Gary Graham.
Scorers - Tries: Gary Graham 2, Ben Stevenson. Conversions: Brett Connon 2.
Bath Rugby: Bath Rugby: 15 Tom de Glanville (Semesa Rokoduguni, 67), 14 Ruaridh McConnochie, 13 Cameron Redpath, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Joe Cokanasiga, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Ben Spencer; 1 Lewis Boyce (Juan Schoeman, 60), 2 Jack Walker (Ross Batty, 54), 3 Henry Thomas (Lewis Boyce, 60), 4 Josh McNally (captain), 5 Will Spencer (Charlie Ewels, 52), 6 Mike Williams (Josh Bayliss, 54), 7 Miles Reid, 8 Zach Mercer.
Scorers - Tries: Joe Cokanasiga, Josh Matavesi. Conversions: Rhys Priestland.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys.
de Glanville, McConnochie, Redpath, Matavesi, Cokanasiga, Priestland, Spencer, Boyce, Walker, Thomas, McNally, Spencer, Williams, Reid, Mercer
Replacements Batty, Schoeman, Judge, Ewels, Bayliss, Chudley, Clark, Rokoduguni
Penny, Radwan, Burrell, Flood, Stevenson, Connon, Young, Davison, McGuigan, Mulipola, Peterson, Fuser, Robinson, Collett, Graham
Replacements Blamire, Brocklebank, Tampin, Farrar, Basham, Stuart, Hodgson, Lucock
referee: Craig Maxwell-keys
assistant: Phil Watters
assistant: Rob Warburton
TMO: David Rose