Newcastle Falcons staged a smash-and-grab raid to win a dramatic Aviva Premiership contest at the Rec on Saturday, blowing a 19-point lead but thundering back to claim a one-point victory.
Enjoying a 19-0 lead up until the half-hour, the Falcons found themselves second-best for much of the middle third but stole the show with late tries from Chris Harris and Mark Wilson to take a precious five-pointer.
On a perfect afternoon for running rugby the Falcons flew out of the blocks, operating at a furious tempo and offloading at every angle from their numerous line-breaks as a solid set-piece was augmented by ambitious attacking lines.
First over the try-line was Sonatane Takulua, the Tonga scrum-half’s supporting run rewarded when impressive hooker Santiago Socino burst the line and offloaded out of a tackle following earlier runs from Mark Wilson and Vereniki Goneva.
Takulua converted his own try, and with only 12 minutes on the clock he was slotting another two points following a trademark try from Rob Vickers as the prop-forward plundered another from a close-range ruck.
It got even better for the visitors when impressive fly-half Craig Willis fired in a kick to the right corner which was grounded by DTH van der Merwe for a debut try, Willis spinning the ball perfectly for the Canadian try machine to make an instant impression.
Bath were denied a try on 26 minutes when the video referee deemed Chris Cook to have put a foot in touch following a break down the left, but the home side finally got off the mark on the half-hour when Max Clark’s run enabled Matt Banahan to plough over for a converted try in the right corner.
Stout defence from the Falcons prevented a resurgent Bath from adding a second try after a solid period of pressure, but the hosts enjoyed the final say of the opening 40 when Rhys Priestland’s penalty from in front reduced the score to 19-10 in the visitors’ favour.
The Welshman repeated the feat from closer in three minutes after the resumption as Newcastle tried and failed to play their way out of trouble, and it got even better for the home side when Semesa Rokoduguni raced 40 metres down the right to score their second try.
Priestland erred with the boot from wide right as the Falcons retailed a one-point lead, but that evaporated on the 48-minute mark when Jonathan Joseph’s line-break delivered a try to the supporting Charlie Ewels.
Newcastle almost hit back when breaks from Santiago Socino and Will Witty were a whisker away from delivering a try as they got their offload game going again, but a clinical Bath side earned a bonus-point try with a tapped penalty on halfway for Joseph to race down the left.
The Falcons, never a side to simply lie down, found a fourth try of their own on 68 minutes when skipper Will Welch put away Chris Harris for a try down the left, Joel Hodgson’s conversion getting them to within losing bonus point range.
A grandstand finish ensued when the video referee awarded the crucial try to Mark Wilson from a close-range ruck, Hodgson holding his nerve to slot the decisive conversion.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley (Josh Matavesi, 40), 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Craig Willis (Joel Hodgson, 59), 9 Sonatane Takulua (Sam Stuart, 49); 1 Rob Vickers (Sami Mavinga, 61), 2 Santiago Socino (Scott Lawson, 61), 3 Jon Welsh (Trevor Davison, 56), 4 Calum Green, 5 Will Witty (Sean Robinson), 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (captain), 8 Nili Latu (Ally Hogg, 56).
Falcons scorers - Tries: Sonatane Takulua, Rob Vickers, DTH van der Merwe, Chris Harris, Mark Wilson. Conversions: Sonatane Takulua 2, Joel Hodgson 2.
Bath Rugby: 15 Matt Banahan, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Max Clark, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Chris Cook; 1 Nick Auterac (Beno Obano, 51), 2 Jack Walker (Tom Dunn, 51), 3 Anthony Perenise (Scott Andrews, 62), 4 Luke Charteris, 5 Elliott Stooke, 6 Charlie Ewels (Zach Mercer, 68), 7 Francois Louw (captain), 8 Paul Grant.
Bath scorers - Tries: Matt Banahan, Semesa Rokoduguni, Charlie Ewels, Jonathan Joseph. Conversions: Rhys Priestland 2. Penalties: Rhys Priestland 2.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys. Attendance: 14,121.
Van Der Merwe 17
Banahan, Rokoduguni, Joseph, Clark, Brew, Priestland, Cook, Auterac, Walker, Perenise, Charteris, Stooke, Ewels, Louw, Grant
Replacements Dunn, Obano, Andrews, Phillips, Mercer, Allinson, Tapuai, Lewis
Hammersley, Goneva, Harris, Socino, Van Der Merwe, Willis, Takulua, Vickers, Socino, Welsh, Green, Witty, Wilson, Welch, Latu
Replacements Lawson, Mavinga, Davison, Robinson, Hogg, Stuart, Hodgson, Matavesi
referee: Craig Maxwell-keys
assistant: Anthony Woodthorpe
assistant: Roy Maybank
TMO: David Sainsbury