Aviva Premiership Rugby returns with narrow defeat to high flying Bath
Newcastle Falcons were only a whisker away from a hard-earned bonus point before Gavin Henson's penalty two minutes from time consigned them to a 23-14 defeat at the Recreation Ground.
Bath's Welsh fly-half chipped over the decisive kick from close range to ensure the visitors finished outside the seven-point buffer zone, Newcastle having more than played their part in a physical Aviva Premiership encounter.
The visitors made a good fist of it in a closely-contested opening half, leading until a minute from the break when Stuart Hooper's converted try nudged the hosts 10-7 up. It had been Bath who opened the scoring 23 minutes into a blood-and-thunder encounter, Welsh Henson composing himself to send through a calmly-taken drop-goal from in front on the 22.
Newcastle's defensive organisation and discipline had limited the scoring chances of the West Country outfit, who were forced into handling errors and one offload too many in attack.
The Falcons were similarly robust with ball in hand, Scott Wilson and Dom Barrow among those to get themselves over the gain line. Ruki Tipuna's buzzing half-back play had his team in the right areas, Juan Pablo Socino and Simon Hammersley both weighing in with some well-flighted tactical kicks down the tram-lines.
Socino might have missed with a pair of penalties from either side on the 22, but his decision to kick for touch with a third was vindicated when lock Calum Green was held up over the try-line.
The subsequent passage of play in the left corner saw Newcastle's maul used to good effect, Mark Wilson once again the man to dot down as the prolific back-rower continued his rich vein of scoring form.
Socino this time slotted the extras from wide out, the home side bouncing back and finishing the first half strongly.
That was brought to bear on the scoreboard when former Falcon Micky Young chivvied a rolling maul over the try-line, Hooper the man to emerge from under a heap of bodies with the ball in his paws.
Henson converted for a three-point half-time lead, Newcastle defending doggedly during the opening skirmishes of the second period but going further behind when Jonathan Joseph sped in for a 56th minute try.
The England centre dummied and went from open play in midfield, Henson converting but firing wide with a long-range penalty shortly after.
The sheer weight of defensive exertion was taking its toll, Bath extending their lead to 13 when Henson sent over a penalty just after the hour mark.
The closing quarter saw Newcastle finally breaking out of their own half in a more meaningful fashion, Tuilagi's blind-side break seeing the Samoan go close before Gonzalo Tiesi made a solid midfield bust.
With the pressure building the visitors thought they had a try through replacement hooker Scott Lawson, who was denied a score by the video referee after barging over from the base of a ruck in the right corner.
Unperturbed, they kept plugging away, a succession of breakdowns in the shadow of the home posts ending with Sinoti Sinoti powering over. The Samoan pumped his legs to burst through the middle of a ruck, Clegg adding the conversion to get inside bonus point range.
But with the clock ticking down to the last two minutes Henson denied them the consolation, the fly-half ruthlessly sending through a penalty for a nine-point margin.
The Falcons have the ideal chance to get back on the horse this Friday when they entertain Gloucester in an 8pm kick-off in front of what is expected to be the biggest crowd of the season.
Tickets for the match are available from £15 for adults and £7.50 for Under 16s by clicking here calling the 24 hour ticket hotline on 0871 2266060 or by visiting the Kingston Park box office during office hours.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: S Hammersley, S Sinoti, G Tiesi, A Powell (R Clegg, 56), Al Tuilagi, JP Socino, R Tipuna (M Blair, 67); R Vickers (A Rogers, 60), G McGuigan (S Lawson, 40), S Wilson (O Tomaszczyk, 36), C Green, D Barrow, S Robinson (A Hogg, 47), A Saull (captain), M Wilson.
Sin bin: JP Socino (65).
Falcons scorers – Tries: M wilson, S Sinoti. Conversions: JP Socino, R Clegg.
BATH: L Arscott, O Woodburn, J Joseph, O Devoto, M Banahan, G Henson, M Young (C Cook, 69); N Catt (N Auterac, 60), R Batty (T Dunn, 76), H Thomas (K Palma-Newport, 67), S Hooper (captain), D Day (T Ellis, 78), C Ewels (M Garvey, 60), D Sisi (M Northcote-Green, 76), L Houston.
Bath scorers – Tries: S Hooper, J Joseph. Conversions: G Henson 2. Penalties: G Henson 2. Drop-goals: G Henson.
Referee: I Tempest. Attendance: 12,877.
Arscott, Woodburn, Joseph, Devoto, Banahan, Henson, Young, Catt, Batty, Thomas, Hooper, Day, Ewels, Sisi, Houston
Replacements Dunn, Auterac, Palma-Newport, Garvey, Ellis, Northcote-Green, Cook, Lane
Hammersley, Sinoti, Tiesi, Powell, Tuilagi, Socino, Tipuna, Vickers, McGuigan, Wilson, Green, Barrow, Robinson, Saull, Wilson
Replacements Lawson, Rogers, Tomaszczyk, MacLeod, Hogg, Blair, Clegg, Tait
referee: Ian Tempest