Newcastle Falcons tasted Gallagher Premiership defeat for their first time this season, falling to last year’s semi-finalists Bristol Bears at Ashton Gate on Friday.
Trailing 14-10 at the break and failing to make the most of a dominant driving maul, a bruising 80 minutes brought Dean Richards’ men back down to Earth following their flying start to the campaign.
Newcastle had got off to the worst possible start when Siva Naulago raced in for the game’s opening try less than a minute after the kick-off, Callum Sheedy intercepting a Falcons pass and feeding the Fijian speedster for a converted score.
A rock-solid Falcons scrum was providing plenty of ball, England flanker Mark Wilson among those making early gains with ball in hand as the visitors strived to retain their composure.
Pressure was eventually turned into points on 12 minutes when some hard forward running sucked defensive numbers into the central channel, Newcastle working the ball wide to the space where George Wacokecoke hit an outside arc to score in the right corner.
The touchline conversion was pulled wide as the hosts retained their two-point supremacy – a margin they extended to nine on 18 minutes when returning Charles Piutau cut inside to score down the right, Sheedy adding the extras.
The Falcons’ dominant maul handed them a string of penalties as they advanced up the field around the 25-minute mark, the Bears ultimately turning over the decisive maul five metres out as the danger temporarily passed.
The mauls just kept on coming, though, home lock Dave Attwood sent to the sin bin for sacking it early, the subsequent line-out drive seeing Jamie Blamire held up over the try-line.
With Newcastle now camped in the Bears’ 22 a try seemed an inevitability, but they had to wait until the very last play of the half to find it when a tap penalty in the left corner saw England flanker Mark Wilson ploughing over for the score.
The conversion attempt from out wide on the left was off beam on a crisp afternoon, leaving the half-time score at Bristol 14 Newcastle 10.
Once again, however, the Falcons were hit by a try against them at the start of a half, this time when Nathan Hughes powered over for a converted score from a back peel at a close-range line-out after the visitors conceded a sloppy penalty.
Newcastle almost hit back straightaway when debutant Matias Orlando thought he had scored from a blindside break and offload by Jamie Blamire, but the TMO ruled the Argentina centre to have been held up over the try-line.
It proved to be only a temporary reprieve for Bristol, who were underneath their own posts on 53 metres when a period of pick-and-go pressure ended with No 8 Philip van der Walt scoring from close range, Flood adding the extras.
Another penalty conceded at maul time cost Newcastle dear just before the hour mark when hooker George Kloska was awarded a try by the TMO from a close-range line-out drive, Sheedy’s conversion bouncing back off the post to leave Newcastle looking at a nine-point deficit.
Nathan Hughes had a length-of-the-field score pulled back for a forward pass as the Bears looked to counter from deep, before a frustrating climax saw Newcastle pressing without adding to their tally.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 George Wacokecoke, 12 Matias Orlando (Gareth Owen, 56), 11 Ben Stevenson, 10 Toby Flood (Brett Connon, 72), 9 Sam Stuart (Louis Schreuder, 53); 1 Trevor Davison (Kyle Cooper, 62), 2 Jamie Blamire (Charlie Maddison, 62), 3 Logovi'i Mulipola (Mark Tampin, 62), 4 Greg Peterson, 5 Marco Fuser (Connor Collett, 53), 6 Sean Robinson, 7 Mark Wilson (captain), 8 Philip van der Walt.
Scorers – Tries: George Wacokecoke, Mark Wilson, Philip van der Walt. Conversions: Toby Flood.
Bristol Bears: 15 Charles Piutau (Luke Morahan, 51), 14 Siva Naulago (Alapati Leiua, 72), 13 Semi Radradra, 12 Piers O’Conor, 11 Ioan Lloyd, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Andy Uren (Harry Randall, 53); 1 Peter McCabe, 2 George Kloska, 3 Jake Armstrong (Kyle Sinckler, 50), 4 Dave Attwood, 5 Joe Joyce, 6 Steven Luatua (captain), 7 Jake Heenan (Fitz Harding, 62), 8 Nathan Hughes (John Hawkins, 73).
Scorers – Tries: Siva Naulago, Charles Piutau, Nathan Hughes, George Kloska. Conversions: Callum Sheedy 3. Penalties: Callum Sheedy
Referee: Christophe Ridley.
Van Der Walt 52
Piutau, Naulago, Radradra, O'Conor, Lloyd, Sheedy, Uren, McCabe, Kloska, Armstrong, Attwood, Joyce, Luatua, Heenan, Hughes
Replacements Thompson, Turner, Sinckler, Hawkins, Harding, Randall, Morahan, Leiua
Arscott, Radwan, Wacokecoke, Orlando, Stevenson, Flood, Stuart, Davison, Blamire, Mulipola, Peterson, Fuser, Robinson, Wilson, Van Der Walt
Replacements Maddison, Cooper, Tampin, Collett, Basham, Schreuder, Connon, Owen
referee: Christophe Ridley
assistant: Paul Dix
assistant: Jamie Leahy
TMO: Graham Hughes