A late try from Tom Pincus consigned Newcastle Falcons to Gallagher Premiership defeat at Bristol on Sunday on an afternoon of high drama.
The Falcons had found themselves a try down inside two minutes but battled back to lead 20-10 at half-time, showing sound game management with a mixture of ball-in-hand and territorial kicking.
Bristol’s early score arrived when a midfield line-break produced a simple two-on-one on the 22, the inside pass freeing scrum-half Harry Randall for a run-in, converted by Ian Madigan.
Newcastle hit back with a period of sustained pressure which produced two red-zone penalties, Flood kicking the second of those after Adam Radwan had almost freed Simon Hammersley down the left-hand side.
Aggressive jackal work from the visitors delivered dominance in the early rucks with a number of penalties awarded in the Falcons’ direction, John Hardie and Logovi’i Mulipola among those earning the favour of referee Wayne Barnes for their endeavours.
A fast and open game saw both sides keeping the ball in hand, Josh Matavesi offering a big midfield target for the Falcons who also saw repeated carries from George McGuigan and Mulipola, among others.
It was from a close-range pick and go that the Falcons finally made their pressure tell with a try, Vereniki Goneva scoring just left of the posts after a series of drives gradually inched their way towards the Bristol line.
Flood’s conversion put the Falcons three points up on 21 minutes, and the fly-half doubled that lead five minutes later when he grubbered through and isolated a Bristol defender to earn a penalty from the 22, which he sent between the uprights.
Madigan chipped that back down to three with a penalty from in front on the 22, but the Falcons regained their dominance almost straightaway when Callum Chick powered over from a close-range ruck for his team’s second try, George McGuigan carrying hard from a back peel at the line-out after a key turnover from Gary Graham set the move in motion.
Flood’s conversion put the visitors 20-10 up at half-time, but Bristol came out firing and cut the gap to just three on 48 minutes when Charles Piutau crossed for a converted try down the right following a period of pick and go near the posts.
It got even worse for the North Easterners five minutes later when Luke Morahan crossed for Bristol’s third try, the Australian wing scoring in the right corner as a close-range ruck was worked quickly down the blindside to put them two points ahead.
Madigan missed the conversion but fired over a penalty to put his team five ahead at the hour mark, Newcastle finally regaining their attacking cohesion through a Michael Young line-break which earned them a period of sustained pressure in the home half.
That impetus eventually delivered a try on 65 minutes when Adam Radwan celebrated his 21st birthday by scoring in the left corner, the winger chasing down Flood’s perfectly-weighted grubber.
The teams remained tied 25-25 after Flood’s touchline conversion attempt thudded back off the left post, replacement Callum Sheedy putting the hosts ahead 10 minutes from time with a simple penalty from in front.
Flood restored parity with a penalty from the right-hand side with seven minutes to play, but the game was decided by the next score when Tom Pincus grounded in the left corner from a midfield line-break.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Adam Radwan (Tom Arscott, 69), 10 Toby Flood, 9 Michael Young (Sonatane Takulua, 60); 1 Sami Mavinga (Adam Brocklebank, 51), 2 George McGuigan (Kyle Cooper, 51), 3 Logovi’i Mulipola (David Wilson, 51), 4 Calum Green, 5 Tevita Cavubati (Andrew Davidson, 69), 6 Will Welch (captain), 7 John Hardie (Gary Graham, 29), 8 Callum Chick.
Falcons scorers - Tries: Vereniki Goneva, Callum Chick, Adam Radwan. Conversions: Toby Flood. Penalties: Toby Flood 3.
Bristol Bears: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Will Hurrell (Piers O’Conor, 77), 12 Siale Piutau (co-captain), 11 Tom Pincus, 10 Ian Madigan (Callum Sheedy, 65), 9 Harry Randall (Andy Uren, 65); 1 Yann Thomas (Jake Woolmore, 63), 2 Harry Thacker (Nick Fenton-Wells, 74), 3 John Afoa, 4 Chris Vui, 5 Aly Muldowney (Ed Holmes, 63), 6 Steve Luatua (George Smith, 48), 7 Dan Thomas, 8 Jordan Crane (co-captain).
Bristol scorers - Tries: Harry Randall, Charles Piutau, Luke Morahan, Tom Pincus. Conversions: Ian Madigan 2, Callum Sheedy. Penalties: Ian Madigan 2, Callum Sheedy.
Referee: Wayne Barnes.
Piutau, Morahan, Hurrell, Piutau, Pincus, Madigan, Randall, Thomas, Thacker, Afoa, Vui, Muldowney, Luatua, Thomas, Crane
Replacements Fenton-Wells, Woolmore, Thiede, Holmes, Smith, Uren, Sheedy, O'Conor
Hammersley, Goneva, Harris, Matavesi, Radwan, Flood, Young, Mavinga, McGuigan, Mulipola, Green, Cavubati, Welch, Hardie, Chick
Replacements Cooper, Brocklebank, Wilson, Davidson, Graham, Takulua, Connon, Arscott
referee: Wayne Barnes
assistant: Paul Dix
assistant: Anthony Woodthorpe
TMO: David Rose