Newcastle Falcons needed all their steel and persistence to grind out Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership victory over Bristol Bears.
The boot of fly-half Brett Connon proved the difference as he held his nerve for a pair of crucial second-half penalties, the Falcons recording back-to-back home victrories.
Newcastle began the game brightly and led 7-0 at the interval, although they were made to wait until the very last play of the half to register their first points through Callum Chick’s second try of the season.
Earning territory and possession and kicking a penalty to the left corner during the opening minutes, early carries from debutants Max Wright and George Merrick helped them get to within striking distance, but points proved elusive as the Bears managed to turn over possession and clear their lines.
The visitors grew into it and enjoyed some ball-in-hand in the home half, Newcastle’s wall of black holding firm as they cut down Bristol’s thinking time and forced a string of handling errors.
Solid jackal work from Wright handed the Falcons a penalty on halfway and another lineout in the left corner, points again eluding them as the ball was knocked on in back play.
The zero remained in tact after the quarter mark despite Mike Brown counter-attacking out of his own 22 and grubbering ahead, a horrible bounce of the ball just eluding his chasing wingers.
Three red-zone penalties in quick succession for the Falcons could still not see any score, the Falcons frustrated beyond belief when referee Ridley blew a penalty for Bristol at the third scrum-five.
Again, they probed down the left after the half-hour when Mateo Carreras broke down the short-side and bumped off his tackler, but an attempted tip-on ten phases later saw another frustrating knock-on as Bristol’s line held firm.
The deadlock was finally broken with the very last play of the half when a deliberate knock-on handed the Falcons a penalty which they kicked to the left corner, the resulting line-out breaking out into a pick-and-go around the posts, from where Callum Chick propelled himself over the try-line.
Connon added the simple conversion for a 7-0 half-time lead, his side starting the second half with gusto as hooker George McGuigan hit a couple of well-judged running lines to get within the Bears’ 22.
A quick tap from Carreras threatened to produce a second try only for his attempted offload to go to ground, but the Falcons’ cause was hampered on 52 minutes when Connon was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on.
The visitors made the extra man count just four minutes later when a penalty was tapped inside the Bristol half, Harry Randall racing 60 metres before feeding Alapati Leiua for a try in the left corner despite the best efforts of the retreating Adam Radwan.
Ioan Lloyd’s conversion miss left the Falcons ahead by two, Newcastle trying and failing to register a second try when Brown’s inside pass to McGuigan was ruled to have gone forward.
Lloyd fired wide with a penalty to take the lead on 65 minutes, and within two minutes his side trailed by five when Connon sent over a penalty from 40 metres out in front.
The Falcons fly-half repeated the trick from closer range with six minutes to go, building his side a sufficient buffer from which to close out the game.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Ben Stevenson, 12 Max Wright (George Wacokecoke, 62), 11 Mateo Carreras, 10 Brett Connon, 9 Louis Schreuder (Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, 66); 1 Adam Brocklebank (Kyle Cooper, 66), 2 George McGuigan (Jamie Blamire, 66), 3 Trevor Davison (Richard Palframan, 56), 4 Greg Peterson, 5 George Merrick (Will Montgomery, 60), 6 Callum Chick, 7 Will Welch (captain), 8 Carl Fearns (Gary Graham, 56).
Scorers – Tries: Callum Chick. Conversions: Brett Connon. Penalties: Brett Connon 2.
Bristol Bears: 15 Ioan Lloyd, 14 Toby Fricker, 13 Jack Bates, 12 Antoine Frisch, 11 Alapati Leiua, 10 Callum Sheedy (Charlie Powell, 54), 9 Harry Randall; 1 Yann Thomas, 2 Jake Kerr, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Dave Attwood (captain), 5 Joe Joyce, 6 Sam Jeffries, 7 Dan Thomas, 8 Fitz Harding.
Scorers – Tries: Alapati Leiua.
Referee: Christophe Ridley. Attendance: 6,746.
Brown, Radwan, Stevenson, Wright, Carreras, Connon, Schreuder, Brocklebank, McGuigan, Davison, Peterson, Merrick, Chick, Welch, Fearns
Replacements Blamire, Cooper, Palframan, Montgomery, Graham, Nordli-Kelemeti, Haydon-Wood, Wacokecoke
Lloyd, Fricker, Bates, Frisch, Leiua, Sheedy, Randall, Thomas, Kerr, Sinckler, Attwood, Joyce, Jeffries, Thomas, Harding
Replacements Thacker, Lahiff, Afoa, Hawkins, Heenan, Uren, Whiteley, Powell
referee: Christophe Ridley
assistant: Adam Leal
assistant: Wayne Falla
TMO: Rowan Kitt