Newcastle Falcons became the latest scalp for Gallagher Premiership leaders Bristol Bears, who rallied to earn a convincing victory on Saturday at Kingston Park Stadium.
The home side had burst into a 10-point lead but were unable to hold onto their advantage, the Bears taking the full five points on a day when sunny conditions and a dry ball dictated a quick tempo.
Newcastle’s defence was given an early workout with a series of Bristol attacks in front of the posts, the Falcons earning a relieving a penalty as the Bears’ pick-and-go game yielded no reward on the scoreboard.
Toby Flood and Pete Lucock took flat ball to the line as the home side finally got their hands on the ball, but they were down to 14 men after 12 minutes when Adam Brocklebank was sin-binned for a late tackle on Callum Sheedy.
The numerical discrepancy did not seem to affect the home side who won a defensive jackal penalty on their own 22, kicking in behind and then poaching the game’s first try when Michael Young caught an interception 15 metres out to score between the posts.
Toby Flood added the simple conversion, and his side’s lead hit double figures on 24 minutes when a period of sustained forward pressure saw Flood send over a simple penalty from in front of the posts.
That opportunity arose after Cooper Vuna had a try turned down by the TMO from a chip-and-chase in the right corner – Newcastle earning a five-metre scrum and ultimately a penalty in a kickable position.
Bristol hit back within three minutes when a helter-skelter passage of play ended with Jake Heenan scoring down the right from a 60-metre attack – the Falcons having won a turnover of their own before the Bears clawed back possession.
Replacement fly-half Ioan Lloyd converted from the right, and was adding another conversion within two minutes following Max Malins’ try from a winding infield run.
That put Bristol into the lead for the first time of the afternoon, and they extended their advantage to 19-10 by scoring with the final play of the first half when Luke Morahan scored in the right corner from 30 metres out.
Newcastle began the second half brightly, earning a penalty and mauling their way up to the 22, where a flowing period of handling pressure ended with the visitors taking a mark from a cross-field kick.
But it was Bristol who registered the first points of the half, Newcastle putting in a big defensive set on their own try-line but ultimately conceding three when Lloyd slotted a penalty from the left-hand side.
The league leaders registered the four-try bonus point on 57 minutes when England’s Ben Earl scored from a lineout in the right corner, hitting an inside angle from a midfield starting position to beat the home defence.
Newcastle thought they had found their own way over the try-line when Sean Robinson dotted down to the right of the posts from a well-worked line-out, but the officials pulled play back for an earlier knock-on to the frustration of the home side.
Bristol themselves then had a try turned down when Niyi Adeolokun’s claims for a score were pulled back for a Max Malins knock-on, but Malins’ enjoyed better fortune when Connon’s chip and a horribly unlucky bounce for the Falcons enabled the fullback to score his second try.
Newcastle at least ended on a positive note when Kyle Cooper scored a converted try from a pick-and-go in the right corner – Flood adding the extras in the game’s last scoring act.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Penny, 14 Cooper Vuna (Brett Connon, 53), 13 George Wacokecoke, 12 Pete Lucock, 11 Ben Stevenson, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Michael Young (Louis Schreuder, 46); 1 Adam Brocklebank (Kyle Cooper, 67) , 2 George McGuigan (Jamie Blamire, 63), 3 Logovi’i Mulipola (Rodney Ah You, 63), 4 Greg Peterson (Marco Fuser, 63), 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Will Welch (Philip van der Walt, 46), 7 Mark Wilson (captain, Gary Graham, 67), 8 Callum Chick.
Scorers – Tries: Michael Young, Kyle Cooper. Conversions: Toby Flood 2. Penalties: Toby Flood.
Bristol Bears: 15 Max Malins, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Piers O’Conor, 12 Siale Piutau (co-captain, Alapati Leiua, 65), 11 Niyi Adeolokun, 10 Callum Sheedy (Ioan Lloyd, 13), 9 Andy Uren (Tom Kessell, 71); 1 Yann Thomas (Jake Woolmore, 65), 2 Will Capon (George Kloska, 71), 3 John Afoa (Max Lahiff, 65), 4 Chris Vui (Dan Thomas, 74), 5 Joe Joyce (Ed Holmes, 62), 6 Fitz Harding, 7 Ben Earl, 8 Jake Heenan (co-captain).
Scorers – Tries: Jake Heenan, Max Malins 2, Luke Morahan, Ben Earl. Conversions: Ioan Lloyd 3. Penalties: Ioan Lloyd.
Referee: Christophe Ridley.
Penny, Vuna, Wacokecoke, Lucock, Stevenson, Flood, Young, Brocklebank, McGuigan, Mulipola, Peterson, Robinson, Welch, Wilson, Chick
Replacements Blamire, Cooper, Ah You, Fuser, Van Der Walt, Schreuder, Connon, Graham
Malins, Morahan, O'Conor, Piutau, Adeolokun, Sheedy, Uren, Thomas, Capon, Afoa, Joyce, Vui, Harding, Earl, Heenan
Replacements Kloska, Woolmore, Lahiff, Holmes, Thomas, Kessell, Lloyd, Leiua
referee: Christophe Ridley
assistant: Peter Allan
assistant: Jamie Leahy
TMO: Graham Hughes