Newcastle Falcons secured a third victory of the Aviva Premiership season on Saturday as they left Bristol win-less at the foot of the table.
A first-half surge built enough of a buffer to withstand a strong Bristol fightback, Dean Richards’ side having won half of their six league games going into the European break.
It was a first-half performance unrecognisable from six days earlier against Worcester, with players looking to keep the ball in hand, showing ambition in attack and a general excitedness to get themselves involved in the game.
Sinoti Sinoti deserted his perch on the left wing at regular intervals as his appetite for in-field work got pulses racing on the terraces, the Samoan a rejuvenated presence as he ran angles off fly-half.
Even a spate of early back-line injuries (Alex Tait and Dominic Waldouck for Newcastle, Tusi Pisi for Bristol), could not change the pattern as the Falcons kept the ball in hand, running hard lines through the middle and looking to offload at every opportunity.
The crowd certainly fed off their team’s new-found enthusiasm, and they had a try to celebrate as early as five minutes in when Juan Pablo Socino intercepted a Bristol pass on the 22 to scurry in.
Jordan Williams’ attempted long-range penalty for the visitors bounced back off the left post as Bristol failed to capitalise on a rare foray into Newcastle territory, the home side’s wall of black repelling their best attempts to find a hole.
Replacement Joel Hodgson added plenty of spark for the Falcons as Mike Delany pushed to full-back in a reorganised back line, but it was from the forwards that the second try came when skipper Will Welch burrowed over from the back of a close-range ruck.
Delany added the simple conversion, Adrian Jarvis missing Bristol’s second shot at goal against a Newcastle side who went close when Ally Hogg’s break from the back of a scrum and Simon Hammersley’s support play got them into the 22.
The home team’s undeniable enterprise reaped further dividends on 32 minutes when a scrum five metres out down the left saw play worked to the right, Hodgson timing a beautiful line at second receiver to glide over for his team’s third try.
Delany’s conversion extended the Falcons’ half-time lead to 19-0, Bristol beginning the second half with vigour and finding a way through when replacement Jon Fisher stretched an arm out of a tackle to dot down, Jarvis adding the extras.
Delany pushed wide a long-range penalty attempt awarded on the back of a dominant home scrum, Jon Welsh and Ben Sowrey having added fresh impetus from the bench. But it was Bristol who made the next scoring contribution when a period of patient phase play eventually drew a try for Mitch Eadie from a ruck to the left of the posts.
Jarvis converted to reduce the gap to five, the Falcons regaining their attacking stride as Agulla and Welch combined down the right before falling just short of a try.
Hodgson fired wide with a penalty from the right-hand side as the Falcons attempted to build a two-score gap, but with time ticking away they held out for the victory.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait (Belisario Agulla, 8), 13 Dominic Waldouck (Joel Hodgson, 11), 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Michael Young (Sonatane Takulua, 63); 1 Rob Vickers (Alex Rogers, 63), 2 Scott Lawson (Ben Sowrey, 51), 3 David Wilson (Jon Welsh, 51), 4 Calum Green, 5 Evan Olmstead (Will Witty, 55), 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (captain), 8 Ally Hogg.
Sin bin: Alex Rogers (75).
Falcons scorers - Tries: Juan Pablo Socino, Will Welch, Joel Hodgson. Conversions: Mike Delany 2.
Bristol: 15 Jordan Williams (Jack Wallace, 51), 14 Ryan Edwards, 13 Jack Tovey, 12 Will Hurrell, 11 David Lemi, 10 Tusi Pisi (Adrian Jarvis, 31), 9 Will Cliff; 1 Kyle Traynor (Ryan Bevington, 50), 2 Ross McMillan (Max Crumpton, 63), 3 Anthony Perenise (Gaston Cortes, 63), 4 Ben Glynn, 5 Mark Sorenson (James Phillips, 50), 6 Mitch Eadie, 7 Jack Lam (captain, Jon Fisher, 50), 8 Jordan Crane.
Sin bin: Gaston Cortes (75).
Bristol scorers - Tries: Jon Fisher, Mitch Eadie. Conversions: Adrian Jarvis 2.
Referee: Wayne Barnes. Attendance: 6,134.
Hammersley, Tait, Waldouck, Socino, Sinoti, Delany, Young, Vickers, Lawson, Wilson, Green, Olmstead, Wilson, Welch, Hogg
Replacements Sowrey, Rogers, Welsh, Witty, Temm, Takulua, Hodgson, Agulla
Williams, Edwards, Tovey, Hurrell, Lemi, Pisi, Cliff, Traynor, McMillan, Perenise, Glynn, Sorenson, Eadie, Lam, Crane
Replacements Crumpton, Bevington, Cortes, Phillips, Fisher, Williams, Jarvis, Wallace
referee: Wayne Barnes
assistant: Peter Allan
assistant: Steve Lee
TMO: Sean Davey