Newcastle Falcons had to make do with a losing bonus point despite throwing absolutely everything into Friday night’s Gallagher Premiership clash with Leicester Tigers at Kingston Park Stadium.
Newcastle were three points down in as many minutes when Tigers fly-half George Ford sent over a penalty from the centre spot, the visitors enjoying early territory with a string of mauls in the Newcastle 22.
The Falcons’ defensive line-out drills stood up to the test in clearing the danger, Gary Graham equally eager in open field as he charged down an attempted drop-goal from Ford.
But Leicester found their way over the try-line on 17 minutes when Guy Thompson’s line-break and a back-handed pass freed Jonny May for a run down the right, the England wing cutting infield to dot down.
Ford added the extras and a second penalty shortly after, Newcastle finally showing their attacking teeth with a Brett Connon line-break during his HIA cameo in place of Toby Flood.
Leicester missed out on further points when Ford’s 25th-minute penalty bounced back off the right post, and the Falcons seized the momentum, Chris Harris scoring on 33 minutes when Simon Hammersley’s line-break and the support of George McGuigan allowed Takulua to feed the Scotland centre on a hard, short running line.
Takulua added the simple conversion, and the Tonga captain turned try-scorer himself three minutes later when an 80-metre attack saw Mark Wilson spinning the ball from the base of a scrum on his own 22, finding Vereniki Goneva down the blindside. The Fijian raced to the Tigers’ 22, passing inside to the supporting Takulua.
Jonny May’s premature charge of Takulua’s attempted conversion drew boos from the home crowd before the half-back fired fractionally wide at the second time of asking, Leicester taking a 13-12 lead into the interval.
A scrappy start to the second half saw fluent handling play in short supply, but Leicester pounced for the first points of the period when Guy Thompson sped home from 50 metres out on the intercept.
Ford chipped over the extras to secure an eight-point buffer, Hammersley and Goneva’s incisive running getting the Falcons over the gain line but Tigers responding through their scramble defence.
Leicester were reduced to 14 men when Mike Williams was sin-binned for pulling down a maul in the left corner, and the home side took full advantage when a penalty was kicked to the corner. Tigers infringed again at the line-out drive, and with a five-metre scrum called it was Takulua was the hero with a poacher’s try from the base.
The Tongan converted his own try despite another premature charge from Leicester, and then sent Kingston Park potty with a 64th-minute penalty following a no-arms tackle by Ellis Genge.
Leicester edged back ahead on 68 minutes when the TMO awarded Thompson a second converted try from a close-range pick and go, but their claims for a fourth were denied by referee Wayne Barnes when Genge obstructed Hammersley underneath a cross-field kick.
Newcastle threw the kitchen sink at their visitors in a frenetic finish, but were unable to find the decisive score.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood (co-captain), 9 Sonatane Takulua; 1 Logovi'i Mulipola, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Rodney Ah You, 4 Calum Green, 5 Andrew Davidson, 6 Gary Graham, 7 John Hardie (Evan Olmstead, 33), 8 Mark Wilson (co-captain).
Falcons scorers - Tries: Chris Harris, Sonatane Takulua 2. Conversions: Sonatane Takulua 2. Penalties: Sonatane Takulua.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Matt Toomua, 14 Jonny May, 13 Gareth Owen (Sam Aspland-Robinson, 73), 12 Manu Tuilagi (Matt Smith, 71), 11 Jordan Olowofela, 10 George Ford (captain), 9 Sam Harrison (Ben White, 61); 1 Ellis Genge, 2 Jake Kerr (Tatafu Polota-Nau, 60), 3 Dan Cole, 4 Will Spencer (Harry Wells, 73), 5 Graham Kitchener, 6 Mike Fitzgerald, 7 Mike Williams (Brendon O’Connor, 78), 8 Guy Thompson.
Tigers scorers - Tries: Jonny May, Guy Thompson 2. Conversions: George Ford 3. Penalties: George Ford 2.
Referee: Wayne Barnes. Attendance: 8,292.
Hammersley, Goneva, Harris, Matavesi, Sinoti, Flood, Takulua, Mulipola, McGuigan, Ah You, Green, Davidson, Graham, Hardie, Wilson
Replacements Cooper, Lockwood, Davison, Robinson, Olmstead, Young, Connon, Williams
Toomua, May, Owen, Tuilagi, Olowofela, Ford, Harrison, Genge, Kerr, Cole, Spencer, Kitchener, Fitzgerald, Williams, Thompson
Replacements Polota-Nau, Gigena, Heyes, Wells, O'Connor, White, Aspland-Robinson, Smith
referee: Wayne Barnes
assistant: Matthew Carley
assistant: Luke Pearce
TMO: Rowan Kitt