Newcastle Falcons will travel to Exeter Chiefs in the Aviva Premiership semi-finals on Saturday May 19 after Wasps ended their five-and-a-half-month Kingston Park unbeaten streak.
Last year’s beaten finalists were convincing winners despite a late flurry from the Falcons, who now have a fortnight to regroup from an uncharacteristically down-beat performance.
Emotional scenes greeted the arrival of the Falcons team in front of their second sell-out of the season, Alex Tait leading out the side on the day of his 200th start, followed by long-serving forwards Ally Hogg, Scott Lawson and Rob Vickers.
On a sun-drenched day both sides entered into the party atmosphere by keeping the ball in hand, although early continuity was lacking with an abundance of handling errors and balls being spilled in contact.
It was the home side who assumed the lead on 11 minutes when Sonatane Takulua chipped over a simple penalty from the 22, Wasps blown for offside in the midfield under a heap of Falcons pressure.
Newcastle’s defence dug them out of trouble as Wasps tried to reply, a period of sustained attack in the home 22 ended only when Mark Wilson won a penalty for his team with some keen ruck work.
But there was no denying the visitors on 18 minutes when hooker Tom Cruse charged down a clearance kick and raced into the right corner, Danny Cipriani converting impressively from the touchline.
They almost had a second within three minutes when Kyle Eastmond’s line-break and some fine support running from his forwards saw them held up over the try-line, Takulua preventing a try a minute later when his tackle on Josh Bassett knocked the ball free in the act of scoring.
Around the half hour the Falcons finally clicked into gear, Juan Pablo Socino and Simon Hammersley among the backs making line-breaks on the back of hard forward running from Mark Wilson and Gary Graham.
But it was Wasps who claimed the second try of the day on 35 minutes, a five-metre scrum down the right seeing the ball worked quickly through the hands, Cipriani’s long, looping pass finding Elliot Daly on an outside arc for the England winger to ground an unconverted score in the left corner.
There was still time for a third Wasps try with the very last play of the half, Newcastle’s goal-line defence finally breaking after an energy-sapping barrage, Cipriani the man to ground the ball as the fly-half reached out an arm from a tackle.
Cipriani converted his own try to give Wasps side a 19-3 half-time lead, and the torment continued into the second half for the home fans when Josh Bassett grounded the fourth try from a kick to the right corner.
Things got worse on 49 minutes when the video referee awarded ex-Falcon Jimmy Gopperth a try in the right corner despite a strong suggestion of a forward pass in the build-up, Newcastle shipping on a full new front row in the search for momentum.
It worked to a degree, the home side enjoying their fair share of territory and possession, but with a 28-point deficit it was always going to be too big a mountain to climb.
Not that it stopped Josh Matavesi, the fly-half racing 70 metres down the left tramlines to finally register a try for the home side on 64 minutes, showing a fair turn of pace having collected a Zach Kibirige offload near his own 22.
The roles were reversed for the Falcons’ second try on 69 minutes when a Matavesi cross-kick handed Kibirige a try in the left corner, Newcastle having gained field position via runs from Tait and Mark Wilson.
The tide continued to turn, and on 73 minutes the home team had a third try, this time Evan Olmstead burrowing through from the fringes of a close-range ruck.
Willis’s conversion reduced the arrears to nine points, Gopperth putting them a further three ahead with a 77th minute minute penalty which tempered the mania among the home supporters, who had been sensing the comeback of all comebacks.
Any lingering hopes of a home win were extinguished when Willie le Roux scored an interception try in the 78th minute, Newcastle finally beaten at home for the first time since November, but with a huge finish to the season still to come.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Chris Harris (Tom Penny, 59), 12 Juan Pablo Socino (Craig Willis, 56), 11 Zach Kibirige, 10 Josh Matavesi, 9 Sonatane Takulua (Sam Stuart, 61); 1 Rob Vickers (Sam Lockwood, 49), 2 Scott Lawson (Santiago Socino, 49), 3 Trevor Davison (David Wilson, 49), 4 Evan Olmstead, 5 Will Witty (Glen Young, 62), 6 Mark Wilson (captain), 7 Gary Graham, 8 Ally Hogg (Nili Latu, 62).
Scorers - Tries: Josh Matavesi, Zach Kibirige. Conversions: Craig Willis. Penalties: Sonatane Takulua.
Wasps: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Josh Bassett, 13 Gaby Lovobalavu, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Danny Cipriani (Jimmy Gopperth, 46), 9 Joe Simpson (Dan Robson, 63); 1 Ben Harris, 2 Tom Cruse (Tommy Taylor, 51, Tom Cruse, 69), 3 Marty Moore, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain, Will Rowlands, 51), 5 Kearnan Myall, 6 James Haskell (Guy Thompson, 43), 7 Thomas Young, 8 Jack Willis.
Scorers - Tries: Tom Cruse, Elliot Daly, Danny Cipriani, Josh Bassett, Jimmy Gopperth, Willie le Roux. Conversions: Danny Cipriani 2, Jimmy Gopperth. Penalties: Jimmy Gopperth.
Referee: Ian Tempest. Attendance: 10,100.
Le Roux 78
Hammersley, Tait, Harris, Socino, Kibirige, Matavesi, Takulua, Vickers, Lawson, Davison, Olmstead, Witty, Wilson, Graham, Hogg
Replacements Socino, Lockwood, Wilson, Young, Latu, Stuart, Willis, Penny
Le Roux, Bassett, Lovobalavu, Eastmond, Daly, Cipriani, Simpson, Harris, Cruse, Moore, Launchbury, Myall, Haskell, Young, Willis
Replacements Taylor, Mullan, Stuart, Rowlands, Thompson, Robson, Gopperth, De Jongh
referee: Ian Tempest
assistant: Andrew Jackson
assistant: Paul Burton
TMO: Geoff Warren