Newcastle Falcons started 2017 in dramatic fashion, Ben Harris’ late try and Joel Hodgson’s conversion earning them an Aviva Premiership victory over Bath.
As they had done a week earlier against Wasps, the Falcons got off to a flying start, putting themselves seven points ahead inside the opening three minutes with a well-worked try.
Vereniki Goneva was the man to dart over, the Fijian flyer bursting from the base of a ruck and stepping the last man after his side had played advantage to good effect from a Bath knock-on.
Joel Hodgson converted from in front, the fly-half pinning the visitors back from the restart with a wonderful punt down the tramlines after a bout of kick-tennis.
Opposite number George Ford failed to get Bath off the mark with a penalty from the 22 when obstruction at a clearance kick handed him a kickable opportunity – the England man firing wide from just left of the uprights.
It was Newcastle who had most of the momentum as Juan Pablo Socino and Opeti Fonua took on much of the ball-carrying burden, the men in black playing with characteristic width and ambition.
Able to adjust the tempio via the controlling territorial kicking of Hodgson and Alex Tait, the Falcons continued to exert a territorial dominance over a Bath back three who were finding difficulty catching the high ball under the Friday night lights.
Even when Bath finally managed a period of sustained pressure in the home half around the half-hour mark, a bone-shuddering two-man hit from Fonua and Scott Lawson stopped them in their tracks, referee Greg Garner penalising the visitors as they scrambled to retain possession on the back foot.
Tait was proving solid as a rock under the bomb as Bath turned to an aerial assault, the West Country side missing a second pop at the posts when Ford pulled a penalty after a debateable high tackle.
The England man finally found his range at the third time of asking, a penalty from in front with the very last play of the half cutting the Falcons’ half-time lead to 7-3.
It was an advantage which lasted only four minutes into the second period when a fired-up Bath side were rewarded for a strong start, repeated phases near the Newcastle posts setting up a ruck from which Ford sped over at first receiver.
The fly-half converted his own try for a three-point advantage, one they extended to 10 when Semesa Rokoduguni wriggled over in the right corner for a converted try despite the attentions of Goneva.
Rampaging tight-head Jon Welsh had the home fans on their feet with a midfield line-break as the hour mark approached, the home side kicking for the corner when handed a penalty just outside the Bath 22.
That move fizzled out despite multiple phases, but with no advantage forthcoming and the visitors once again infringing close to their own line, the Falcons were awarded a penalty from in front which Hodgson duly sent between the posts.
Bath hit back straight from the restart by regaining their own kick and feeding Rokoduguni for a second try in the right corner, Ford missing the conversion and a subsequent penalty as Newcastle sat 12 points down going into the final 10 minutes.
Just as he had done the week before, Mark Wilson ploughed over for a try from the base of a close-range ruck to put his side within bonus point territory, and it got even better when Ben Harris repeated the trick down the left to draw level with three minutes to go.
Hodgson’s conversion put the home side two up, a lead they maintained until the final whistle as 2017 began with a bang.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Belisario Agulla, 13 Dominic Waldouck, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Sonatane Takulua (Michael Young, 63); 1 Rob Vickers (Ben Harris, 69), 2 Scott Lawson (Ben Sowrey, 63), 3 Jon Welsh (Paddy Ryan, 63), 4 Calum Green, 5 Evan Olmstead (Will Witty, 63), 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (captain), 8 Opeti Fonua (Sean Robinson, 44).
Falcons scorers - Tries: Vereniki Goneva, Mark Wilson, Ben Harris. Conversions: Joel Hodgson 3. Penalties: Joel Hodgson.
Bath Rugby: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Tapuai (Robbie Fruean, 55), 11 Aled Brew, 10 George Ford (co-captain); 9 Darren Allinson (Chris Cook, 60), 1 Nathan Catt (Ben Obano, 63), 2 Tom Dunn, 3 Max Lahiff (Shaun Knight, 69), 4 Elliott Stooke, 5 Luke Charteris, 6 Tom Ellis (Matt Garvey, co-captain, 8), 7 Francois Louw (Paul Grant, 69), 8 Zach Mercer.
Bath scorers - Tries: George Ford, Semesa Rokoduguni 2. Conversions: George Ford 2. Penalties: George Ford.
Referee: Greg Garner. Attendance: 6,042.
Tait, Agulla, Waldouck, Socino, Goneva, Hodgson, Takulua, Vickers, Lawson, Welsh, Green, Olmstead, Wilson, Welch, Fonua
Replacements Sowrey, Harris, Ryan, Witty, Robinson, Young, Willis, Burdon
Watson, Rokoduguni, Joseph, Tapuai, Brew, Ford, Allinson, Catt, Dunn, Lahiff, Stooke, Charteris, Ellis, Louw, Mercer
Replacements Walker, Obano, Knight, Garvey, Grant, Cook, Priestland, Fruean
referee: Greg Garner
assistant: John Meredith
assistant: Wayne Falla
TMO: Keith Lewis