Newcastle Falcons snatched a dramatic late winner to secure safe passage to the last 16 of the EPCR Challenge Cup - Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti scoring with the very last play of the game.
The home side led 13-12 at half-time but it was the Italians who had opened the scoring just three minutes in, fly-half Antonio Rizzi slotting a 40-metre penalty from just left of centre in a sign of things to come.
They gained further momentum with an impressive 50-22 kick, only to lose the ball from the resulting line-out, but they doubled their lead on 13 minutes when Rizzi slotted his second penalty – this time from in front of the posts.
The fly-half maintained his 100% strike rate with another well-struck effort from 40 metres out, but the Falcons finally found their scoring touch on 17 minutes when Trevor Davison scored his second try in the space of eight days, picking and going from a close-range ruck.
Rizzi’s fourth penalty put the visitors seven points up on 26 minutes, but Newcastle were in no mood to roll over and produced a clinical try just before the half-hour.
Luther Burrell was the man to score it, the centre hitting a killer diagonal against the grain from a lineout on the 22 to scorch a path to the left corner.
The missed conversion left the Falcons down by two, but they managed to snatch a 13-12 interval lead with the very last play of the half when Brett Connon hit the target with a penalty from 25 metres out in front.
Zebre had no intention of rolling over, however, and assumed the lead once again six minutes after the resumption when flanker Luca Andreani scored a converted try from a pick-and-go near the posts.
Home hooker Jamie Blamire was sent to the sin bin for an offence at the previous ruck, and it got worse for the Falcons when Rizzi sent over his fifth penalty just before the hour mark.
Newcastle reduced the deficit to four points when hooker George McGuigan marked his 150th club appearance with a trademark maul try in the right corner, but their efforts at finding a winner were repeatedly frustrated by red-zone penalties as Zebre killed a string of close-range mauls and pick-and-go attempts.
That was at least until the very last play, when Nordli-Kelemeti sniped over from the base of a close-range maul to seal a dramatic home win.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Penny, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 George Wacokecoke (Joel Hodgson, 73), 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Mateo Carreras (Ben Stevenson, 53), 10 Brett Connon, 9 Louis Schreuder (Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, 64); 1 Adam Brocklebank (Kyle Cooper, 73), 2 Jamie Blamire (George McGuigan, 51), 3 Trevor Davison, 4 Marco Fuser (Greg Peterson, 53), 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Josh Basham, 7 Will Welch (captain), 8 Freddie Lockwood.
Scorers - Tries: Trevor Davison, Luther Burrell, George McGuigan, Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti. Conversion: Brett Connon. Penalties: Brett Connon.
Zebre Parma: 15 Jacopo Trulla, 14 Asaeli Tuivuaka, 13 Erich Cronjé, 12 Enrico Lucchin, 11 Simone Gesi, 10 Antonio Rizzi, 9 Alessandro Fusco; 1 Danilo Fischetti, 2 Luca Bigi (captain), 3 Ion Neculai, 4 Gabriele Venditti, 5 Andrea Zambonin, 6 Luca Andreani, 7 Maxime Mbanda, 8 Taina Fox-Matamua.
Scorers - Tries: Luca Andreani. Conversions: Antonio Rizzi. Penalties: Antonio Rizzi 5.
Referee: Ludovic Cayre (France). Attendance: 3,200.