Newcastle Falcons staged a remarkable second-half comeback to snatch a precious five Aviva Premiership points at home to Northampton Saints on Sunday.
A breathless and exhilarating 80 minutes of rugby saw the home side 24-15 down at the half-way stage before a remarkable 40 minutes in which they simply ran the Saints off the park.
The Falcons had found themselves behind after less than two minutes when Ben Foden’s arcing run freed Ken Pisi for a walk-in to the right corner, Stephen Myler converting impressively from the touchline as his side dominated the early possession.
Saints’ supremacy continued on six minutes when Jamie Gibson dotted down a short-range score to the left, profiting from Api Ratuniyarawa’s offload as Northampton made yards in contact with alarming regularity.
When the Falcons finally managed to get their hands on the ball they threatened the visitors’ line almost immediately, Alex Tait only denied a try by the television match official when Juan Pablo Socino was deemed to have knocked on in the build-up.
The home side did get off the mark on 11 minutes when scrum pressure earned them a penalty left of centre on the 22 which Sonatane Takulua duly dispatched, and even when Northampton responded with phases in the home 22 there was a relieving turnover from Kyle Cooper on his first Premiership start.
The Saints extended their lead by another three on 16 minutes when Myler’s 42-metre penalty punished Newcastle for playing the scrum-half at the base of a midfield ruck, but the Falcons’ fighting spirit was evident as Vereniki Goneva sped down the right wing in a move which ended with a try.
That was when Takulua sniped in from the base of a ruck near the posts, the scrum-half picking up on the good work of his forward pack following a string of effective carries. The 26-year-old, recently named Tonga’s player of the year for 2016, then converted his own try to reach double figures for the day.
Trademark side-stepping from fit-again wing Sinoti Sinoti had a packed South Stand at full voice as the Falcons made further in-roads, the Samoan talisman keeping the visitors’ defence guessing as he changed direction and pace with inexplicable ease.
The defensive qualities of Joel Hodgson were to the fore just approaching the half-hour when the fly-half put in a great read to drop into the full-back slot, clearing his lines magnificently despite an absence of angle as Northampton grubbered into the 22. But there was no stopping the visitors from the very next play as a quick left-to-right transfer through the hands culminated with Harry Mallinder diving in at the right corner – Myler converting from the touchline.
Not that the Falcons took it lying down, Jon Welsh and Calum Green combining well in a move which ended with Sean Robinson scoring in the right corner as the big second row collected a back-handed offload from Goneva in heavy traffic.
That reduced the interval deficit to 24-15 in the Saints’ favour, Newcastle ending the half on the front foot but failing to find the scoring pass as Sinoti and Dominic Waldouck both carried hard.
The opening passage of the second half saw that hurdle overcome when Socino’s rampaging run down the left and solid support work from Alex Tait and Mark Wilson set up the ruck from which Rob Vickers plundered another trademark pick-and-drive try.
Takulua converted, and within 30 seconds of the restart Newcastle surged into the lead when Sinoti’s kick-off receipt and Takulua’s support play handed the latter a try in the left corner, bringing with it the four-try bonus point.
It felt like it couldn’t get any better, but unbelievably it did when a lightning-quick move from inside their own culminated in another Takulua try down the left, Juan Pablo Socino starting it with an ambitious run before Sinoti and then Mark Wilson made the telling line-break.
Kyle Cooper kept the tries coming with a pick-and-go score in the right corner, Hodgson slotting the touchline conversion before the Saints hit back with a bonus-point try from hooker Mikey Haywood after a penalty was kicked to the left corner.
Myler’s conversion reduced Newcastle’s lead to eight going into the final 10 minutes, but all doubt was removed when Mark Wilson rumbled over from a driving maul in the left corner.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Dominic Waldouck, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti (Marcus Watson, 67), 10 Joel Hodgson (Mike Delany, 67), 9 Sonatane Takulua (Sam Egerton, 78); 1 Rob Vickers (Ben Harris, 75), 2 Kyle Cooper (Scott Lawson, 67), 3 Jon Welsh (Scott Wilson, 67), 4 Calum Green, 5 Sean Robinson (Evan Olmstead, 71), 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (captain), 8 Nili Latu (Opeti Fonua, 78).
Falcons scorers - Tries: Sonatane Takulua 3, Sean Robinson, Rob Vickers, Kyle Cooper, Mark Wilson. Conversions: Sonatane Takulua 3, Joel Hodgson. Penalties: Sonatane Takulua.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala (Juan Pablo Estelles, 66), 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Nafi Tuitavake (Rory Hutchinson, 75), 12 Harry Mallinder, 11 Ben Foden (captain), 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Nic Groom (Lee Dickson, 60); 1 Alex Waller, 2 Mikey Haywood (Charlie Clare, 71), 3 Kieran Brookes (Paul Hill, 67), 4 Api Ratuniyarawa (Michael Paterson, 66), 5 Christian Day, 6 Jamie Gibson, 7 Calum Clark (Ben Nutley, 66), 8 Teimana Harrison.
Saints scorers - Tries: Ken Pisi, Jamie Gibson, Harry Mallinder, Mikey Haywood. Conversions: Stephen Myler 4. Penalties: Stephen Myler.
Referee: Greg Garner. Attendance: 7,860.
Tait, Goneva, Waldouck, Socino, Sinoti, Hodgson, Takulua, Vickers, Cooper, Welsh, Green, Robinson, Wilson, Welch, Latu
Replacements Lawson, Harris, Wilson, Fonua, Olmstead, Egerton, Delany, Watson
Tuala, Pisi, Tuitavake, Mallinder, Foden, Myler, Groom, Waller, Haywood, Brookes, Ratuniyarawa, Day, Gibson, Clark, Harrison
Replacements Clare, Waller, Hill, Paterson, Nutley, Dickson, Hutchinson, Estelles
referee: Greg Garner
assistant: Adam Leal
assistant: Wayne Falla
TMO: Stuart Terheege