Newcastle Falcons showed intensity in abundance, but ultimately were outlasted by Gallagher Premiership leaders Leicester Tigers in Saturday’s final home game of the season.
In front of the Falcons’ biggest home crowd since April 2019, Leicester led 10-0 at the break and almost took the lead in the opening minute, when the TMO ruled Chris Ashton had been tackled into touch while diving for the left corner.
Aggressive blitz defence from players including Gary Graham and Philip van der Walt thwarted the visitors as they launched a string of attempted attacks in the home half, but the deadlock was finally broken on 14 minutes when Nemani Nadolo scored on a short, hard line to the right of the posts.
George Ford added the extras, the fly-half taking his team to double figures on 21 minutes with a simple penalty from out in front on the 22.
Newcastle kept plugging away, and scrum-half Michael Young had the crowd off their feet when his line-break from a ruck inside his own half saw him kicking ahead – George McGuigan only fractionally losing a foot-race against Chris Ashton for the loose ball.
The home side were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes just before the half-hour when Adam Brocklebank was sin-binned for a crocodile roll on Nic Dolly at a midfield ruck.
Leicester were denied a claim for a second try when Ellis Genge was ruled not to have made the line from a close-range pick-and-go, and the Falcons knew how that felt when a strong finish to the half saw Newcastle twice having tries not given by the TMO.
The first claim came from Young after a Josh Basham line-break had set up a close-range ruck in the right corner, with the second seeing McGuigan held up over the line after collecting a crash ball between the posts.
Leicester held on to their 10-0 lead at the interval despite the hosts growing into the game, and the Falcons continued their momentum as the second half took shape.
Spending prolonged periods of play with ball in hand in the Leicester half, Young’s line-break and Basham’s support was agonisingly close to delivering a try – but it finally came on 49 minutes when prolific hooker George McGuigan scored from a powerful pick-and-go in the left corner.
It was the reward that the Falcons’ intensity deserved, and the forays kept coming as Matias Orlando and Mateo Carreras launched an all-Argentine assault down the left.
It came to nothing on that occasion as Tigers scrambled the ball clear – the visitors building some momentum of their own and eventually slotting a 65th-minute penalty through Ford in front of the posts.
It was a mark of respect for Newcastle’s defence that Leicester had to take the three, but the visitors made life much more comfortable on 70 minutes when Guy Porter stepped his way to the try-line after a maul in the right corner had been worked infield.
Ford’s conversion removed any doubt over the result, with Freddie Steward adding a last-minute try from a cross-kick.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait (Iwan Stephens, 70), 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Matias Orlando (Will Haydon-Wood, 66), 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Mateo Carreras, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Michael Young (Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, 52); 1 Adam Brocklebank (Logovi’i Mulipola, 61), 2 George McGuigan (Jamie Blamire, 69), 3 Trevor Davison (Mark Tampin, 61), 4 Greg Peterson (Carl Fearns, 64), 5 Philip van der Walt (Freddie Lockwood, 14), 6 Gary Graham, 7 Josh Basham, 8 Callum Chick (captain).
Scorers – Tries: George McGuigan.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Chris Ashton (Freddie Burns, 64), 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Guy Porter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 George Ford, 9 Richard Wigglesworth (Jack van Poortvliet, 54); 1 Ellis Genge (captain, Nephi Leatigaga, 71), 2 Nic Dolly (Charlie Clare, 28), 3 Dan Cole (Joe Heyes, 54), 4 Ollie Chessum, 5 Harry Wells (Cameron Henderson, 71), 6 George Martin, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 8 Jasper Wiese.
Scorers – Tries: Nemani Nadolo, Guy Porter, Freddie Steward. Conversions: George Ford 3. Penalties: George Ford 2.
Referee: Anthony Woodthorpe. Attendance: 8,015.
Tait, Radwan, Orlando, Burrell, Carreras, Hodgson, Young, Brocklebank, McGuigan, Davison, Peterson, van der Walt, Graham, Basham, Chick
Replacements Blamire, Mulipola, Tampin, Lockwood, Fearns, Nordli-Kelemeti, Haydon-Wood, Stephens
Steward, Ashton, Moroni, Porter, Nadolo, Ford, Wigglesworth, Genge, Dolly, Cole, Chessum, Wells, Martin, Liebenberg, Wiese
Replacements Clare, Leatigaga, Heyes, Henderson, Reffell, van Poortvliet, Burns, Scott
referee: Anthony Woodthorpe
assistant: Joe James
assistant: Wayne Falla
TMO: Hamish Smales