They threw absolutely everything at it in a pulsating encounter, but Newcastle Falcons’ relegation to the Championship was confirmed by defeat at Gloucester on Saturday.
Trailing 21-12 at half-time and creating no shortage attacking pressure, Newcastle will drop down to the second tier after this agonising loss.
The Falcons were forced to turn their hand to defensive duties from the off as the Cherry and Whites dominated the early territory and possession, Gloucester kicking a penalty to the corner but failing to turn it into points as the Falcons snaffled a jackal penalty near their own try-line.
Defence turned to attack in the most sensational of fashions on 10 minutes, a scrum on Newcastle’s own 22 seeing a dramatic try from Michael Young after Johnny Williams’ line-break and the support of Toby Flood and Alex Dunbar saw the scrum-half collecting an offload to dot down.
Flood converted, Newcastle warming to their task and stealing a line-out near their own try-line as Gloucester kicked a penalty to the corner four times in succession for no return.
Flood found himself in the sin-bin as a stream of red-zone penalties saw the skipper given a ten-minute breather, and with the line-out yielding no joy Gloucester turned to a five-metre scrum, where Jason Woodward exploited the extra man to score from a wrap-around play down the right.
Billy Twelvetrees’ conversion levelled the teams up, but within two minutes the Falcons were back in front when Sinoti Sinoti broke away from the back of an advancing maul down the left for an unconverted try.
Gloucester hit back from another five-metre scrum when Danny Cipriani exploited the extra man to ghost over from first receiver, Twelvetrees’ conversion putting the hosts ahead by two.
Calum Green’s sin-binning did little to aid the Falcons’ cause, and they were 21-12 down at half-time when Charlie Sharples scored in the right corner after play was worked to the short-side from a close-range ruck.
Newcastle flew out of the blocks for the second half, Callum Chick’s line-break and some super offloading from the forwards seeing a move which eventually ended with Alex Tait held up over the try-line.
A sustained period of red-zone pressure with repeated five-metre scrums saw Lewis Ludlow sent to the sin bin, George McGuigan held up over the try-line as the pressure continued to build, but agonisingly for the visitors the Cherry and Whites managed to ride the danger.
Newcastle added some impetus from their bench and had a potential third try ruled out by the TMO when George Wacokecoke’s grounding was just short, but it was only a temporary reprieve as Premiership debutant Jamie Blamire crashed over from the side of a maul down the left to score.
Flood added the touchline conversion to reduce the deficit to two, an end-to-end contest delivering drama by the bucket as a Sean Robinson line-break and support from Nemani Nagusa was turned into an agonising interception try for home wing Matt Banahan.
They kept going until the end, battering away and attacking from everywhere, but the clock was not their friend as the final whistle sounded with relegation to the Championship confirmed.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait (Tim Swiel, 68), 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Alex Dunbar (George Wacokecoke, 35), 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood (captain), 9 Michael Young (Sam Stuart, 53); 1 Logovi’i Mulipola (Sam Lockwood, 53), 2 George McGuigan, 3 Rodney Ah You (Trevor Davison, 53), 4 Calum Green (Will Witty, 64), 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Callum Chick (Jamie Blamire, 53), 7 Gary Graham, 8 Nemani Nagusa (Santiago Socino, 68).
Falcons scorers - Tries: Michael Young, Sinoti Sinoti, Jamie Blamire. Conversions: Toby Flood 2.
Gloucester Rugby: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Billy Twelvetrees, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 Danny Cipriani (Lloyd Evans, 66), 9 Callum Braley (Ben Vellacott, 66); 1 Josh Hohneck (Val Rapava Ruskin, 49), 2 Franco Marais (Mike Sherry, 49), 3 Fraser Balmain (Ruan Dreyer, 49), 4 Ed Slater (Lewis Ludlow, 38), 5 Franco Mostert, 6 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Jaco Kriel (Jake Polledri, 66), 8 Ben Morgan (captain).
Gloucester scorers - Tries: Jason Woodward, Danny Cipriani, Charlie Sharples, Matt Banahan. Conversions: Billy Twelvetrees 4.
Referee: Tom Foley. Attendance: 14,442.
Woodward, Sharples, Twelvetrees, Atkinson, Banahan, Cipriani, Braley, Hohneck, Marais, Balmain, Slater, Mostert, Ackermann, Kriel, Morgan
Replacements Sherry, Ruskin, Dreyer, Ludlow, Polledri, Vellacott, Evans, Purdy
Tait, Kibirige, Dunbar, Williams, Sinoti, Flood, Young, Mulipola, McGuigan, Ah You, Green, Robinson, Chick, Graham, Nagusa
Replacements Socino, Lockwood, Davison, Witty, Blamire, Stuart, Swiel, Wacokecoke
referee: Tom Foley
assistant: Jack Makepeace
assistant: Simon McConnell
TMO: Keith Lewis