Newcastle Falcons’ 20-year wait for a win at Welford Road ended in the most sensational of fashions on Friday, Ally Hogg’s last-minute try and a Sonatane Takulua conversion keeping their Aviva Premiership semi-final dream alive.
The Falcons had got themselves off to the ideal start when former Welford Road favourite Vereniki Goneva marked his 100th Premiership appearance with a trademark try, the Fijian flyer breaking through the middle of a ruck 40 metres out and sauntering down the right hand side.
Joel Hodgson slotted the extras, but Tigers were soon level when a quick transfer through the hands saw England wing Jonny May dotting down in the right corner, George Ford converting.
Newcastle nosed back ahead on 11 minutes when Hodgson fired over a beautifully-struck penalty from 40 metres out, opposite number Ford blasting a drop-goal well wide of the posts as the home side struggled to find a way through.
The Tigers were struggling to find a lineout platform as the Falcons repeatedly disrupted their set-piece, and even when they got a nudge on the scrum some tidy work at the base from Ally Hogg dug the visitors out of trouble.
Leicester drew level on 24 minutes when Ford chipped over the simplest of penalties, and the injury count was mounting for a Falcons side who lost Joel Hodgson, Sean Robinson and Scott Wilson before the half-hour mark.
Ford’s second penalty gave Leicester the lead for the first time when he sent one over from the right, but the Falcons drew level again on 37 minutes when a succession of red-zone penalties ended with Juan Pablo Socino slotting a simple three-pointer from just right of centre.
The 13-13 margin stood in place until the interval, Newcastle relying on their superb counter-mauling to prevent a Leicester try in the opening passage of the second half, Gary Graham at his disruptive best in a fine team effort.
Leicester thought they had the lead on 49 minutes with a length-of-the-field counter attack down the right, but the TMO rightly intervened having spotted a clear knock-on at the beginning of the move.
There was no such reprieve two minutes later, however, when forward pressure delivered the home side’s second try of the evening, lock Mike Fitzgerald burrowing over down the right hand side round the fringes of a close-range ruck.
Ford converted, and the England fly-half pit his team 10 points ahead on the hour mark when he fired over a long-range penalty from the left.
But the Falcons are not a side to roll over, halving the deficit on 70 minutes after a series of pick-and-go drives near the posts saw the ball worked right, Goneva collecting a long, looping pass and cutting inside for his second try of the night.
Which all left it down to a dramatic climax, Hogg crashing over from a close-range ruck with the very last play of the game, Takulua holding his nerve with the crucial conversion to keep the semi-final ship sailing.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley (Alex Tait, 70), 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson (Juan Pablo Socino, 26), 9 Michael Young (Sonatane Takulua, 72); 1 Sam Lockwood (Rob Vickers, 70), 2 Scott Lawson (Santiago Socino, 60), 3 Scott Wilson (Trevor Davison, 11), 4 Calum Green, 5 Sean Robinson (Will Witty, 15), 6 Mark Wilson (captain), 7 Gary Graham, 8 Ally Hogg.
Scorers - Tries: Vereniki Goneva 2, Ally Hogg. Conversions: Joel Hodgson, Sonatane Takulua. Penalties: Joel Hodgson, Juan Pablo Socino.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Matt Toomua (Mathew Tait, 65), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford (captain), 9 Ben Youngs (Sam Harrison, 73); 1 Ellis Genge Greg Bateman, 67), 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau (Tom Youngs, 49), 3 Dan Cole (Logovi’i Mulipola, 68), 4 Mike Fitzgerald (Harry Wells, 77), 5 Graham Kitchener, 6 Luke Hamilton (Mike Williams), 7 Brendon O’Connor, 8 Sione Kalamafoni.
Scorers - Tries: Jonny May, Mike Fitzgerald. Conversions: George Ford 2. Penalties: George Ford 3.
Referee: Luke Pearce. Attendance: 23,828.
Veainu, Thompstone, Tuilagi, Toomua, May, Ford, Youngs, Genge, Polota-Nau, Cole, Fitzgerald, Kitchener, Hamilton, O'Connor, Kalamafoni
Replacements Youngs, Bateman, Mulipola, Wells, Williams, Harrison, Tait, Holmes
Hammersley, Goneva, Harris, Matavesi, Sinoti, Hodgson, Young, Lockwood, Lawson, Wilson, Green, Robinson, Wilson, Graham, Hogg
Replacements Socino, Vickers, Davison, Witty, Burrows, Takulua, Socino, Tait
referee: Luke Pearce
assistant: Tim Wigglesworth
assistant: Adam Leal
TMO: Stuart Terheege