Newcastle Falcons completed their December clean sweep with a fifth successive victory for the calendar month, defeating bottom side London Irish in Saturday’s Aviva Premiership encounter.
The Exiles offered dogged resistance against a Falcons side who had to work right until the end, their three first-half tries ultimately proving enough as they ended 2017 on a winning note.
The teams traded an early penalty apiece as Greig Tonks slammed over a long-range effort to put Irish ahead on three minutes, Toby Flood returning the favour from closer in as the home side infringed at a ruck inside their own 22.
Tonks sent over a second to put his side ahead once again after Newcastle turned over sloppy ball from a line-out in prime position, the Exiles punting downfield and earning a pop at the posts as the Falcons scrambled to prevent a try.
Their three-point margin lasted past the quarter mark as neither side strung together enough phases to make the killer break, Newcastle grabbing the first try of the game on 23 minutes when Alex Tait charged down a clearance kick and grounded the bouncing ball in the right corner.
Within four minutes the Falcons had a second try to their name, this time more of a cohesive attacking effort as Sonatane Takulua broke from 22 to 22, setting up a ruck down the left from which Juan Pablo Socino put in a sublime cross-field kick to Tait in space.
Toby Flood converted from the right touchline, the hosts responding straight from the re-start as Tonks slotted a straightforward penalty from a Newcastle obstruction.
Flood struck the left post with an attempted penalty on 35 minutes as the visitors tried and failed to build on their lead, but they enjoyed a 20-9 advantage at half-time after a line-out in the right corner saw the ball eventually spun left for Vereniki Goneva to score in the corner from simple numbers.
Irish captain Mike Coman began the second half in the sin bin for his part in pulling down a Newcastle maul in the build-up to their third try, but the skipper was back on the field by the time the next points arrived when Tonks chipped over a fourth penalty from in front.
The home side thought they had a try on 58 minutes when a looping midfield pass from Newcastle was ran in for an interception score, only for play to be pulled back for a prior misdemeanour.
A fine spot tackle from Scotland centre Chris Harris thwarted a further Irish attack as the home side showed no shortage of spirit, Newcastle being forced to defend for long periods against a resurgent outfit.
Club captain Will Welch entered the fray for the closing quarter as the Falcons aimed to see out the game, Kyle Cooper held up over the try-line from a close-range driving maul as Newcastle kicked a penalty to the corner in search of the four-try bonus point.
Irish missed a chance to close the gap with six minutes remaining when Tonks’ long-range penalty was fired just wide, but the full-back found his range when presented with a near-identical opportunity on 77 minutes.
His side piled on the pressure in the closing stages but the Falcons’ defence held out, Dean Richards’ men carrying considerable momentum with them as they attack the new year.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Toby Flood (Joel Hodgson, 64), 9 Sonatane Takulua (Michael Young, 61); 1 Rob Vickers (Sam Lockwood, 64), 2 Kyle Cooper (Ben Sowrey, 69), 3 Jon Welsh (Scott Wilson, 64), 4 Calum Green (Evan Olmstead, 69), 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Mark Wilson (captain), 7 Gary Graham, 8 Nili Latu (Will Welch, 61).
Falcons scorers - Tries: Alex Tait 2. Conversions: Toby Flood. Penalties: Toby Flood.
London Irish: 15 Greig Tonks, 14 Joe Cokanasiga (Aseli Tikoirotuma, 69), 13 Tom Fowlie, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 James Marshall, 9 Scott Steele (Ben Meehan, 58); 1 Gordon Reid (Ben Franks, 51), 2 Saia Fainga’a (Tom Woolstencroft, 62), 3 Petrus du Plessis (Ollie Hoskins, 51), 4 Franco van der Merwe, 5 Teofilo Paulo (Sebastian de Chaves, 58), 6 Mike Coman (captain), 7 Max Northcote-Green, 8 Ofisa Treviranus.
London Irish scorers - Penalties: Greig Tonks 5.
Referee: Tom Foley. Attendance: 10,019.
Tonks, Cokanasiga, Fowlie, Williams, Lewington, Marshall, Steele, Reid, Fainga'a, Du Plessis, van der Merwe, Paulo, Coman, Northcote-Green, Treviranus
Replacements Woolstencroft, Franks, Hoskins, De Chaves, Cowan, Meehan, Brophy Clews, Tikoirotuma
Hammersley, Tait, Harris, Socino, Goneva, Flood, Takulua, Vickers, Cooper, Welsh, Green, Robinson, Wilson, Graham, Latu
Replacements Sowrey, Lockwood, Wilson, Olmstead, Welch, Young, Hodgson, Matavesi
referee: Tom Foley
assistant: Dean Richards
assistant: Wayne Falla
TMO: David Sainsbury