A Noah Cato try three minutes from time coupled with Joel Hodgson’s pressure conversion secured a precious losing bonus point for Newcastle Falcons in the Aviva Premiership.
Trailing 19-6 at the break, the Falcons fought back to pick up their second point in as many weeks against the league leaders.
James Wilson’s brace and Tom Stephenson’s touchdown in the first half looked to have set Jim Mallinder’s men on their way to a comprehensive victory in the North East.
However, a resurgent Newcastle side came out for the second period in spritely fashion with man-of-the-match Gonzalo Tiesi leading by example at centre.
It took Northampton seven minutes to register the first score of the contest when full-back Wilson dotted down for the first of his two tries. A quick tap penalty from Kahn Fotuali’i inside Newcastle’s 22 gave the visitors the impetus in attack, and after a series of carries upfront, the ball was moved wide with numbers on the left with Wilson touching down. Stephen Myler’s conversion held up in the wind and the Saints led 5-0.
Rory Clegg reduced the deficit to 5-3 on ten minutes with a penalty directly in front of the posts after Northampton were penalised for infringing at the ruck. The league leaders doubled their tally of tries for the afternoon with a quarter-of-an-hour played when Stephenson powered his way through a gap to cross under the posts. Myler’s simple conversion made it 12-3.
Clegg kept chipping away at Northampton’s score with his second penalty of the contest on 19 minutes closing the gap to 12-6. The Falcons No.10 had the chance to notch over a third penalty with less than ten minutes remaining of the first half, but this time his kick whistled past the post.
Northampton immediately went on the charge, and Wilson soon bagged his second and Northampton’s third try of the game following excellent work from George Pisi. Pisi was the architect, offloading to Wilson for the score. Myler’s conversion extended his side’s advantage to 19-6 going into the interval.
It was evident from the outset of the second stanza that Newcastle changed their tact a little, keeping the ball in hand in favour of putting boot to ball. The northeasterners were camped on the Saints’ line with the hour mark looming. Replacement centre Adam Powell had the crowd in full voice thanks to his line break from half way. Powell broke through a hole in Northampton’s rear-guard before offloading to Chris York, who in turn found skipper Will Welch to gain valuable metres. Try as they might, Newcastle peppered Northampton’s line, but to no avail as the men from Franklin’s Gardens demonstrated their strength in defence to keep Newcastle at bay. A Clegg penalty on 58 minutes were the only points that Newcastle had to show for their period of sustained pressure.
Myler replicated Clegg’s feat with a penalty four minutes later to edge the Saints further ahead at 22-9. Down and out, not a bit of it. Dean Richard’s troops showed immense character to set-up a dramatic finale thanks to Cato’s late intercept try. With Northampton giving the ball air in search of the try bonus point, Cato took full advantage of a wayward pass from George Pisi to dash 35 metres for a crucial five points to the delight of the majority of the Kingston Park crowd. Cato crossed to the right of the posts, making the conversion a mammoth challenge in the swirling North East wind. Hodgson, who came on for Clegg with 15 minutes to go showed nerves of steel to arrow the conversion between the sticks to claim a losing bonus point ahead of next week’s clash with Leicester Tigers at Kingston Park.
Tait, Cato, Tiesi, Helleur, Shortland, Clegg, Blair, Vickers, Thompson, Tomaszczyk, MacLeod, McKenzie, Wilson, Welch, Hogg
Replacements McGuigan, Strain, Brookes, Tomes, York, Fury, Hodgson, Powell
Wilson, Pisi, Pisi, Stephenson, Elliott, Myler, Fotuali'I, Waller, Haywood, Ma'afu, Manoa, Day, Clark, Dowson, Dickinson
Replacements McMillan, Waller, Denman, van Velze, Nutley, Day, Dickson, Autagavaia
referee: Andrew Small