Battling Newcastle Falcons ended their season with a bonus point in defeat to Northampton Saints, mounting a second-half surge but finding themselves out-gunned by the Gallagher Premiership semi-finalists.
Trailing 36-7 at half-time but scoring three tries in less than 20 minutes to give the home side a fright, a red card to Sean Robinson and a resurgent Saints climax ensured the result was beyond doubt.
Newcastle were three points down after as many minutes when Dan Biggar slotted a penalty from 35 metres out in front.
Saints missed a chance to add to their lead when they kicked a penalty to the left corner only for the Falcons to steal the resulting set-piece, but the home side made up for it shortly after when hooker Sam Matavesi hacked a loose ball to the in-goal before diving on it for an unconverted try.
Attacks from Alex Tait and Matias Orlando saw the visitors threatening out wide, but it was all Northampton on the scoreboard when Alex Coles scored their second try on 19 minutes – the lock rounding off a two-on-one for a converted try between the posts.
Matavesi broke from the back of a maul in the left corner to grab his second try of the day just after the quarter mark, but the Falcons responded in style when skipper Callum Chick hit a super midfield line and raced home from 45 metres out.
Hodgson converted, but the Saints resumed their dominance when scrum-half Alex Mitchell scored on a supporting line down the right.
Newcastle almost found a second when Gary Graham broke away down the left, but it was the Saints who had the final say of the half when quick hands along the line enabled Tommy Freeman to score their fifth try.
Biggar’s conversion put them 36-7 up at the break, but the Falcons had the first say of the second half when a sequence of red-zone penalties ended up with a penalty try in the right corner – Alex Mitchell sent to the sin bin for side entry at a driving maul.
Newcastle kept their momentum going on 53 minutes when replacement hooker Jamie Blamire rumbled over from a catch-and-drive in the left corner, and it got even better before the hour mark when a 70-metre team move ended up with Adam Radwan scoring in the right corner.
Hodgson slotted the touchline conversion, but the tide turned back in the Saints’ favour on 61 minutes when Rory Hutchinson scored in the right corner, with Falcons lock Sean Robinson red-carded for a head contact in the build-up.
The extra man told within two minutes, Saints scoring again just two minutes later when a counter-attack saw them going 85 metres upfield to dot down – Tommy Freeman the man to round off the move.
Courtnall Skosan followed that up when he hacked ahead and won a foot-race to the loose ball for a converted try - Lewis Ludlam taking them past the 60 mark with the final play of the game.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Mateo Carreras, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti; 1 Adam Brocklebank, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Trevor Davison, 4 Greg Peterson, 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Gary Graham, 7 Josh Basham, 8 Callum Chick (captain).
Replacements: 16 Jamie Blamire, 17 Logovi’i Mulipola, 18 Conor Kenny, 19 George Merrick, 20 Carl Fearns, 21 James Blackett, 22 Will Haydon-Wood, 23 George Wacokecoke.
Scorers – Tries: Callum Chick, Penalty try, Jamie Blamire, Adam Radwan. Conversions: Joel Hodgson 2.
Northampton Saints: 15 George Furbank, 14 Matt Proctor, 13 Fraser Dingwall, 12 Rory Hutchinson, 11 Tommy Freeman, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Alex Mitchell; 1 Alex Waller, 2 Sam Matavesi, 3 Paul Hill, 4 Alex Coles, 5 Api Ratuniyarawa, 6 Courtney Lawes, 7 Aaron Hinkley, 8 Lewis Ludlam (captain).
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Emmanuel Iyogun, 18 Ehren Painter, 19 David Ribbans, 20 Brandon Nansen, 21 Juarno Augustus, 22 Tom James, 23 Courtnall Skosan.
Scorers – Tries: Sam Matavesi 2, Alex Coles, Alex Mitchell, Tommy Freeman 3, Rory Hutchinson, Courtnall Skosan, Lewis Ludlam. Conversions: Dan Biggar 6. Penalties: Dan Biggar.
Referee: Karl Dickson.
Furbank, Proctor, Dingwall, Hutchinson, Freeman, Biggar, Mitchell, Waller, Matavesi, Hill, Coles, Ratuniyarawa, Lawes, Hinkley, Ludlam
Replacements Haywood, Iyogun, Painter, Ribbans, Nansen, Augustus, James, Skosan
Tait, Radwan, Orlando, Burrell, Carreras, Hodgson, Nordli-Kelemeti, Brocklebank, McGuigan, Davison, Peterson, Robinson, Graham, Basham, Chick
Replacements Blamire, Mulipola, Kenny, Merrick, Fearns, Blackett, Haydon-Wood, Wacokecoke
referee: Karl Dickson
assistant: Michael Hudson
assistant: John Meredith
TMO: Stuart Terheege