Newcastle Falcons secured a place in next weekend’s European Challenge Cup quarter-finals after a thrilling away victory over a star-studded Ospreys side on Saturday at Liberty Stadium.
Battling back from 14-0 down, they will now travel to face Leicester Tigers in the last eight of the competition.
The Falcons began with plenty of attacking ambition, running the ball out of their own 22, and showed similar aggression in defence when Ospreys kicked an early penalty to the corner without any reward.
The home side sharpened their execution and registered the game’s first points eight minutes in, a scrum on halfway seeing George North break down the right, play being worked across the field and into the 22, where a sequence of close-quarter offloads eventually saw centre Keiran Williams crossing down the left.
Luke Price added the conversion, and was doing so again just four minutes later when a horrendous bounce of the ball from a chip ahead took out three Newcastle defenders – full-back Dan Evans the grateful recipient as he dotted down for a converted try in the left corner.
A solid Newcastle scrum was providing some degree of platform for the visitors, and their forward dominance delivered their first points of the day on 34 minutes when prop Trevor Davison ploughed over from a close-range pick-and-go in the left corner – Newcastle having had a try turned down by the TMO from similar range.
Home skipper Justin Tipuric by this stage was in the sin bin, and a resurgent Falcons were level 14-14 at half-time when they kicked a penalty to the right corner and earned a penalty try when their attacking maul was illegally collapsed.
Newcastle managed to continue their momentum after the interval, Sean Robinson rounding off a length-of-the-field move with a try in the right corner after build-up play from Pete Lucock, Callum Chick, Tom Penny and George Wacokecoke.
Connon slotted a brilliant touchline conversion, and even when Ospreys thought they had hit back through a try from the returning Tipuric the TMO rightly pulled play back for a forward pass.
The hosts narrowed the deficit to four points on 55 minutes when Price chipped over a simple penalty from in front of the posts, but Newcastle were not lying down and had a try chalked off by the TMO when George McGuigan went close from a latch pick in the right corner.
They did not have long to wait to get over that blow, Philip van der Walt barging his way over next to the posts for a pick-and-go try, converted by Connon for an 11-point lead with as many minutes remaining.
Ospreys responded with a carbon-copy try from Tom Botha, the conversion closing the gap to just four points in a dramatic climax which saw Mark Wilson sent to the sin bin, but the visitors still had what it took to close out the last few minutes and secure safe passage to the quarter-finals.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Penny, 14 George Wacokecoke, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Pete Lucock, 11 Ben Stevenson, 10 Brett Connon, 9 Michael Young; 1 Trevor Davison (Kyle Cooper, 61), 2 George McGuigan, 3 Logovi'i Mulipola (Mark Tampin, 61), 4 Greg Peterson, 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Will Welch (Philip van der Walt, 61), 7 Mark Wilson (captain), 8 Callum Chick.
Scorers – Tries: Trevor Davison, Penalty try, Sean Robinson, Philip van der Walt. Conversions: Brett Connon 3.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 George North, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Keelan Giles (Mat Protheroe, 62), 10 Luke Price (Josh Thomas, 71), 9 Reuben Morgan Williams (Shaun Venter, 62); 1 Nicky Smith (Garyn Phillips, 62), 2 Sam Parry (Ifan Phillips, 62), 3 Ma’afu Fia (Tom Botha, 53), 4 Adam Beard, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 6 Will Griffiths (Gareth Evans, 62), 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 8 Morgan Morris.
Scorers – Tries: Keiran Williams, Dan Evans, Tom Botha. Conversions: Luke Price 3. Penalties: Luke Price.
Referee: Ludovic Cayre (France).