Newcastle Falcons were denied a bonus point at Gallagher Premiership champions Saracens in the most agonising of fashions, Alex Lozowski awarded a controversial try with the very last play following a lengthy TMO consultation.
The Falcons more than held their own during the early exchanges, forcing errors from the home side and mounting a penetrating attack from a scrum on their own 22 which saw them get deep into Saracens territory through a mixture of sound running lines and astute offloading.
The ball was eventually knocked on on that occasion but the Falcons kept fighting, and enjoyed a couple of early incursions via the enthusiastic carrying of players including fit-again Alex Tait and debutant Rodney Ah You.
Ah You was putting in an impressive shift at scrum time, too, as a dominant Falcons eight won a penalty at their first set piece, Takulua sniping from the base of another early scrum as they tried to make use of front-foot ball.
Twice in quick succession Saracens kicked the ball out on the full in the face of fierce Newcastle line-speed, but the wall of black stood firm with the visitors unable to convert their territory and possession into points.
That finally changed on 23 minutes when repeated infringements allowed Takulua a shot at goal from the left-hand side, the Tonga captain bisecting the uprights from the 15-metre line for the first score of the day.
Callum Chick’s line-out steal on his own 22 denied Sarries a foot-hold as the home fans grew increasingly restless, but they had reason to cheer on 35 minutes when an 80-metre counter-attack including a series of well-judged offloads delivered an unconverted try in the left corner for Sean Maitland.
The Falcons bounced back and took a 6-5 lead into the interval when Takulua stroked over a penalty from the right, Gary Graham having earned a penalty from the restart with his enthusiastic chasing and disruption of home possession.
Saracens began the second half on the front foot despite playing into the wind, kicking a penalty to the left corner but finding themselves thwarted when Sinoti Sinoti’s keen ruck work earned a relieving penalty for the visitors.
A scrum-five near their own try-line yielded more defensive gains for Newcastle when they were awarded a free kick, but they trailed on 57 minutes when another 80-metre counter-attack saw Max Malins scoring down the left.
Takulua shaved three points off the champions’ lead with a long-range penalty just after the hour mark following a late hit on Toby Flood, but Saracens ground out a third try when Nick Tompkins scored from a driving maul in the right corner.
Farrell’s conversion took the gap out to ten points with as many minutes remaining, Takulua responding with a booming 55-metre penalty which had plenty to spare, putting his team within the all-important bonus-point buffer.
But there was a late sting in the tail, Alex Lozowski denying the Falcons their consolation with a last-minute try after a lengthy TMO deliberation.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi (Alex Dunbar, 70), 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood (captain), 9 Sonatane Takulua; 1 Logovi'i Mulipola (Sam Lockwood, 70), 2 George McGuigan (Kyle Cooper, 70), 3 Rodney Ah You (David Wilson, 57), 4 Evan Olmstead, 5 Calum Green (Sean Robinson, 70), 6 Gary Graham, 7 John Hardie, 8 Callum Chick.
Falcons scorers - Penalties: Sonatane Takulua 4.
Saracens: 15 Max Malins, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Alex Lozowski, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Ben Spencer; 1 Richard Barrington (Ralph Adams-Hale, 72), 2 Tom Woolstencroft (Christopher Tolofua, 44), 3 Vincent Koch (Tito Lamositele, 44), 4 Maro Itoje, 5 George Kruis (Nick Isiekwe, 72), 6 Mike Rhodes, 7 Schalk Burger, 8 Ben Earl (Calum Clark, 57).
Saracens scorers - Tries: Sean Maitland, Max Malins, Nick Tompkins, Alex Lozowski. Conversions: Owen Farrell 3.
Referee: Karl Dickson. Attendance: 9,056.
Malins, Maitland, Lozowski, Tompkins, Lewington, Farrell, Spencer, Barrington, Woolstencroft, Koch, Itoje, Kruis, Rhodes, Burger, Earl
Replacements Tolofua, Adams-Hale, Lamositele, Isiekwe, Clark, Whiteley, Morris, Gallagher
Tait, Goneva, Harris, Matavesi, Sinoti, Flood, Takulua, Mulipola, McGuigan, Ah You, Olmstead, Green, Graham, Hardie, Chick
Replacements Cooper, Lockwood, Wilson, Robinson, Witty, Stuart, Connon, Dunbar
referee: Karl Dickson
assistant: George Selwood
assistant: Steve Lee
TMO: David Rose