Newcastle Falcons missed out on the consolation of a losing bonus point from Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership trip to Saracens, conceding a try with the last play of the game.
Leading 17-3 at one stage but encountering a second-half backlash, a late try from a pick and go doubled the agony.
Strong defence from the Falcons had denied Sarries a try on four minutes when they kicked a penalty to the left corner, only for the visitors to turn over the resulting maul.
An eager Newcastle side attacked through Sean Robinson down the right, and their hosts were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes when Sean Maitland saw yellow for a high tackle on Brett Connon.
It did not prevent Saracens taking the lead on 12 minutes when Owen Farrell sent over a simple penalty from 25 metres out in front, the Falcons having held on too long in contact.
Newcastle responded right from the re-start, earning a scrum 20 metres out and feeding Nathan Earle down the left. The former Saracen ran out of room but the attack continued back infield, from where full-back Mike Brown recorded a debut try as he hit a short ball on a wonderful straightening line to score between the posts.
Connon added the conversion, and the remarkable start continued on 21 minutes when Ben Stevenson raced 20 metres into the left corner from turnover ball to dot down his team’s second try.
Connon sent over the touchline conversion, Sarries having a Tim Swinson try chalked off by the video referee after some amazing scramble from Sean Robinson prevented the grounding.
The Londoners twice kicked penalties to the corner only to return empty-handed, Newcastle’s maul defence rising to the challenge, and the Falcons extended their lead to 14 points when Connon sent over a penalty from 30 metres out down the right.
Saracens finally converted an attacking line-out into points on 37 minutes when a penalty try in the right corner for a collapsed maul saw George McGuigan sent to the sin bin, cutting Newcastle’s half-time lead to 17-10.
Saracens began the second half looking to make the extra man count, and finally did so on 49 minutes when a succession of red-zone penalties ended with hooker Jamie George scoring from a quick tap down the left.
Farrell’s conversion drew the teams level, and the Londoners led on 53 minutes when Lions prop Mako Vunipola broke through the middle of a maul in the left corner to score a converted try.
Farrell added a penalty from 40 metres to put his side 10 ahead going into the last half-hour, Connon replying on 69 minutes with an effort from similar range.
Replacement hooker Jamie Blamire came agonisingly close to an interception on the Saracens 22 only to fractionally knock on, Connon and Farrell exchanging late penalties before a late Billy Vunipola try denied the Falcons the bonus point their efforts deserved.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Ben Stevenson, 12 Pete Lucock (George Wacokecoke, 62), 11 Nathan Earle, 10 Brett Connon, 9 Louis Schreuder (Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, 69); 1 Adam Brocklebank (Kyle Cooper, 53), 2 George McGuigan (Jamie Blamire, 63), 3 Trevor Davison (Logovi’i Mulipola, 49), 4 Marco Fuser (Will Montgomery, 53), 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Gary Graham (Josh Basham, 62), 7 Will Welch (captain), 8 Callum Chick.
Scorers – Tries: Mike Brown, Ben Stevenson. Conversions: Brett Connon 2. Penalties: Brett Connon 3.
Saracens: 15 Max Malins, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Dom Morris (Nick Tompkins, 51), 12 Alex Lozowski, 11 Sean Maitland (Alex Goode, 51), 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Aled Davies; 1 Mako Vunipola (Eroni Mawi, 65), 2 Jamie George (Tom Woolstencroft, 70), 3 Marco Riccioni (Alec Clarey, 65), 4 Callum Hunter-Hill (Andy Christie, 51), 5 Tim Swinson (Sean Reffell, 75), 6 Nick Isiekwe, 7 Ben Earl, 8 Billy Vunipola.
Scorers – Tries: Penalty try, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola. Conversions: Owen Farrell 3. Penalties: Owen Farrell 3.
Referee: Ian Tempest.
Malins, Lewington, Morris, Lozowski, Maitland, Farrell, Davies, Vunipola, George, Riccioni, Hunter-Hill, Swinson, Isiekwe, Earl, Vunipola
Replacements Woolstencroft, Mawi, Clarey, Reffell, Christie, van Zyl, Goode, Tompkins
Brown, Radwan, Stevenson, Lucock, Earle, Connon, Schreuder, Brocklebank, McGuigan, Davison, Fuser, Robinson, Graham, Welch, Chick
Replacements Blamire, Cooper, Mulipola, Montgomery, Basham, Nordli-Kelemeti, Haydon-Wood, Wacokecoke
referee: Ian Tempest
assistant: John Meredith
TMO: Claire Hodnett
assistant: Alex Thomas