A hat-trick from George McGuigan was not enough for Newcastle Falcons on Saturday as a late penalty from Jimmy Gopperth handed Wasps a home victory.
The sides went toe-to-toe for the full 80, but it all came down to a long-range effort from the former Falcons fly-half, who found his target despite slipping over in the act of kicking.
A bright start from the Falcons saw them 17-14 up at the break – winning the early kicking battle and finding themselves held up over the try-line when Mateo Carreras attacked down the left.
Wasps found themselves in a similar position when prop Biyi Alo was held up over the line in the left corner from a Zach Kibirige break – Newcastle defending a string of close-range scrums and line-outs before eventually clearing their lines.
The injury-enforced departure of co-captain Callum Chick after just 12 minutes was a blow for the visitors, but it was they who opened the scoring two minutes later when fly-half Will Haydon-Wood slotted a penalty from 30 metres out in front.
They took their lead to double figures on 21 minutes with a memorable score for the front-row union – Adam Brocklebank’s rampaging 60-metre run down the centre of the field enabling George McGuigan to pick up and power over from close-range.
Haydon-Wood converted, but their lead was soon cut to three when Dan Robson sped in on a supporting line for Wasps – former Falcon Jimmy Gopperth adding the extras.
Newcastle missed an opportunity to double their advantage when Haydon-Wood pulled wide from a penalty on the right-hand side, but a familiar source delivered the goods on 36 minutes when McGuigan was driven over for his 13th try in 20 games this season.
That was the result of a magnificent touch-finder from Haydon-Wood as a dominant Newcastle scrum won yet another penalty on halfway – their fly-half biting off a big chunk of territory from a narrow angle to set up the line-out.
Haydon-Wood added the extras from just inside the left touchline, but Wasps cut the Falcons’ half-time lead to 17-14 with the final play of the opening 40 when Joe Launchbury reached an arm out of a tackle to score a converted try between the posts.
A cagey start to the second half saw neither side wanting to be caught in possession in the middle third, but it was Wasps who drew first blood when Gopperth’s 50th-minute penalty from in front on the 22 drew the teams level.
The Falcons threatened around the hour mark when Radwan broke from halfway and chipped ahead down the right, the flying winger beaten only by the bouncing ball as he attempted to ground the score.
But his side did not have long to wait for their third try, George McGuigan completing his hat-trick from a driving maul in the right corner after scrum-half Will Porter had been sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on.
Haydon-Wood’s conversion put the Falcons seven points up, but again they were quickly pulled back in when home prop Tom West drew the sides level with a converted pick-and-go try between the posts.
Which meant it all came down to Gopperth’s 40-metre penalty with three minutes left on the clock, the Newcastle old boy clinching four points for the home side.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Penny (co-captain), 14 Adam Radwan, 13 George Wacokecoke, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Mateo Carreras, 10 Will Haydon-Wood (Brett Connon, 70), 9 Louis Schreuder (Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, 64); 1 Adam Brocklebank (Conrad Cade, 77), 2 George McGuigan (Jamie Blamire, 75), 3 Trevor Davison (Mark Tampin, 67), 4 Greg Peterson (Marco Fuser, 70), 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Will Welch, 7 Freddie Lockwood, 8 Callum Chick (co-captain, Connor Collett, 12).
Scorers - Tries: George McGuigan 3. Conversions: Will Haydon-Wood 3. Penalties: Will Haydon-Wood.
Wasps: 15 Zach Kibirige, 14 Paolo Odogwu, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jacob Umaga, 9 Dan Robson (Will Porter, 50); 1 Robin Hislop (Tom West, 30), 2 Gabriel Oghre (Dan Frost, 50), 3 Biyi Alo (Elliot Millar-Mills, 62), 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 5 Elliott Stooke, 6 Brad Shields (Tom Willis, 59), 7 Jack Willis, 8 Alfie Barbeary.
Scorers - Tries: Dan Robson, Joe Launchbury, Tom West. Conversions: Jimmy Gopperth 3. Penalties: Jimmy Gopperth 2.
Referee: Andrew Jackson.
Kibirige, Odogwu, Fekitoa, Gopperth, Bassett, Umaga, Robson, Hislop, Oghre, Alo, Launchbury, Stooke, Shields, Willis, Barbeary
Replacements Frost, West, Millar-Mills, Fifita, Willis, Porter, Spink, Watson
Penny, Radwan, Wacokecoke, Burrell, Carreras, Haydon-Wood, Schreuder, Brocklebank, McGuigan, Davison, Peterson, Robinson, Welch, Lockwood, Chick
Replacements Blamire, Cade, Tampin, Fuser, Collett, Nordli-Kelemeti, Connon, Orlando
referee: Andrew Jackson
assistant: Adam Leal
assistant: Simon Harding
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure