Newcastle Falcons suffered their first defeat of the campaign against Bristol Rugby on the final day of the regular RFU Championship season.
The Falcons went down 19-14 to a gutsy Bristol outfit, who gave a good account of themselves on a fine spring afternoon on Tyneside.
Leeds Carnegie now lie in wait for the Falcons in the play-off semi-finals, who held on for a 30-26 victory over Nottingham Rugby.
The defeat is the Falcons’ first defeat since losing 9-3 at home to Saracens in the penultimate game of the 2012-13 season.
As expected Andy Robinson’s men came out of the traps quickly with forwards Ross Johnson, Kyle Traynor and Jason Hobson making the hard yards upfront. The West Countryman knew that victory today, coupled with a Leeds defeat would be enough to qualify for the end of season play-offs.
Bristol had the chance to go three-up inside six minutes with a penalty in front of goal, but fly-half Adrian Jarvis failed miserably. 10 minutes later the former Leeds Carnegie No.10 made amends, striking home a penalty for a 3-0 lead.
Jarvis doubled his tally midway through the first-half with his second penalty to make it 6-0, before centre Fatua Otto raced in for a try on the half hour mark. Otto took a neat offload from scrum-half Ruki Tipuna for the score. Jarvis made no mistake with the extras to give his side the ascendancy at 13-0.
Jimmy Gopperth spurned a penalty from just inside Bristol’s half as half-time reared its head. And a minute from the break a trademark Mark Wilson carry towards the visitors’ try line had the Kingston Park faithful on their feet. From the breakdown the ball was switched to Tom Catterick on the nearside, who in turn fed Alex Tait, but the winger was hauled down just inches from the line.
Newcastle would get their reward for their endeavour in attack on the stroke of half-time through a Warren Fury touchdown. With numbers on the far side the ball was flung wide to Catterick who was thwarted five metres from the whitewash. Welsh international Fury scooped the ball up at the ruck to burrow his way over the line. Gopperth’s touchline conversion narrowed the gap to 13-7.
The hosts picked up where they left off in the opening phases of the second stanza with Ally Hogg crashing through a hole to score. Adam Powell’s scintillating break through Bristol’s rear-guard gave the Falcons the impetus, before the ball was moved to Hogg following quick ball at the breakdown. Gopperth’s sublime touchline conversion edged Newcastle 14-13 ahead.
On 51 minutes Newcastle enjoyed a slice of luck as Jarvis’ penalty hit the far post, with the ball falling kindly into Scott MacLeod’s hands.
However, Jarvis made no mistake 10 minutes later to go 16-14 in front after the Falcons were penalised for an infringement at the scrum.
Bristol went further ahead with another Jarvis penalty after referee Ian Tempest awarded a dubious penalty in front of goal.
The penalty would prove to be the decisive points of the match with Bristol claiming a hard-fought triumph despite a late flurry of Newcastle attacks.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Adam Powell, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Alex Tait, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Scott Wilson, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 Carlo del Fava, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg
Replacements: 16 Rob Vickers, 17 James Hall, 18 James Goode, 19 Richard Mayhew, 20 Jordi Pasqualin, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Michael Tait
Bristol Rugby: 15 Jon Goodridge, 14 George Watkins, 13 Fatua Otto, 12 Luke Eves, 11 Ryan Edwards, 10 Adrian Jarvis, 9 Ruki Tipuna, 1 Kyle Traynor, 2 Ross Johnson, 3 Jason Hobson, 4 Mariano Sambucetti, 5 Glen Townson, 6 Iain Grieve (c), 7 James Merriman, 8 Marco Mama
Replacements: 16 Rhys Lawrence, 17 Bruce Douglas, 18 Roy Winters, 19 Mitch Eadie, 20 James Grindal, 21 Tristan Roberts, 22 Jack Tovey
Referee: Ian Tempest