Newcastle Falcons succumbed to defeat against a star-studded Northampton Saints outfit at Franklin’s Gardens in the Aviva Premiership on Saturday.
A Saints unit buoyed by the return of England internationals Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes and Dylan Hartley proved too hot to handle on a crisp autumn afternoon.
Tries from Ashton (2), Vasily Artemyev (2) and former Falcon Tom May (2) secured a bonus point victory for last season’s Heineken Cup finalists.
Alan Tait’s men must now dust themselves down and prepare for next week’s Premiership showdown with Worcester Warriors at Kingston Park (kick-off 7.45pm).
And with tickets reduced to £10 adults and £5 juniors the club is calling on all fans from the North East and Cumbria to get right behind the Falcons.
Both sides exchanged a penalty each within the first six minutes of the game thanks to the boot of Ryan Lamb and Jimmy Gopperth respectively.
The Falcons demonstrated a steely defensive rearguard to repel a barrage of Saints pressure with Rikki Sheriffe’s smash on giant prop Soane Tonga’uiha the pick of the tackles.
However on 12 minutes Jim Mallender’s men turned pressure into points thanks to a well worked move finished off by May who took advantage of an overlap.
Lamb missed the touchline conversion with the Saints surging into an 8-3 lead. May doubled his tally of tries six minutes later crashing over from close range following a sweeping counter-attacking set.
Newcastle went close to crossing the whitewash themselves when Sheriffe drilled a loose ball behind the Saints defence only for a covering defender to get to the ball ahead of the Yorkshire flyer.
But Tait’s side soon clawed their way back into the game through a 35-metre Gopperth penalty to reduce the arrears to 15-6, before the Kiwi repeated the feat moments later following Lawes’ cheap shot on full-back Jeremy Manning.
The northeasterners got into the groove and with the forwards integrating well together the men from Kingston Park went within just three points of their Saints counterparts.
Gopperth found himself in perfect field position to nail a drop-goal to make it 15-12 in favour of the hosts.
At 15-12 the Falcons would have been delighted to have got to the break only three points adrift. Fly-half Lamb had other ideas though, extending his side’s advantage to 18-12 with a well executed penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Within just minutes of the restart Northampton’s Lamb made a clean break and fed Russian wingman Artemyev to scoot in to the bottom left corner for a five point score.
23-12 down the Falcons continued to show attacking adventure with the likes of Gopperth, Jamie Helleur and Corne Uys coming to the fore.
Gopperth went close to breaching the opposition’s defensive line slicing through a gap only to have the ball ripped out of his grasp by a desperate Saints tackler.
With just over 20 minutes left on the clock Artemyev ensured he had a brace of tries to show for his efforts with Lamb adding the extras for a commanding 30-12 lead.
Gopperth reduced the home side’s advantage to 30-15 before England wing ace Ashton backed up a vibrant Saints attack to cross under the posts.
Lamb converted from bang in front to make it 37-15 and five minutes from time Ashton rubber stamped his side’s victory with a length of the field dash to the try line.
A Falcons knock-on was pounced on by the rugby league convert who had a clear run to the line. Myler converted to record a 44-15 triumph for his side.
Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Jon Clarke, 12 Tom May, 11 Vasily Artemyev, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Lee Dickson, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 3 Brian Mujati, 4 Samu Manoa, 5 Courtney Lawes, 6 Calum Clark, 7 Tom Wood, 8 Phil Dowson
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Paul Doran Jones, 20 Roger Wilson, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Scott Armstrong
Newcastle: 15 Jeremy Manning, 14 Luke Eves, 13 Corne Uys, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Rikki Sheriffe, 10 Jimmy Gopperth (c), 9 Chris Pilgrim, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Joe Graham, 3 Euan Murray, 4 Tim Swinson, 5 Andrew van der Heijden, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch, 8 Ally Hogg
Replacements: 16 Michael Mayhew, 17 Ashley Wells, 18 Dan Frazier, 19 Glen Townson, 20 Redford Pennycook, 21 Jordi Pasqualin, 22 Alex Tait, 23 Greg Goosen