A long-range penalty from Joel Hodgson was enough to seal Newcastle Falcons a potentially precious away victory at Dragons as they preserved their unbeaten record in the European Challenge Cup at Rodney Parade on Friday night.
Newcastle had began the game brightly, earning field position through their forward carriers and forcing free kicks from the first two scrums in a demonstration of their pack power.
Having been held up over the try-line when Ryan Burrows’ impressive line-break was supported by Josh Matavesi and Gary Graham, the Falcons found themselves two tries up within 12 minutes.
The first of those came when a series of pick-and-goes near the goalposts saw the ball flung wide to the left, Joel Hodgson finding Adam Radwan in space for the simplest of finishes.
Hodgson was on the money with his touchline conversion, and repeated the trick from further in just two minutes later when Zach Kibirige hacked a loose ball ahead to score down the right.
The Dragons came back into the game when a penalty was kicked to the right corner for hooker Elliot Dee to score from a driving maul, Gavin Henson converting impressively from wide out.
They repeated the trick on 22 minutes when another catch-and-drive delivered exactly the same outcome for Dee and Henson, who put his side in front with a simple penalty on 25 minutes as Newcastle strayed offside.
Hodgson replied with a penalty from just right of centre to restore parity, and just after the half-hour he added the conversion which gave his side a 24-17 half-time lead after Simon Hammersley’s line-break was supported by Gary Graham for a try between the posts.
A cagey start to the second half was finally broken 12 minutes after the resumption when Ashton Hewitt scored the Dragons’ third try in the right corner, Newcastle repelling a maul down the other side but finding themselves out-numbered when the ball was spun to the width.
Henson’s failed conversion attempt left the visitors two ahead, but the former Wales and Lions star regained his range from a long-range penalty to give his side a single-point advantage as the hour mark passed.
Hodgson repaid the favour with a 40-metre strike of his own to put the visitors back ahead when Matavesi’s strong midfield running and the support play of Trevor Davison forced the Dragons to infringe at ruck time.
It all set up a gripping climax with both sides going at it, Newcastle having a try disallowed for obstruction when Gary Graham ploughed over from a close-range line-out after a penalty was kicked to the left corner.
Dragons had a try of their own chalked off when a kick to the right corner was knocked on, Newcastle repelling a crucial driving maul in the left corner in the dying moments as they held on for a precious win in the context of the group.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Tom Penny, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Adam Radwan, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Sam Stuart (Michael Young, 57); 1 Sam Lockwood (Rob Vickers, 57), 2 Ben Sowrey, 3 Scott Wilson, 4 Will Witty, 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Mark Wilson (captain), 7 Gary Graham, 8 Ryan Burrows.
Falcons scorers - Tries: Adam Radwan, Zach Kibirige, Gary Graham. Conversions: Joel Hodgson 3. Penalties: Joel Hodgson 2.
Dragons: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Jared Rosser, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Gavin Henson, 9 Dan Babos; 1 Sam Hobbs, 2 Elliot Dee, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother (Thomas Davies, 59), 4 Joe Davies (Rynard Landman, 70), 5 Cory Hill (captain), 6 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Ben Roach (James Sheekey, 70), 8 James Benjamin.
Dragons scorers - Tries: Elliot Dee 2, Ashton Hewitt. Conversions: Gavin Henson 2. Penalties: Gavin Henson 2.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland).