A last-minute try from Nili Latu and a Sonatane Takulua conversion handed Newcastle Falcons a precious Aviva Premiership victory in the most dramatic of fashions on Friday night at Franklin’s Gardens.
The Falcons suffered a nervy moment just nine seconds in when the television match official ruled no-try to Ben Foden in the left corner, the Welsh winger having knocked on leaping high into the night sky in pursuit of a deep kick-off.
Newcastle were showing more variety in their game with heavy midfield running from Josh Matavesi, Fijian compatriot Vereniki Goneva gaining some early yards out wide in a game which saw few clear-cut chances during the early sparring.
The deadlock lasted until the quarter mark, when Northampton kicked a penalty to the corner and scored from the resulting phases, Harry Mallinder gliding through a gap despite Newcastle having defended the driving maul effectively.
The Falcons hit back and assumed a two-point lead within five minutes, eager ruck work from Kyle Cooper winning a penalty on halfway, setting up the lineout from which his team ultimately scored when Sinoti Sinoti rolled free of his tackler to ground down the left-hand side.
Toby Flood converted, and he did so again within five minutes when Matavesi powered over for the visitors’ second try – Chris Harris’ line-break supported by Sinoti who fed Matavesi from close range.
Northampton responded with a penalty try when Flood was sin-binned for collapsing a maul near his own posts, and it took heroic defence from the Falcons to maintain their 14-12 half-time lead as Northampton were held up over the line and then repelled from a series of close-range attacks.
More stern defence was required in the opening exchanges of the second half when the Saints had a maul in the right corner repelled by a committed Newcastle pack, and the visitors added another three to their lead when over-eagerness at ruck time handed Flood a penalty 35 metres out and just right of centre.
A rock-solid set piece was at the heart of the Falcons’ effort, Calum Green and Sean Robinson both rising high in the line-out, while the Saints got little change out of a fired-up Newcastle scrum.
The home side assumed a two-point lead on the hour mark when a maul in the right corner saw Dylan Hartley driven over, England international Piers Francis converting well from the wide out.
Chris Harris produced a try-saving tackle near his own line when Northampton countered down the right from a trademark Sinoti run, and the television match official ruled out Ahsee Tuala’s try after a clear and obvious knock-on at the base of the previous ruck.
The hosts had to make do with a Francis penalty as they pushed their advantage to five on 70 minutes, but there was a sting in the tail as a monumental late attack from Newcastle ended with Latu crashing over from close range, Takulua holding his nerve with the conversion.
Northampton Saints: 15 Harry Mallinder, 14 Juan Pablo Estelles, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Stephenson (Ahsee Tuala, 44), 11 Ben Foden, 10 James Grayson (Piers Francis, 40), 9 Cobus Reinach (Nic Groom, 60); 1 Alex Waller (Francois van Wyk, 77), 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 3 Jamal Ford-Robinson (Paul Hill, 71), 4 Michael Paterson, 5 Courtney Lawes, 6 Jamie Gibson, 7 Tom Wood, 8 Teimana Harrison.
Saints scorers - Tries: Harry Mallinder, Penalty try, Dylan Hartley. Conversions: Piers Francis. Penalties: Piers Francis.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood (Joel Hodgson, 71), 9 Sonatane Takulua; 1 Rob Vickers (Sami Mavinga, 70), 2 Kyle Cooper (Scott Lawson, 65), 3 Jon Welsh, 4 Calum Green (Will Witty, 70), 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Will Welch (captain), 7 Gary Graham, 8 Mark Wilson (Nili Latu, 66).
Falcons scorers - Tries: Sinoti Sinoti, Josh Matavesi, Nili Latu. Conversions: Toby Flood 2. Penalties: Toby Flood.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys.
Mallinder, Estelles, Horne, Stephenson, Foden, Grayson, Reinach, Waller, Hartley, Ford-Robinson, Paterson, Lawes, Wood, Gibson, Harrison
Replacements Haywood, van Wyk, Hill, Ratuniyarawa, Eadie, Groom, Francis, Tuala
Hammersley, Goneva, Harris, Matavesi, Sinoti, Flood, Takulua, Vickers, Cooper, Welsh, Green, Robinson, Welch, Graham, Wilson
Replacements Lawson, Mavinga, Wilson, Witty, Latu, Stuart, Hodgson, Tait
referee: Craig Maxwell-keys
assistant: Christophe Ridley
assistant: Simon McConnell
TMO: David Grashoff