Bath - 34
Newcastle Falcons - 26
There was no shortage of spirit but Newcastle Falcons tasted defeat on the opening weekend of the Gallagher Premiership season as Bath took all five points at The Rec.
The visitors trailed 24-16 at half-time but led almost straight from the first play – Brett Connon slotting a simple penalty from in front of the posts after Bath failed to deal with the kick-off.
The fly-half doubled his side’s lead on eight minutes when more pressure around the home 22 saw Bath straying offside, with the Cumbrian once again on the money from the kicking tee.
Newcastle were reduced to 14 men for ten minutes when winger Ben Stevenson was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on, and the home side made it count from the resulting penalty – kicking to the right corner and scoring through a pick-and-go from Alfie Barbeary.
The missed conversion left the Falcons ahead by one, but they extended that to four courtesy of Connon’s third successful penalty – this time from 45 metres out on the right after Hugh O’Sullivan’s snipe from a midfield maul.
O’Sullivan produced a try-saving tackle from a short-side scrum play, but his opposite number Ben Spencer put Bath ahead for the first time on 21 minutes when he collected a scoring pass from Joe Cokanasiga to race into the right corner for an unconverted try.
Newcastle responded brilliantly when Matias Orlando scored a try down the right, with a line-out on the other wing worked infield into a sequence of pick and go. Play was eventually fed to the right, and when Orlando was felled just short of the line the Argentina centre released the ball, picked it up again and dotted down over the line.
Connon’s 100% kicking record stayed in tact with a beautifully-judged conversion from the right-hand side, but the Falcons trailed on the half-hour when Cameron Redpath scored from the back of a line-out and Spencer added the extras.
The TV match official denied Stevenson a try after ruling his foot was in touch as he dived in at the left corner, ignoring suggestions of a high tackle on the winger, and the blow was compounded with the last play of the half when Spencer collected an inside pop to sprint in for the bonus-point try.
His conversion of his own score put Bath 24-16 up at the break, but the Falcons’ intent to keep the ball alive remained in the second half when a slick handling move freed Adam Radwan down the right.
The winger had a foot in touch as he attempted to deliver the scoring pass, but Bath were more clinical in converting their opportunities when Spencer regathered his own kick down the left to complete his hat-trick.
Stevenson hit back on 52 minutes when the TMO awarded a try in the left corner after the winger kicked ahead and dived on the loose ball in the left corner, but his side were back down to 14 men when debutant Rory Jennings was sin-binned for a high tackle.
The Falcons kept plugging away and earned a penalty in the right corner from Jamie Blamire’s break, only for Bath to steal the lineout and clear downfield, and when Will Muir scored in the left corner for Bath ten minutes from time the gap was too big for the visitors to bridge – even when Blamire scored from a last-minute maul.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Ben Redshaw (Elliott Obatoyinbo, 54), 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Tom Penny (Rory Jennings, 50), 12 Matias Orlando, 11 Ben Stevenson, 10 Brett Connon, 9 Hugh O’Sullivan (Sam Stuart, 51); 1 Adam Brocklebank (Phil Brantingham, 51), 2 Jamie Blamire, 3 Murray McCallum (Mark Tampin, 56), 4 Philip van der Walt (Michael van Vuuren, 68), 5 Sebastian de Chaves (Kiran McDonald, 59), 6 Freddie Lockwood (Sam Cross, 53), 7 Guy Pepper, 8 Callum Chick (captain).
Scorer – Tries: Matias Orlando, Ben Stevenson, Jamie Blamire. Conversions: Brett Connon. Penalties: Brett Connon 3.
Bath: 15 Matt Gallagher, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Max Ojomoh (Finn Russell, 31), 12 Cameron Redpath, 11 Will Muir (Tom de Glanville,70), 10 Orlando Bailey, 9 Ben Spencer (Louis Schreuder, 70); 1 Beno Obano, 2 Tom Dunn (Niall Annett, 59), 3 Thomas Du Toit (Johannes Jonker, 68), 4 Quinn Roux (Fergus Lee-Warner, 73), 5 Charlie Ewels, 6 Ted Hill, 7 Chris Cloete, 8 Alfie Barbeary (Miles Reid, 59).
Scorer – Tries: Alfie Barbeary, Ben Spencer 3, Cameron Redpath, Will Muir. Conversions: Ben Spencer 2.
Referee: Dan Jones. Attendance: 9,680.