Newcastle Falcons ground out their second victory of the Gallagher Premiership season as they held out against a gutsy Bath Rugby side on Friday night at Kingston Park Stadium.
Leading 10-5 at half-time and doing just enough in the final 40, it will not go down as a classic but will at least put precious points on the board on a night when the club extended their unbeaten home run to four matches in all competitions.
Having led out the team on the night of his 100th appearance Toby Flood was quickly to the fore, opening the scoring with a simple penalty from in front after early carries from Tom Arscott, Gary Graham and Nemani Nagusa saw the home side gaining promising early territory.
The boots of Flood and Simon Hammersley kept the Falcons at the right end of the field for much of the opening quarter, Bath losing fly-half Freddie Burns and full-back Tom Homer to injury inside 11 minutes but battling back well with a string of forays into the home half.
A well-organised and aggressive Newcastle defence repelled the initial danger, but the dam was finally broken on 27 minutes when replacement Ruaridh McConnochie sped in for an unconverted try in the left corner after a period of red-zone possession.
Newcastle responded to the blow in positive fashion, earning their reward on 37 minutes when a penalty on halfway was kicked out for an attacking line-out down the left. Slick off-the-top ball from Glen Young delivered the perfect platform, and when Sam Stuart fed a pass to the onrushing Johnny Williams the summer signing enjoyed a clear run to the try-line.
Captain Flood converted from in front, the Falcons’ 10-5 half-time lead secured only after another defensive set which saw John Hardie’s superb tackle preventing a potential second try for the visitors.
It was Bath who drew the first blood of the second half when Darren Atkins sent over a penalty from close range just left of centre, Newcastle having repelled a prolonged period of pick and go before finally infringing.
Flood fired fractionally wide with a penalty from 35 metres out down the left as the Falcons’ dominant scrum earned them a shot at goal, but he atoned shortly after when a shot from closer in bisected the uprights, Josh Bayliss sent to the sin bin for a tip tackle on the fly-half.
Momentum continued to swing further the way of the home side when replacement George McGuigan announced himself with a line-out steal and a line-break from his own 22 to halfway, John Hardie and Sam Lockwood supporting in an attack which was eventually ended on the Bath 22.
Flood’s third penalty of the night brought a two-score buffer for the Falcons with 10 minutes left to play, the stand-off slotting from the left after a Newcastle player was played in the air at line-out time.
It proved just enough to stave off the threat of a plucky Bath side, who attacked for much of the remaining play without ever threatening.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Tom Arscott, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Johnny Williams (Pedro Bettencourt, 43), 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood (captain), 9 Sam Stuart; 1 Sam Lockwood (Adam Brocklebank, 76), 2 Kyle Cooper (George McGuigan, 57), 3 Jon Welsh (David Wilson, 29), 4 Calum Green, 5 Glen Young (Andrew Davidson, 74), 6 Gary Graham, 7 John Hardie, 8 Nemani Nagusa.
Falcons scorers - Tries: Johnny Williams. Conversions: Toby Flood. Penalties: Toby Flood 3.
Bath Rugby: 15 Tom Homer (Ruaridh McConnochie, 11), 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Cooper Vuna (Chris Cook, 74), 10 Freddie Burns (Darren Atkins, 11), 9 Will Chudley; 1 Nathan Catt (Jacques van Rooyen, 62), 2 Tom Dunn (Jack Walker, 51), 3 Henry Thomas (Max Lahiff, 62), 4 Dave Attwood (Luke Charteris, 53), 5 Matt Garvey (captain, Levi Douglas, 68), 6 Tom Ellis, 7 Josh Bayliss, 8 Zach Mercer.
Bath scorers - Tries: Ruaridh McConnochie. Penalties: Darren Atkins.
Referee: Christophe Ridley. Attendance: 7,237.
Hammersley, Arscott, Harris, Williams, Sinoti, Flood, Stuart, Lockwood, Cooper, Welsh, Green, Young, Graham, Hardie, Nagusa
Replacements McGuigan, Brocklebank, Wilson, Davidson, Burrows, Dawson, Connon, Bettencourt
Homer, Rokoduguni, Willison, Roberts, Vuna, Burns, Chudley, Catt, Dunn, Thomas, Attwood, Garvey, Ellis, Bayliss, Mercer
Replacements Walker, Van Rooyen, Lahiff, Charteris, Douglas, Cook, McConnochie, Atkins
referee: Christophe Ridley
assistant: Wayne Falla
assistant: John Meredith
TMO: Trevor Fisher