Newcastle Falcons tasted defeat in their first Anglo-Welsh Cup game of the season despite a late rally on Sunday at Kingston Park Stadium.
The Falcons had trailed 13-6 at the midway point, Tom Collins scoring the only try of an opening half which promised plenty but delivered little as neither team managed to string their phases together.
The home side led on four minutes when fly-half Mike Delany sent over a penalty from in front, Newcastle threatening through a string of Fred Burdon line-breaks.
Sam Olver levelled matters with a similarly straightforward penalty, the Falcons repelling the Saints’ territorial game via the relieving boot of full-back Alex Tait.
Delany’s kicking delivered a prime attacking opportunity with a line-out in the left corner only for the ball to be stripped in the set-piece, while the visitors missed a pair of opportunities to nudge in front when Olver fired wide with both a drop-goal and penalty opportunity.
The Falcons’ attacking mind-set was apparent when Delany’s cheeky 22 drop-out found Burdon out wide, but it was the Saints who pounced for the opening try when a line-out on half-way and a Luther Burrell line-break freed Collins in a two-on-one.
Olver Converted, the home side having the final say of the half when a Sinoti Sinoti midfield run drew a high tackle 40 metres out, Delany driving home the resulting penalty.
Those three points were stolen back by the Saints when Olver thumped over a long-range penalty three minutes after the resumption, Newcastle kicking a penalty into touch for a line-out in prime attacking position but again failing to convert the set-piece.
Director of rugby Dean Richards sent on a whole new front-row for the final half-hour in search of a foot-hold, his side almost finding a try when Michael Young’s grubber was fumbled by Craig Willis as the onrushing centre attempted a difficult pick-up at high speed.
Delany cut the deficit to seven via a 56th minute penalty from a dominant scrum, Kenyan international Joshua Chisanga introduced for his competitive debut as the home team continued to chase down their visitors.
But the gap was extended back to 10 via Olver’s fourth penalty just after the hour mark, Joel Hodgson entering the fray for the closing quarter.
It was his offensive mind-set which finally delivered the Falcons a try on 69 minutes, Marcus Watson’s line-break and a Northampton infringement seeing Hodgson tapping quickly and feeding captain Alex Tait for a try between the posts.
Delany added the simple conversion to reduce the margin to three, but Rory Hutchinson chased down a kick to the right corner to dot down the decisive score for the Saints.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait (captain), 14 Marcus Watson, 13 Fred Burdon, 12 Craig Willis (Joel Hodgson, 62), 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Michael Young (Sam Egerton, 57); 1 Sam Lockwood (Rob Vickers, 49) ,2 Ben Sowrey (Scott Lawson, 49), 3 David Wilson (Jon Welsh, 49), 4 Will Witty, 5 Andrew Davidson (Glen Young, 64), 6 Ally Hogg, 7 Tyrone Holmes (Joshua Chisanga, 57), 8 Callum Chick.
Falcons scorers - Tries: Alex Tait. Conversions: Mike Delany. Penalties: Mike Delany 3.
Northampton Saints: 15 James Wilson, 14 Howard Packman (Jamie Elliott, 57), 13 Luther Burrell, 12 Rory Hutchinson, 11 Tom Collins, 10 Sam Olver, 9 Tom Kessell (Lee Dickson, 62); 1 Ethan Waller (Matt Beesley, 62), 2 Charlie Clare (James Fish, 66), 3 Paul Hill (Gareth Denman, 62), 4 Api Ratuniyarawa, 5 Christian Day (captain), 6 Jordan Onojaife, 7 Jamie Gibson, 8 Lewis Ludlam.
Saints scorers - Tries: Tom Collins, Rory Hutchinson. Conversions: Sam Olver. Penalties: Sam Olver 4.
Referee: Greg McDonald. Attendance: 4,257.