Newcastle Falcons showed fighting spirit in their first game of the 2014-15 Aviva Premiership season, despite falling victim to a heavy scoreline that belied their strong performance.
Newcastle Falcons showed plenty of fight on the Aviva Premiership's opening day, but a hat-trick from Fijian flyer Vereniki Goneva ensured they began the campaign with a 36-17 defeat at Leicester Tigers.
Trailing by just nine points after a competitive first half, the Tigers upped their intensity thereafter, leaving Newcastle still without a win at Welford Road since 1998.
Forced to battle on despite some controversial refereeing decisions, Newcastle made Leicester work for every single point and ended on a positive when Andy Saull was driven over for a late try.
The early signs had been upbeat as a fired-up Falcons side took the game to Leicester, Phil Godman moving the ball wide to Juan Pablo Socino in a partnership which shows every chance of growing.
The Argentinean repeatedly found himself in behind the Leicester defensive line, offloading neatly and kicking the corners from second receiver.
Sinoti Sinoti's early incursions saw the Samoan dancing his way past defenders in the manner Falcons fans have become accustomed to, and Simon Hammersley's Premiership debut showed no sign of nerves as the ex-Durham University man fielded a string of high bombs.
The boot of England fly-half Freddie Burns was Leicester's main weapon as he sent over four first-half penalties, the Tigers leading 6-0 on 17 minutes despite playing plenty of the game inside their own half.
Socino registered the visitors' first points of the season when he retained his composure to dab over a penalty from inside the 22, this despite the ball falling off the kicking tee as he made his approach.
The former Rotherham man simply stood it up again, took two steps back and immediately resumed his run-up, bisecting the uprights with ease.
Repeated scrum infringements gave Leicester a foot-hold into the game as Burns drilled through a further pair of penalties, Alesana Tuilagi receiving a huge cheer at his former club when he emerged for an early cameo from the blood bin.
Godman's control from stand-off continued to catch the eye as the Scotsman kept Leicester guessing, his side by no means out of the running by the half-time whistle came at 12-3.
Those hopes increased in the opening minute of the second half when Hammersley's counter-attack parted the Tigers defence, drawing the last man to give Richard Mayhew an unopposed run to the line.
Socino converted on a day when the ex-Rotherham man kicked three from three, but Goneva's quickfire hat-trick proved the clincher.
The first came via the video referee as Manu Tuilagi's run saw him bounce the ball off Phil Godman's shoulder, Goneva dotting down the follow-up despite cries of a knock-on.
Burns' dummy opened the gap for the second as the stand-off fed Goneva from five metres, but the third was more controversial as apparent offside from Leicester went unnoticed by the officials.
That was after Gonzalo Tiesi and Ruki Tipuna had opened up the defence, Tipuna's floated pass finding Goneva as the Fijian sprinted 90 metres to score.
French scrum-half David Mele grabbed the bonus point from the base of a five-metre scrum, Saull's try from a rolling maul at least ensuring the Falcons ended a promising day on a positive.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: R Vickers (A Rogers, 12, O Tomaszczyk, 73), G McGuigan (S Lawson, 40), O Tomaszczyk (K Brookes, 40), C Green (D Barrow, 62), J Furno, R Mayhew (A Saull, 62), W Welch (captain), A Hog, S Hammersley, S Sinoti, A Powell, JP Socino, N Cato (Al Tuilagi, 25-35, 50), P Godman (G Tiesi, 50), M Blair (R Tipuna, 50).
Falcons scorers – Tries: R Mayhew, A Saull. Conversions: JP Socino 2. Penalties: JP Socino.
LEICESTER TIGERS: L Mulipola (T Bristow, 67), L Ghiraldini (T Youngs, 46), F Balmain (T Pasquali, 73), S de Chaves (R Barbieri, 62), G Kitchener, J Gibson, J Salvi, J Crane, N Morris, B Scully, M Tuilagi (M Smith), S Bai (C Loamanu, 74), V Goneva, F Burns (O Williams, 69), B Youngs (captain, D Mele, 58).
Tigers scorers – Tries: V Goneva 3, D Mele. Conversions: F Burns 2. Penalties: F Burns 4.
Referee: L Pearce. Attendance: 22.639.
Morris, Scully, Tuilagi, Bai, Goneva, Burns, Youngs, Mulipola, Ghiraldini, Balmain, De Chaves, Kitchener, Gibson, Salvi, Crane
Replacements Youngs, Bristow, Pasquali, Barbieri, Loamanu, Mele, Williams, Smith
Hammersley, Sinoti, Powell, Socino, Cato, Godman, Blair, Vickers, McGuigan, Tomaszczyk, Green, Furno, Mayhew, Welch, Hogg
Replacements Lawson, Rogers, Brookes, Barrow, Saull, Tipuna, Tuilagi, Tiesi
referee: Luke Pearce
assistant: Andy Watson
assistant: Nigel Carrick
TMO: David Grashoff