Newcastle Falcons left it late to record their sixth successive Gallagher Premiership victory over Northampton Saints, Mark Wilson scoring the decisive try deep into added time on a day of high drama at Franklin’s Gardens.
Heading out in search of their third successive win at the venue the Falcons had got themselves off to the ideal start, Toby Flood sending over a penalty from the left-hand side after just three minutes following a Northampton infringement at line-out time.
The Saints grew into the half and embarked upon a period of patient pick and go near the Newcastle line, but the wall of green held firm as the visiting forwards stuck to their task around the fringes of the ruck.
Sam Stuart was steady on his own 22 in defusing a high bomb from the home side, and even with Northampton hogging much of the early possession the defensive work of the Falcons forward pack kept them at bay, Mark Wilson winning a jackal penalty outside of his own 22 and Nemani Nagusa showing plenty of physicality in the tackle.
An efficient Newcastle side doubled their lead on 25 minutes when Flood sent over a penalty from 30 metres out down the left-hand side, Northampton having been marched an additional 10 for back chat following an infringement near halfway.
Some fine jackal work from John Hardie near his own try-line won a relieving penalty as Northampton employed their close-range pick-and-go game, but the hosts assumed the lead for the first time on the half-hour when scrum-half Conus Reinach sped home for a try from 30 metres out, Dan Biggar converting.
The Falcons almost hit back immediately when Vereniki Goneva broke free down the short side from a ruck on the left, only to have the ball ripped clear 10 metres short of the line, but they were forced onto the defensive in the final throes of the half as they twice repelled Northampton line-outs in the right corner to keep the half-time score to Saints 7 Falcons 6.
Newcastle were certainly showing a willingness to play as the second half got underway, spinning the ball wide from a scrum on their own 22 in a move which saw Sinoti Sinoti breaking a tackle and getting across half-way.
Northampton had more joy turning their attacks into points, Reinach finding a second try on 50 minutes when a lineout on the right saw a midfield line-break from Teimana Harrison, who popped inside to his supporting scrum-half.
Biggar converted to extend the lead to eight, Newcastle showing plenty in attack with George McGuigan, Nagusa and Sinoti among the players making good yardage with ball in hand.
In defence, too, they were sticking to their task, repelling a Northampton catch-and-drive from five metres out after Biggar had turned down a shot at goal in favour of the attacking line-out.
Hopes of a fightback were raised on 70 minutes when Vereniki Goneva burst down the blindside, but the Fijian flyer was bundled into touch as he attempted to score in the right corner.
The Falcons got themselves to within the bonus point buffer when replacement Brett Connon hammered over a long-range penalty in his first act since coming on, adding a sense of late drama to a game which had never really got going.
The visitors had a flicker of hope with a couple of line-outs in the red zone but failed to make them count, but a dramatic finish took on a whole new complexion when a series of red zone penalties ended with Mark Wilson scoring against the base of the post, Flood adding the decisive conversion.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley (Brett Connon, 69), 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Johnny Williams (Pedro Bettencourt, 63), 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood (captain), 9 Sam Stuart (Sonatane Takulua, 49); 1 Sam Lockwood (Adam Brocklebank, 57), 2 Kyle Cooper (George McGuigan, 50), 3 David Wilson (Logovi’i Mulipola, 65), 4 Calum Green, 5 Sean Robinson (Andrew Davidson, 40), 6 Mark Wilson, 7 John Hardie, 8 Nemani Nagusa (Gary Graham, 67).
Falcons scorers – Tries: Mark Wilson. Conversions: Toby Flood. Penalties: Toby Flood 2, Brett Connon.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Andrew Kellaway (Ollie Sleightholme, 68), 13 Fraser Dingwall, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Cobus Reinach; 1 Alex Waller (co-captain, Francois van Wyk, 63), 2 Dylan Hartley (co-captain, Reece Marshall, 73), 3 Paul Hill (Ben Franks, 40), 4 David Ribbans (Api Ratuniyarawa, 67), 5 Courtney Lawes, 6 Jamie Gibson, 7 Lewis Ludlam, 8 Teimana Harrison.
Saints scorers - Tries: Cobus Reinach 2. Conversions: Dan Biggar 2.
Referee: Matthew Carley.
Tuala, Kellaway, Dingwall, Francis, Naiyaravoro, Biggar, Reinach, Waller, Hartley, Hill, Ribbans, Lawes, Gibson, Ludlam, Harrison
Replacements Marshall, van Wyk, Franks, Ratuniyarawa, Eadie, Mitchell, Burrell, Sleightholme
Hammersley, Goneva, Harris, Williams, Sinoti, Flood, Stuart, Lockwood, Cooper, Wilson, Green, Robinson, Wilson, Hardie, Nagusa
Replacements McGuigan, Brocklebank, Mulipola, Davidson, Graham, Takulua, Connon, Bettencourt
referee: Matthew Carley
assistant: Anthony Woodthorpe
assistant: Rob Warburton
TMO: David Grashoff