Newcastle Falcons bowed out of the Premiership Rugby Cup after a dramatic semi-final comeback from Northampton Saints on Saturday at Franklin’s Gardens.
A pulsating opening half saw the Falcons taking a 28-21 lead into the changing rooms, the visitors scoring four of the seven tries in a first 40 minutes which lacked for nothing in entertainment, but was followed by a sensational second half from the hosts.
Newcastle flew out of the traps and built a seven-point lead after just 88 seconds, off-the-top line-out ball from Andrew Davidson seeing play whipped from left to right, Sonatane Takulua grounding in the left corner after Vereniki Goneva’s break and Zach Kibirige’s offload.
Brett Connon converted majestically from out wide on the right for a Falcons side playing with real impetus, Nemani Nagusa gaining yards with a string of carries while Kibirige and co looked to probe the wide spaces.
The visitors doubled their advantage on nine minutes when Josh Matavesi’s hard midfield line saw the Fijian international racing in from the 22 to score between the posts, Connon adding the simple conversion for a Newcastle side showing genuine intensity and a willingness to find the space.
The tries continued to flow, Goneva cutting in from the 22 to score number three after just 14 minutes in front of a deathly silent home crowd, the visitors’ fluent phase play cutting the Saints’ defence to ribbons as Connon again slotted the conversion from in front.
Tom Arscott came close to adding a fourth with a midfield burst on 26 minutes, the Falcons showing discipline and patience in defence by repelling a number of counter-attacks from the home side, but finally seeing their line breached on 29 minutes when George Furbank scored in support of a Rory Hutchinson break.
James Grayson added the conversion from the right, but the Falcons responded in perfect fashion by scoring almost straight from the restart, a scrum 40 metres out delivering the platform for Kibirige to score in the right corner, latching on to a perfectly-weighted grubber by Goneva.
The Saints hit back with two tries in five minutes to reduce the half-time deficit to just seven points, Ahsee Tuala collecting an inside pass to score down the right before Lewis Ludlam rounded off a length-of-the-field counter-attack try which had stemmed from a Hutchinson break deep inside his own 22.
Northampton cut Newcastle’s lead to just two points when Jamie Gibson was awarded a try by the TMO after a break down the left just two minutes into the second half, only a mis-hit conversion by Grayson keeping the visitors in front.
That lead disappeared six minutes later when hooker James Fish collected a close-range offload to score a converted try down the right, Goneva having a try disallowed by the TMO for a double movement before Scotland centre Chris Harris broke a tackle to score Newcastle’s fifth down the left.
The missed conversion left the teams tied at 33-3 with half an hour remaining, the hosts nosing back in front on 56 minutes when giant wing Taqele Nairaravoro scored a converted try in the left corner.
A jackal penalty from Simon Uzokwe prevented further Northampton in-roads as the replacement back-rower fronted up in defence, but the Saints continued their dominance when Heinrich Brussouw broke from the back of a close-range maul to score a converted try.
Luther Burrell grabbed their next try down the right as Saints passed the 50-mark on 71 minutes, Brussouw crossing for a second time from the back of a maul to add further pain four minutes from time.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Arscott (Sinoti Sinoti, 52), 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Josh Matavesi (Chris Harris, 36), 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Brett Connon, 9 Sonatane Takulua (Sam Stuart, 64); 1 Trevor Davison (Adam Brocklebank, 26), 2 Santiago Socino (Kyle Cooper, 46), 3 David Wilson (Logovi’i Mulipola, 56), 4 Calum Green, 5 Andrew Davidson (Tevita Cavubati, 56), 6 Will Welch (captain), 7 Callum Chick, 8 Nemani Nagusa.
Falcons scorers - Tries: Sonatane Takulua, Josh Matavesi, Vereniki Goneva, Zach Kibirige, Chris Harris. Conversions: Brett Connon 4.
Northampton Saints: 15 George Furbank, 14 Ahsee Tuala (Tom Collins, 71), 13 Rory Hutchinson, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 James Grayson, 9 Cobus Reinach (Alex Mitchell, 50); 1 Francois van Wyk (Alex Waller, 52), 2 James Fish (Reece Marshall, 52), 3 Ehren Painter (Paul Hill, 52), 4 David Ribbans (Alex Moon, 71), 5 Api Ratuniyarawa, 6 Jamie Gibson (Heinrich Brussouw, 61), 7 Lewis Ludlam, 8 Teimana Harrison (Tom Wood, 6)(captain).
Saints scorers - Tries: George Furbank, Jamie Gibson, Lewis Ludlam, Ahsee Tuala, James Fish, Taqele Nairavavoro, Heinrich Brussouw 2, Luther Burrell. Conversions: James Grayson 7.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys.