Saracens 22 Newcastle Falcons 17
A pair of Ben Spencer penalties pushed it the way of the home side as the Falcons ran in three tries, matching their hosts in the set-piece and causing them problems from turnover ball.
Gonzalo Tiesi’s late withdrawal forced a last-minute reshuffle as Alesana Tuilagi was promoted to the starting line-up, with Tom Penny taking the Samoan’s space on the bench.
Having spoken during the week about the need to start well the visitors were as good as their word, some staunch defence of the driving maul earning them a penalty on the 22.
Tom Catterick’s kick to touch was followed by a clinical maul in the right corner, former Sarrie Andy Saull the man to dot down against his old club to the delight of the Essex native.
Home fly-half Charlie Hodgson chipped three away from the deficit with a well-struck penalty from 40 metres out in front, and the Londoners were soon ahead thanks to the dextrous handling of the Premiership’s all-time top scorer.
The former England man was at the heart of a flowing move which ended with David Strettle diving in at the right corner, creating the extra man out wide through midfield decoy runners.
Hodgson converted from the right touchline for a five-point lead, but the visitors were soon level when Scott Lawson’s spin and pop freed Tuilagi for a 50-metre burst down the blind-side.
The giant Samoan ran right through full-back Ben Ransom as if he wasn’t there, dotting down to the disbelief of the home crowd.
Alex Tait was withstanding an aerial bombardment with commendable composure, Newcastle’s defensive line-out stealing a series of Saracens throw-ins inside their own red zone.
Tuilagi’s search for work saw some midfield holes appearing as the former Leicester man ran the hard yards up the middle, but his side trailed by three when Hodgson’s second penalty bisected the uprights on the half-hour from an infringement in the 22.
It was the fly-half’s last act before departing the field injured, neither side adding to their tally before the interval as Saracens maintained their 13-10 advantage.
Despite playing into the teeth of the wind the Falcons began the second half on the front foot, Tait running the ball out from his own half and setting the wheels in motion for a sustained attack which ended with Will Welch scoring in the left corner.
The skipper grounded from a rolling maul after a series of penalties were kicked into touch, Catterick putting them 17-13 up with a touchline conversion into the breeze.
Sarries responded by camping themselves in the Falcons’ 22, Newcastle’s scrum dominance earning them temporary respite before Ben Spencer’s penalty narrowed the deficit down to a single point.
The replacement scrum-half repeated his goal-kicking exploits with a well-struck penalty from the left touchline to snatch a two-point lead on the hour mark,
Nils Mordt’s territorial kicking helped pin Newcastle inside their own half as a tense contest entered the final 10 minutes, Catterick breaking the pattern with a scything line-break but Sarries charging down his attempted kick ahead.
Spencer’s third penalty ran a minute off the clock as well as putting the visitors more than a kick behind, the Falcons still claiming a creditable losing bonus point.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: A Tait, S Sinoti, A Powell, JP Socino, Al Tuilagi, T Catterick, M Blair (R Tipuna, 61); R Vickers, S Lawson, JP Orlandi, K Thompson (C Green, 62), D Barrow, W Welch (captain), A Saull, M Wilson.
Falcons scorers – Tries: A Saull, Al Tuilagi, W Welch. Conversions: T Catterick.
SARACENS: B Ransom, C Wyles, M Bosch, B Barritt, D Strettle, C Hodgson (N Mordt, 34), N de Kock (B Spencer, 34); R Gill (R Barrington, 50), J George, P du Plessis (J Figallo, 50), M Itoje, A Hargreaves, N de Jager (J Hamilton, 50), J Burger, J Wray.
Saracens scorers – Tries: D Strettle. Conversions: C Hodgson. Penalties: C Hodgson 2, B Spencer 3.
Referee: A Small. Attendance: 7,473.