Nerve-jangling finish as Northampton hold off Newcastle
Northampton Saints held off a Newcastle Falcons fightback to secure a nerve-jangling 32-31 win at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens. The home side had appeared to be cruising on two occasions during the game, going 13-0 up in the first half before the Falcons scored twice to make it 14-13 at the break.
The Saints then looked to have regained control, going 32-14 ahead, but again the Falcons refused to lie down, roaring back to a point down with nine minutes to play. There was plenty of tension among the home supporters, but their side saw the game out to secure their second successive bonus-point win in the Gallagher Premiership.
Saints, who next month host the Barbarians at Franklin’s, had won at Wasps six days earlier and their class came to the fore early on as James Grayson and Rory Hutchinson combined to send Ollie Sleightholme over on his 50th appearance for the club. The hosts were starting to purr and they had their second try of the game in the twelfth minute as Sam Matavesi popped up on the left wing.
Grayson missed the conversion but he slotted a penalty after a sustained spell of pressure in front of the Falcons line. It was all Northampton, who looked likely to add to their lead, but the hosts were profligate, giving Newcastle hope they could swoop before the break. And swoop they did, scoring through full-back Tom Penny.
Suddenly, the Saints were all at sea, giving away penalty after penalty and forcing referee Jack Makepeace to send lock David Ribbans to the sin bin. Newcastle took immediate advantage as Penny weaved his way over in the final play of the first half. Brett Connon converted for the second time to give his side a lead that had looked highly unlikely after half an hour.
But Northampton were quickly back ahead after the break as the Falcons lost Sebastian de Chaves to the sin bin after a pass hit him while he was tracking back. Saints soon applied more pressure and Aaron Hinkley offloaded to Hutchinson, who fired a fine pass to the left, where Tom Collins cruised in unopposed.
Grayson converted and Newcastle were soon down to 13 men as centre Ben Stevenson was yellow-carded for a head-on-head collision with Hutchinson. Northampton soon bagged their bonus-point try as Grayson drew his man on the left and gave the ball to number eight Juarno Augustus, who refused to be stopped.
Grayson converted and he was soon sending Sleightholme in for his second try of the game.
The 14-man Falcons were submerged, but they struck on the counter-attack as Mateo Carreras delivered a superb solo try. Northampton sent on big hitters Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Lewis Ludlam in a bid to see the game out, but Newcastle kept fighting, using a 50:22 to win a lineout in Saints territory.
Jamie Blamire scored to breathe new life into the Falcons bid and Newcastle had real hope when George Wacokecoke waltzed his way through for his side’s fifth try. Connon converted and Northampton’s lead was a precarious one point with nine minutes to play, but the home side managed to regain a semblance of control in the closing stages as they saw out a nervy success.
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