Falcons given a glimmer of hope following Gloucester win
Newcastle recorded a stunning 29-20 victory at Kingsholm to give themselves renewed hope of avoiding relegation from Aviva Premiership Rugby.
The Falcons' first league away win for almost 14 months was secured through tries by flanker Ally Hogg and replacement back-row forward Mark Wilson, while captain Jimmy Gopperth kicked 19 points. Gloucester wiped out a 19-6 interval deficit to lead by a point with nine minutes left, but Newcastle finished strongly and are now just four points behind 11th-placed Wasps with two games remaining.
The home side conjured a try for flanker Akapusi Qera, with fly-half Freddie Burns booting five penalties, but Gloucester's hopes of a Heineken Cup qualification were severely dented as they even failed to secure a losing bonus point.
Newcastle remain bottom, but their survival chances have increased as they prepare to host Saracens next Friday and then visit Wasps a fortnight later. And even if the Falcons finish bottom, their hopes will then rest on whether or not this season's eventual Championship winners meet Aviva Premiership Rugby entry criteria.
The last time Newcastle beat Gloucester away from home 14 years ago, they went on to be crowned Premiership Rugby champions, but this latest triumph meant just as much for the Falcons and their small band of travelling supporters.
Gloucester welcomed back centres Mike Tindall and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, with lock Alex Brown replacing Tom Savage as their solitary change among the forwards.
Rock-bottom Newcastle, meanwhile, bolstered their pack by recalling lock James Hudson and number eight Adam Balding, and Greg Goosen took over injured full-back Jeremy Manning, who will miss the rest of this season due to a thumb injury.
The Falcons made an encouraging start, taking a seventh-minute penalty when Gopperth found his range from 40 metres, and he doubled that advantage 11 minutes later as Gloucester struggled for rhythm. Gopperth's second successful strike took him past 200 Aviva Premiership Rugby points for the season, yet Gloucester cut their deficit through a Burns penalty that closed an error-strewn opening quarter.
Newcastle, though, were composed and confident despite their alarming league position, and they enjoyed territorial supremacy against opponents lacking direction or desire.
Burns kicked Gloucester level, yet Newcastle then raised the stakes by scoring 13 unanswered points in an 11-minute spell. Gopperth booted two more penalties as Gloucester continued to find themselves on the wrong side of referee Tim Wigglesworth, and then their defence was unlocked by the New Zealander.
Gloucester, having blown a try-scoring chance of their own through laboured passing, were forced onto the back foot by Newcastle's superior endeavour, and Gopperth found Hogg with a defence-splitting pass. Scotland international Hogg touched down between the posts, and Gopperth's conversion gave the Falcons a 19-6 advantage as the Gloucester players trooped off with boos ringing in their ears.
And their return for the second period was only greeted by tepid applause after comfortably Gloucester's worst 40-minute effort at Kingsholm this season. Burns cut the gap to 10 points with another penalty, but Newcastle quickly rediscovered an attacking foothold courtesy of centre Jamie Helleur's powerful break.
Gloucester, somewhat predictably, could not clear possession away without conceding another penalty, yet Gopperth this time sent an angled strike wide, his first miss at the sixth attempt.
Newcastle's impressive defensive organisation frustrated a much-vaunted Gloucester back division. On the times it appeared Gloucester had an overlap, the Falcons always had at least one tackler in reserve.
Burns' fourth successful penalty brought Gloucester back to within striking range, and pressure began to assume relentless proportions before the Falcons finally cracked. As they had done on several previous occasions, Gloucester moved possession wide in an attempt to break Newcastle down, and when the visitors finally ran out of defensive numbers, Qera touched down.
Burns narrowly failed with a touchline conversion attempt, but Gloucester were back to just 19-17 behind, and then Burns slotted another penalty as the home side went ahead for the first time with nine minutes left.
But Newcastle bounced back, underlining their appetite for the battle, and Gopperth edged them ahead through his fifth penalty after Gloucester centre Mike Tindall was whistled for shirt-pulling off the ball. And Wilson then put Gloucester out of their misery when he stormed clear unopposed from a lineout, with Gopperth's conversion securing victory and giving them fresh hope of avoiding the drop.