Chris Ashton grabbed two tries as Northampton beat Newcastle in an entertaining match at Franklin’s Gardens.
The home side did not have to be at their best to beat the battling Falcons, as they mixed some excellent handling with some poor ball retention and ill-discipline which prevented them inflicting a heavier defeat on the visitors.
Northampton began the game brightly by moving the ball at every opportunity. Stephen Myler began a counter-attack from inside his own 22 which saw Northampton reach the opposition 22 before Roger Wilson knocked on to end an excellent movement.
However, soon afterwards the Falcons lost a crucial lineout from which the Saints sent the ball wide for Ashton to score in the corner. It was another try against Newcastle for the wing, who scored a hat-trick against them at Kingston Park back in November. Myler converted to give Northampton a 7-0 lead after 10 minutes.
The Saints continued to have the better of the play but it was the visitors who had the next score when Jimmy Gopperth kicked an excellent 45-metre penalty after 20 minutes. Myler landed a penalty for Northampton with three minutes later, but Newcastle immediately replied by going over from their first attacking opportunity of the game. From a lineout on the home 22 the Falcons secured possession and produced a stunning forward drive which ended with a try for Rob Vickers which Gopperth converted to level the scores.
The visitors then enjoyed their best period of the half but just before the interval Saints produced an inspired attacking movement. From inside his own half, Myler began with a skilful pass to send his side away and when Juandre Kruger was hauled down inches from the line, Lee Dickson was on hand to pick up and score. Myler’s conversion attempt hit the post to leave Saints 15-10 ahead at half-time.
Northampton had the better of early proceedings in the second half and when the Falcons were penalised at a scrum Myler kicked the penalty.
The visitors were under constant pressure in the scrums, and when Dickson nailed number eight Josh Afu at one in the Falcons 22 another Saints score seemed likely, but the home side gave away three penalties in quick succession to give Newcastle an attacking platform. They took advantage to reduce the home lead when Gopperth kicked another penalty after 55 minutes.
Newcastle were competing well with their opponents but a poor pass from Gcobani Bobo gave the Saints a chance to attack. From a position 30 metres out a clever pass from the outstanding Dickson sent Kruger away to put Ashton over for another try for the wing. Myler converted to give Northampton a 25-13 lead after 65 minutes.
Back came the Falcons to build up a period of sustained pressure near the Northampton line but they were content to rely on repeated forward drives. Their efforts came to nothing and an interception relieved the pressure. Shane Geraghty was brought on for the last two minutes and Northampton should have scored with the last move of the match but a poor pass deprived Ashton of his hat-trick.