Bath mounted a strong second-half performance to steal an 11-6 LV= Cup victory from Newcastle at a packed Recreation Ground.
The only try of the game came on the half-hour as Bath tighthead prop Aaron Jarvis finished off some impressive driving play from the home pack. But it was late in the game before Olly Barkley kicked two penalties to settle matters. Newcastle’s points came from two successful kicks by Jimmy Gopperth in the first half.
James Hudson, once understudy at Bath to Steve Borthwick, returned to the Rec as captain of a strong Falcons squad who started as leaders of Group A with just four points.
Bath, bottom of Group D with five points from their two games, had Nick Abendanon back from England’s camp in Portugal but it was the full-back’s charged-down kick which led to the first score, a Gopperth penalty after just two minutes.
Barkley was wide with a 40-metre chance six minutes later when Scotland and Lions tighthead Euan Murray was penalised at a scrum.
Bath escaped another sticky moment when Barkley was caught man-and-ball by Tane Tu’ipulotu and the ball ran free. This time Abendanon was back to save and he was also well positioned to pull off a try-saving tackle on Ally Hogg when the Scottish number eight was set free on the left. Again, however, the home side were penalised for offside and Gopperth added a second penalty on 19 minutes.
Newcastle had been much the more fluent side in the first quarter and Bath had posed only an occasional attacking threat through the hard, direct running of young centre Ben Williams. Bath lost flanker Josh Ovens 15 minutes before the break, carried off with an ankle injury but it allowed club skipper Luke Watson to come off the replacements’ bench and take charge.
A score was not long in coming as prop Jarvis squeezed in at the corner in the 31st minute after Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe and Watson carried purposefully. Barkley hit the post with his conversion attempt. Jarvis’s joy was short-lived however as the beleaguered Bath scrum folded under pressure from the Newcastle eight and the tighthead suffered a painful shoulder injury, forcing his withdrawal just before half-time.
Scrum problems continued to beset Bath after the break but a golden opportunity for Newcastle was wasted when Gopperth sent a pinpoint penalty into the home 22 only for Matt Thompson to overthrow at the lineout. When a scrum collapsed again in front of the Bath posts, loosehead Jon Golding gave away a needless penalty by chatting back to referee Rob Debney.
Scrum-half Mark McMillan finally got Bath on to the front foot with a sniping break and the momentum was only broken when Murray was sin-binned for a cynical offside offence metres from his own line. Urged on by the all-action Watson, Bath battered away but without success and their only clear-cut scoring chance was a Barkley penalty which was mis-hit.
By the time Murray returned, Newcastle’s one-point lead was still intact but Bath maintained the pressure through their forwards’ vigorous driving game and Barkley was handed an unmissable penalty under the posts in the 69th minute to edge his side ahead for the first time.
Newcastle’s efforts continued to be undermined by their indiscipline and even Gopperth wasted good possession by kicking out on the full. Bath, gaining in confidence, strung together their best move six minutes from time but Jacques Boussuge was hauled down just short of the line. Barkley put the result beyond doubt with a 78th-minute angled penalty.