Gloucester moved to the top of the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP as they ended their season at Kingsholm unbeaten in the league and left Newcastle in the relegation mire.
Despite Jamie Noon’s early try, the game took a while to get going as neither side could take any control of the sparring contest.
Dropped passes and basic errors restricted the fluency of a match that was billed as an emotional day in Gloucester’s history.
As they signed off from Kingsholm in its current guise before the demolition men move in and Gloucester take up temporarily residence at Ashton Gate, three players were making their final appearances at the ground.
Jake Boer, Adam Eustace and Peter Richards, who have served Gloucester for seven, nine and two years respectively, will leave the club at the end of the season.
Boer heads home to pursue his business interests in South Africa, Eustace is joining Llanelli Scarlets and Richards will return to London Irish.
Boer led the Cherry and Whites out – despite the return of Italian club captain Marco Bortolami – and Richards contributed his usual sniping from the base of the scrum, with Eustace on the bench.
But the second biggest cheer of the day after the trio’s reception was for Jonny Wilkinson’s first shot at the posts, which glided wide.
The World Cup winning fly-half was joined by England team-mates Mathew Tait, Noon and Toby Flood in a luminary Newcastle back line that made its mark in the ninth minute.
Gloucester centre Mike Tindall – like Wilkinson, returning from injury – lost possession in the tackle and the Falcons spun the ball wide before bringing it back to Matt Burke.
The Australian turned British citizen slipped Tindall’s tackle and left Noon to dive over for his first touchdown.
The expense of Wilkinson’s missed conversion and then a fluffed penalty was negated by Willie Walker’s skewed penalty, and another from 53 metres that remarkably bounced off the crossbar.
That followed a searing break from the Falcons backs that ended with Tindall thudding Wilkinson into touch in goal.
It took Gloucester half-an-hour to get a grip on the game and they took a brief lead when a quick scrum got the ball at pace, Ryan Lamb slipped Flood and popped the ball out for James Forrester to scurry over.
Walker made the conversion, the first successful kick of the evening, but Newcastle responded with a surging charge that sucked in Gloucester’s defence and left Noon to break Lamb’s tackle to score his second try.
Wilkinson’s conversion saw the visitors turn around 12-7 ahead – and he added a penalty three minutes into the second half.
Walker cancelled that out within 60 seconds, but missed another penalty shortly before slotting a conversion that put Gloucester back in front.
Forrester ran on to the ball in the middle of the pitch, drew the cover and timed a perfect pass to Boer, who had a clear run to a fairytale try under the posts.
Having sliced a drop-goal, Wilkinson then kicked his second penalty to give the Falcons a one-point lead.
But then Lamb, whose second-half performance reflected the general improvement in the game, side-stepped May and Burke to put the gloss on a fine forward effort with a try that Walker converted.
Newcastle drilled their way back into Gloucester’s 22 and threatened to snatch the points in injury-time with a series of penalties, which included the sinbinning of prop Carlos Nieto.
But they lost their advantage when their front row came up in the scrum and Gloucester celebrated a table-topping victory.