London Irish kept their interest in the LV= Cup alive with a bonus-point victory over Newcastle.
England World Cup player Delon Armitage marked his return from New Zealand with a try in an impressive individual display. And Dan Bowden played his part, scoring 13 second-half points after coming off the bench for fly-half Steven Shingler, while Alan Thompstone's second try ensured Irish earned the bonus point.
Both teams made it clear from the outset that excitement was on the cards as attack and counter-attack saw the ball repeatedly moved through hands. And it was Newcastle who had the edge during the early exchanges of an enthralling contest, pinning the hosts back and seeing Rikki Sheriff's burst for the line foiled when he knocked on in the tackle when over the line.
The visitors took a deserved lead on 15 minutes when sustained phases inside the Irish 22 sucked in the cover defenders, before centre Jamie Helleur was released to sprint over wide on the right. Irish responded within four minutes, driving the ball into the visitors' area where Jonathan Joseph's clever reverse pass armed Thompstone, who powered over the line. Steve Shingler's conversion edged them a point in front.
Back came Newcastle, whose pressure squeezed a 23rd minute penalty out of an anxious defence and Jeremy Manning kicked the penalty. Shingler's penalty for an offside edged Irish ahead for the first time and it got worse for Newcastle five minutes later when they were penalised for not releasing in the tackle, presenting Shingler with a simple three points from in front of the posts
Irish finished the half on top and Shingler increased their lead with a penalty for a ruck offence on 40 minutes. Manning struck a post with a drop goal attempt seconds into the second half, then booted a penalty into touch as Newcastle forced the Exiles to defend in depth just feet from their line.
They were rewarded on 49 minutes when a succession of phases created a two-on-one wide on the right and Greg Goosen scored close to the posts, with Manning added the conversion. He was equally accurate with a penalty in the 53rd minute, recapturing the lead – only for Ashley Wells to concede a soft penalty with a deliberate knock-on to disrupt a pass. Dan Bowden, on for Shingler at half-time, knocked over the penalty.
That raised the Irish tempo and they scored their second try three minutes later. Jamie Gibson's break sparked the pressure and when Bowden fired a mispass wide right, Armitage was clear to dive over by the flag.
Irish increased their lead on 61 minutes when Bowden boomed home a drop goal from behind a ruck, then England centre Shontayne Hape marked a solid debut with a powerful break into the heart of the Newcastle defence, shrugging off tackles before providing a perfect offload which put Bowden in between the posts for a try which he converted.
Thompstone then reacted fastest to Bowden's kick-through to score his second try five minutes from time, with Joe Graham's try for Newcastle on 80 minutes merely a consolation.