Two tries either side of the interval were enough for Northampton Saints as they opened up their Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign with a hard-earned 24-16 triumph at Newcastle Falcons.
The visitors led 13-6 at the break with Tom Collins’ score separating the teams and Sam Olver trading two penalties with Mike Delany.
But despite Newcastle roaring back into the contest with ten minutes to play when skipper Alex Tait rumbled over, a late Rory Hutchinson score sealed the victory for Jim Mallinder’s men.
Following a minute’s silence to mark Remembrance Day, the hosts got on the scoreboard almost straight away after going through the phases until Api Ratuniyarawa and Lewis Ludlam infringed at the breakdown.
Mike Delany made no mistake in front of the posts, but the visitors were soon back on level terms after a high tackle on Olver was penalised – with the Northampton No.10 dusting himself off to slot through three points himself.
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) November 6, 2016
Both sides engaged in a kicking battle over the next few minutes as they searched for territory, but Ludlam, Collins, and Paul Hill all made good ground for Saints going forward.
Olver had the chance to put Northampton into the lead just after 20 minutes when Falcons infringed in their own red zone, but this time his kick came back off the post – although he made up for that miss just moments later as the Saints scrum came good to win another penalty.
A typical Sinoti Sinoti burst sent Ethan Waller sprawling soon after, but Saints looked the likelier side to score and produced their best play so far when Collins sent a grubber through for Howard Packman to chase, although it just would not sit up for the winger.
And they got the try they deserved just before the interval, as Saints put the ball through the hands from a lineout, and James Wilson put Burrell through a gap with a sublime short pass.
Support was on both sides so Burrell opted for Collins to go between the sticks, and while Olver landed the conversion there was still time before the break for Delany to reduce arrears from the tee after Sinoti’s powerful jinking run produced a high tackle.
— Northampton Saints (@SaintsRugby) November 6, 2016
The Saints scrum picked up where they left off early in the second-half, winning an early penalty for Olver to make it 16-6.
That however seemed to spark the hosts into life and as well as changing up the front row, they started to build the phases before Fred Burdon could not quite latch on to a grubber through.
They did get a reward for their efforts on 56 minutes when Saints infringed in the scrum and Delany landed the resulting penalty.
But Olver kept his side ten points clear after Burrell scythed through the defence, and Waller collected skipper Christian Day’s offload to draw a penalty at the breakdown.
Newcastle were not going down without a fight however, and after a searing solo break from Marcus Watson sets up a great field position, a quickly-taken penalty from replacement Sam Egerton saw him send Tait over off his shoulder.
And it’s a try for today’s skipper Alex Tait! pic.twitter.com/r9WdKPDeKj
— Newcastle Falcons (@FalconsRugby) November 6, 2016
Delany added the extras to make it 19-16 with just 10 minutes remaining, but as Newcastle piled on the pressure – Watson again making good ground as well as Callum Chick – there was another twist to the tale as Saints somehow turned it over and Olver was able to clear.
And when Joel Hodgson fumbled under pressure, Burrell hacked the ball upfield and when Jamie Elliott beat Watson to the bounce there was Hutchinson to dive on it and seal a superb opening to Saints’ Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign.
The Anglo-Welsh Cup kicks off this weekend and for all the fixtures and details of the Final at the Twickenham Stoop on 19 March see www.new-heroes.com