Niki Goneva’s late breakaway score saw Newcastle Falcons just edge out 14-man Northampton Saints to record a vital 22-16 away triumph at Franklin’s Gardens, and put an abrupt end to the hosts’ four-game winning run.
Dean Richards’ side led 8-3 at the break thanks to a try and a penalty from Joel Hodgson, but despite Stephen Myler’s penalty in response, the hosts had a mammoth task ahead of them when Kieran Brookes was sent off in the dying embers of the first half.
But while Northampton’s 1000th Aviva Premiership Rugby try – scored by Christian Day – remarkably sent them ahead, not even two more Myler penalties were enough as Will Witty and Goneva both scored in the final 20 minutes of the game.
The Falcons shot out of the traps and had the game’s first try after just four minutes – Hodgson crashing over the whitewash against his former teammates.
With Newcastle piling on the pressure, the No.10 started the move off and bypassed two players to find Goneva on the right wing and followed his pass, collecting a return ball from the Fijian before his momentum carried him over.
Juan Pablo Socino attacks pic.twitter.com/qvp13GYb4R
— Newcastle Falcons (@FalconsRugby) November 25, 2016
His conversion was wide however, and the Falcons took another blow just a few minutes later when they thought they had scored a second.
Goneva again was the danger man with a brilliant break – selling a dummy to the entire Saints backline before driving through the gap and sending a perfect pass out wide for Marcus Watson to score.
But the decision was overruled by the TMO with Juan Pablo Socino pinged for a block on Luther Burrell in the midfield.
And the Saints looked to take full advantage of their let off, with Myler knocking over their first points of the evening to make it 5-3 from the tee, after Ally Hogg was penalised from a line-out.
Socino had a couple of good touches in midfield, but Newcastle’s hearts were in their mouths on 25 minutes when Ben Foden beat Goneva to a loose ball to touch down – but the TMO again intervened with the full-back clearly knocking on at full stretch.
Approaching the half-hour mark a massive counter-ruck delivered a turnover and penalty for Falcons, but after kicking into the corner, Scott Lawson’s charge was halted by a resolute Saints defence who were able to clear.
The Falcons did eventually get some reward for their pressure when Mikey Haywood was penalised at the breakdown as David Wilson broke, and Hodgson made no mistake with the simple kick.
And the game was given an entirely different complexion for the second-half when Brookes saw red for a no-armed clear-out against his former club in the 38th minute.
— Northampton Saints (@SaintsRugby) November 25, 2016
However, Northampton defied their numerical disadvantage to take the lead for the first time in the match straight after the interval, Day dragging the Saints back into the equation after a meaty drive, and Myler adding a conversion from out wide.
Falcons were rocked, and the hosts made it ten unanswered points when Myler struck another penalty through the posts on 52 minutes after a scrum offense.
Two dazzling Watson breaks around the hour mark – that showed off the very best of his pace and power – gave Newcastle hope going forwards and took them into Saints’ 22.
And as his side battered away at the line, Will Witty finally broke through and silenced Franklin’s Gardens with a 63rd-minute try.
Myler penalty once again sent Northampton ahead in a topsy-turvy final quarter of an hour, but it was Goneva who was to have the final say.
The Fijian flyer poached an interception as scrum-half Tom Kessell looked for Jamie Elliott, and ran the length of the field to score the match-winning try on 74 minutes – with Hodgson adding the extras for good measure.
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) November 25, 2016