Newcastle Falcons banished any lingering fears of relegation with a hard-fought 16-7 victory over Northampton Saints at Kingston Park today. But for Heineken Cup semi-finalists Northampton the spectre of the drop remains after they failed to reproduce the fighting display that brought them victory in San Sebastien against Biarritz.
The Saints could not even manage a bonus point although they dominated possession throughout in front of a 10,200 sell-out crowd, who inspired the Falcons to a tremendous defensive display.
Newcastle started with a bang, muscling the Saints pack up the the line after opting to kick to the corner rather than taking three points and when the maul collapsed just short, Lee Dickson whipped the ball out and Toby Flood stepped through for a seventh-minute try which Jonny Wilkinson converted.
Northampton were struggling to handle the Falcons’ pace especially through the middle and the Saints were forced to concede successive penalties 40 metres out and Wilkinson kicked them both, in the 11th and 18th minutes, despite a swirling wind.
Saints then dominated possession for the rest if the half but were unable to make any real headway against a solid Falcons defence which was never more evident than when Northampton also opted for the penalty to the corner but failed to convert the driving maul.
A quick penalty from Ben Cohen was also snuffed out by some determined cover tackles and the Saints would be questioning whether they should have kicked at goal with both chances as the Falcons went in at the break leading 13-0.
Newcastle wasted a great chance when they lost the line-out in the corner after spurning the kick at goal and then Wilkinson twice kicked the ball dead when going for position.
It was all a bit messy as Flood screwed a drop goal shot well wide and Northampton finally got their act together with a series of driving mauls which ended with Christian Labit driving over even though it appeared he lost the ball as he crashed through.
Referee Chris White had no doubt and Spencer kicked the conversion for the Saints to be right back in the game at 13-7.
The score prompted a wave of Falcons attacks with John Rudd and Jamie Noon both going close before Wilkinson kicked a 65th minute penalty.
It was all very nervy and Northampton spilled the ball from a driving maul after going for the corner and then Matt Burke, of all people, ran it in his own 22 and then threw a pass straight into touch when a clearing kick was called for.
Once again Northampton were dominating possession but they could not find a way through the Newcastle defence and the game ended with a series of driving rucks and mauls in midfield which the Falcons were perfectly happy with.