Stephen Myler broke the 2,000 point barrier in Aviva Premiership Rugby as Northampton Saints stretched their lead at the top of the table with a hard-fought bonus-point win over Newcastle Falcons.
The fly-half, who finished the clash with 17 points overall and took his career total to 2,000 exactly, crossed for the game’s first score and while Chris Harris immediately responded, a George Pisi try before the break put the hosts in control.
After the break Calum Clark and then a penalty score secured the bonus point for Saints but the Falcons refused to roll over as George McGuigan, Alex Tait and Richard Mayhew all went over for Dean Richards’ side.
Luther Burrell also grabbed a fifth for the Saints as they stretched their winning run to seven games in all competitions and opened up a six-point lead on top of the table.
The Falcons survived an early warning shot when the irrepressible Samu Manoa burst through off the back of a slick lineout move and was dragged down just short of the line.
But the next time the Saints advanced into the visitors’ territory they were not so wasteful and Myler slotted a penalty from bang in front to put the first points on the board.
The Saints were beginning to ramp up the pressure and Manoa freed Burrell down the left moments later but a fine covering tackle from Tait dragged the England centre into touch.
But the Falcons were not making life easy for themselves with ill discipline keeping them penned into their own 22. And this time the defending champions took full advantage as fine hands from Ben Foden and George Pisi combined to put Myler over in the right corner, the subsequent conversion opening up a 10-0 lead.
The Franklin’s Gardens faithful would have been hoping for the floodgates to open, similar to the first-half blitz that the Saints had provided up at Kingston Park earlier in the season, but the visitors hit back swiftly.
Tom Catterick’s clever kick to the corner sat up perfectly for winger Harris, making his first start after his two tries against Saracens from the bench last weekend, and the 24-year-old dived over, Catterick’s fine touchline conversion closing the gap to 10-7.
Catterick, who normally appears on the wing or at full-back, was impressing in the No.10 shirt for Falcons and he slotted his first penalty not long after to level up proceedings.
The Saints’ response did not take long to materialise and, with almost his first involvement in the game, George North stamped his mark on the fixture with a superb swerving break after collecting a loose Catterick clearance.
That set up Saints deep in the Falcons 22 and Myler’s clever grubber was collected by George Pisi who dove over for the hosts’ second try of the game, Myler on target with the conversion to re-establish a seven-point lead.
After the break Myler did not take long to stretch the lead, slotting his second penalty of the night on 45 minutes to make it 20-10.
Falcons’ slim chances of a comeback were then seemingly put to bed when the otherwise impressive Josh Furno was sent to the sin bin for failing to roll away.
And from the subsequent penalty Saints were within inches of scoring their third try but Manoa was again denied with the tryline inches away, the No.8 knocking on when stretching for the score.
But the pressure was unrelenting and when man of the match Foden scythed through down the right Clark was on hand to collect Ken Pisi’s inside pass for their third try.
Myler missed with the conversion but Mallinder’s side now had half an hour to chase the fourth try for the bonus point.
And it did not take long to materialise, a devastating driving maul securing a penalty try that Myler converted to take his career total to 2,000 Premiership points.
That was the fly-half’s last act however with James Wilson replacing him but Newcastle responded soon after as McGuigan barged over at the back of a driving maul, Catterick missing with the extras.
And Dean Richards’ side were not done there as Harris then broke clear and when the ball was spread left Tait was on hand to dive over, Catterick converting this time to close the gap to 32-24.
There was still time for Saints to grab a fifth, Burrell showing clever footwork to divert North’s offload into his path before diving over for the score.
But the Falcons were not going to be denied a bonus point of their own however and when Mayhew burrowed over at the back of a rolling maul they had deservedly secured it.
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