Jonny Wilkinson kicked 22 points and set up a try to inspire Newcastle to victory over Northampton in a scrappy GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP encounter at Kingston Park.
The England fly-half put in a superb 100% kicking display on his return from shoulder surgery as the Premiership relegation favourites picked up their first win of the season.
The visitors held a deserved 12-6 lead at the break as they dominated territory and possession throughout the first half, skipper Bruce Reihana kicking three penalties and fly-half Carlos Spencer adding one of his own with Wilkinson kicking the home side’s points.
But the Falcons hit back after the interval with second-row Andy Buist and wing Ollie Phillips claiming tries and Wilkinson adding three penalties, two conversions and a drop goal. Scotland wing Sean Lamont got a try for the visitors and Reihana kicked five points but it was not enough for the Saints.
Northampton started the better of the two sides and a poor Wilkinson up-and-under gave skipper Reihana an early chance to open the scoring but his penalty attempt fell short of the uprights.
Wilkinson soon kicked two penalties, either side of a three-pointer apiece from Reihana and Carlos Spencer, to keep the Falcons level on the scoreboard as they kicked away what little possession they had.
Reihana missed a chance to put the visitors back in front when an ill-judged Wilkinson cross-kick saw wing John Rudd isolated on the edge of his own 22.
However he was soon able to make amends when Falcons wing John Rudd was adjudged to have deliberately knocked into touch a cross-field kick from Spencer, who put in a superb display of tactical kicking to terrorise the Newcastle back three.
And the full-back extended the visitors’ lead to six points when he put the ball between the posts from halfway after Newcastle had failed to stay on their feet at a ruck, but missed with another long-range effort on the stroke of half-time.
The Falcons hit back on the resumption by stringing together their best passage of play on their first sustained foray into the visitors’ 22.
A good surge by centre Jamie Noon put the hosts on the front foot and when the ball was moved right an inside ball from Alex Tait put second row Buist over in the corner. Wilkinson added the testing touchline conversion to give Newcastle a 13-12 lead.
Wilkinson then made it a four-point lead after Scotland prop Euan Murray was sin-binned for taking out a supporting runner when centre Spencer Davey made a purposeful surge.
Reihana’s fourth penalty got the gap between the sides back down to a point but Wilkinson produced a superb give-and-take pass on the hour to send wing Phillips, a late replacement for Tom May, over in the corner. The British Lion once again adding the extras from the touchline.
Saints hit back from the restart with Lamont scything through from a maul to race 30 metres and score under the posts, Reihana converting.
Reihana then missed another penalty chance when Phillips was sin-binned for going to deck at a ruck before Wilkinson made sure of the victory as he added two more penalties and a long-range drop goal.