Jonny Wilkinson made a successful comeback after two months out with injury by playing a major role in Newcastle’s 26-21 win over Premiership leaders Bristol at Kingston Park.
Wilkinson had a hand in just about everything, starting with Mathew Tait’s eighth-minute try when he was in the move twice and then dropped a goal as well as kicking two penalties and conversion.
Newcastle were under the cosh at the very first scrum and conceded a penalty for collapsing and Bristol put in deep into the Falcons 22, rolled the maul and forced another penalty which Jason Strange knocked over after three minutes.
But then Matt Burke broke down the touchline and with Geoff Parling and Ben Woods surging up in support, Wilkinson popped up to engineer an opening for Tait to score wide on the left.
Wilkinson was having an enormous impact on the game and a kick-through was chased down by Tait and John Rudd to win the ball 10 metres out and from Lee Dickson’s pass the England international dropped a goal in the 16th minute to make it 8-3.
But Wilkinson could do nothing about another penalty against Jon Golding for dropping the scrum, although Dave Hilton looked equally guilty.
Strange’s kick at goal was wide but Wilkinson did not make the same mistake from 45 metres when Bristol strayed offside in the 20th minute.
Terrific interplay between Wilkinson, Toby Flood and Tait saw Flood kick crossfield and David Lemi just managed to toe-poke the ball into touch in goal with Tom May chasing it down.
From the scrum Newcastle attacked furiously and hooker Matt Thompson crashed over in the corner for the Falcons second try in the 26th minute.
Strange pulled three points back in an all-action first half with a penalty for offside.
Bristol put together at least 10 phases on the drive but Newcastle’s defence was superb and Woods turned the ball over crucially under his own posts for the Falcons to break away through Flood down the middle.
Brent Wilson finished it off by surging over the line for the third try with three Bristol players unable to stop him and Wilkinson added the conversion on the stroke of half-time.
Strange kicked a 47th-minute penalty for pulling down at the drive before May was hauled down just short after a 40m dash.
Wilkinson landed his second penalty when Bristol came offside to move Newcastle 26-9 ahead but then the Falcons defence was exposed out wide when Rob Higgitt gave Lee Robinson the overlap and the winger scored easily and Strange’s conversion put Bristol back in the game at 26-16.
When Dan Ward-Smith was muscled over from a line-out Newcastle’s lead was down to just five points.
In a frenetic end to the match Newcastle somehow survived wave after wave of Bristol attacks with some last-ditch tackling.