Bristol racked up their sixth Allied Dunbar Premiership win in seven outings with a comprehensive display against Newcastle at the Memorial Ground yesterday, underlining their determination to qualify for Europe by taking over the critical fifth place from Saracens.
They will need more discipline in Europe than they showed here, the 19 penalties conceded was unacceptably high, but they have the pace out wide and their European Shield semi-final against Pau next month looks promising.
This was something of an old boy's reunion, Bristol's Dean Ryan and Garath Archer having played for the Falcons, while there were three Durham School old boys on the field - Newcastle's debutant full-back Michael Stephenson had followed Bristol's Lee Best in that position and it was also, briefly, Archer's alma mater.
For long periods of a dull first half both sides played like old boys. The first four scores were all penalties for carelessness on both sides, and if Jonny Wilkinson had been able to hit the mark more often then Bristol would have found themselves playing catch-up.
Henry Honiball was a model of accuracy, though, and he passed the 250-point mark in just 18 games on the way to his personal haul of 15 yesterday but it took Bristol more than half an hour to inject some interest into proceedings.
Even then they to wait until Newcastle were temporarily deprived of the services of one of the linchpins of their defence. Inga Tuigamala was dismissed for 10 minutes for a deliberate knock-on, a trifle harsh since Bristol were not certain to score.
Back came Bristol and after an unsuccessful foray by Honiball, the ball was popped up by scrum-half Gareth Baber and hooker Barry Williams squirmed and wormed his way over for his sixth league try of the season. Honiball did the necessary with the conversion.
The home team gears began to mesh a little better after that. Bristol's 20-year-old, 20st lock Andy Sheridan blasted holes in the midfield, caused mayhem in the loose, shoved his weight and more in the scrums and continued his progress towards full international recognition.
There was certainly more purpose when Bristol emerged after half-time. Within four minutes Best finished off a move with a dive for the corner and again Honiball was foot perfect.
Bristol then appeared to take their foot off the gas, allowing the Falcons to venture into what had been virtually uncharted waters - the opposition half.
When Bristol were penalised Newcastle opted for the line-out and, after Ross Beattie had gathered it safely, lock Stuart Grimes was driven over.
Honiball's third penalty and some serious pressure on the Falcons' line eventually wound up with Jamie Mayer being put in with just a minute left, Honiball landed the conversion for a perfect six out of six.
The ball is in Saracens' court at home to Harlequins today to knock the West Countrymen out of contention.
Bristol: Tries Williams, Best, Mayer; Conversions Honiball 3; Penalties Honiball 3. Newcastle: Try Grimes; Penalties Wilkinson 2.
Bristol: L Best; D Dewdney, E Simone, J Mayer, D Rees; H Honiball, G Baber; P Johnstone, B Williams, P Lemoine, G Archer, A Sheridan, M Salter (A Charron, 50), D Ryan (capt), A Vander.
Newcastle: M Stephenson; V Tuigamala, T May, J Noon, M Wood; J Wilkinson, G Armstrong (capt); M Ward, M Howe, Ian Peel, S Grimes, D Weir, S O'Neill (H Vyvyan, 70), R Beattie, J Cartmell.
Referee: G Ashton-Jones (Royal Navy).