Bristol gave a passable impression of being capable enough of joining the growing number of teams who have worked out how to play Newcastle. Unfortunately, like many before them, Bristol relaxed their guard having turned round all-square at 10-10, allowed Newcastle to play the way they wanted to and paid dearly for their complacency.
In a first half so barren and littered with mistakes as to make watching it a test of patience, if not endurance, the Bristol forwards had Newcastle by the throat. The line-out was no contest as Garath Archer, Alex Brown and Ben Sturnham – who also had a tremendous game in the loose – made it their personal fiefdom. All the 50-50 ball was gobbled up by Matt Salter, Adam Vander and Sturnham and, apart from a breakaway try scored by Tom May in the second minute, and the unerring left boot of Jonny Wilkinson who converted and kicked a penalty, it was difficult to see how Newcastle were going to break free from the manacles Bristol had applied so successfully.
Then it all went wrong, as Bristol not only let Newcastle back into a game which looked theirs for the taking, but sat back allowing a gangling second row, Stuart Grimes, to make fools of them by galloping in for two tries, the first from 25 metres, the next from fully 50. Jason Little just about got to him with an unavailing tackle for the first, but the Australian had the ball ripped from him by George Graham, releasing Grimes on his explosive run for the second. That made it 27-13 to the Falcons, though it was far from game, set and match as Little redeemed himself by punching a big hole in the home defence for a try, which his compatriot Shane Drahm converted, to add to the first-half conversion of Matt Carrington's try, and two penalties.
Even though, with 12 minutes remaining, Bristol were still in with a shout, their director of rugby, Dean Ryan, thought otherwise. "All of Newcastle's first three tries were as a result of turnovers," Ryan said. "We had restricted them to no opportunities – May's try excepted – in the first half, and that's the disappointment. We couldn't help coughing up the ball; and you can't do that at this level."
To be fair to Newcastle, they not only scented that Bristol were no longer able to close them down at will, but the Falcons had found a second wind. Their line-out began to function, Pat Lam and Epeli Taione were beginning to punch some holes, Wilkinson was calling the shots and Bristol wilted. Jamie Noon's try in the seventh minute of stoppage time earned Newcastle their first bonus point of the season, and moves them up to fourth in the table.
Newcastle: Tries May, Noon, Grimes 2; Cons Wilkinson 4; Pens Wilkinson 3. Bristol: Tries Carrington, Little; Cons Drahm 2; Pens Drahm 2.
Newcastle: D Walder; M Stephenson, J Noon, T May, L Botham; J Wilkinson (capt), H Charlton; G Graham, N Makin (C Balshen, 71), M Hurter (I Peel, 77), H Vyvyan, S Grimes (D Weir, 38-40), E Taione, R Arnold (R Devonshire, 67), P Lam.
Bristol: M Carrington; D Rees, A Higgins, J Little (capt), P Christophers; S Drahm, A Pichot; T Payne (A Sheridan, 55), N McCarthy (S Nelson, 69), D Crompton, G Archer, A Brown, M Salter (C Short, 60), A Vander, B Sturnham.
Referee: R Goodliffe (Sheffield).Reuse content