It will be the end of the season before we will know if John Connolly has sparked a revolution at Bath or if their early-season form has been no more than a mini-revival after the horrors of last May, when they escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth, beating Newcastle in the final game.
Connolly was yesterday understandably disappointed at the manner of Bath's first defeat of the season, even if his team still sit at the top of the Premiership table. "We have the right mental attitude," he said, "and we're still a good side, even if defeat hurts. But we'll bounce back."
Since Connolly's arrival in the summer, Bath have undergone a remarkable transformation. Even without Danny Grewcock, their pack are as formidable as any in the Premiership. When all their backs return from the World Cup they could be some side, and perhaps then we shall see the Bath of old.
However their forwards made a strangely muted start at Kingston Park yesterday and nearly conceded an early try when Hugh Vyvyan almost squeezed in at the left corner. Once they established a foothold in Newcastle territory, Olly Barkley banged over a short penalty, to equal Dave Walder's first strike on 10 minutes.
Barkley kicked another to tie the scores after Walder's second. By then Newcastle had lost their scrum-half, Hall Charlton, with a head injury. But for a side unbeaten in their opening six games, Bath looked bereft of attacking ideas or the craft needed to open up the Falcons' defence. Not that Newcastle were notably superior in that department, but at least they made every effort to create some space for their runners. The tryless half finished with Walder and Barkley missing with penalties, though Walder was then on target from 40 metres, to leave the Falcons 9-6 ahead at the break.
From the restart what had been a game on the somnambulant side of dreary sprung to life. Isaac Feau'nati began the fun with a try from an overlap to give Bath the lead for the first time in the match. But Matt Perry spoiled the good work of his forwards by making an awful hash of a speculative kick and chase from Mark Mayerhofler. Replacement flanker Phil Dowson made the most of Jamie Noon's tackle on the Bath full-back and bagged a try which turned likely defeat into victory. Walder's conversion and a fourth penalty sealed it for the Falcons.
Newcastle: D Walder; T May, J Noon, M Mayerhofler, M Stephenson; P Godman, H Charlton (J Grindal, 19); I Peel (D Wilson, h-t), N Makin, M Ward, G Archer, C Hamilton (P Dowson, 67), J Dunbar (E Taione, 74), W Britz, H Vyvyan (capt).
Bath: M Perry (R Blake, 70); A Higgins, A Crockett (G Knox, 65), O Barkley, B Daniel (J Williams, 54); C Malone, M Wood; D Flatman, J Humphreys (capt; L Mears, 52), D Bell (M Stevens, 39), S Borthwick, R Fidler, A Beattie, M Lipman, I Feau'nati.
Referee: D Thompson (Ashington).