Hutchinson scores late as spirited Saints see off Falcons
Rory Hutchinson's late try proved key as Saints got their Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign up and running against Newcastle Falcons at a gloomy Kingston Park.
In a keenly-contested clash, with little inspiration, Jim Mallinder’s mix of youth and experience won the day, earning a battling 24-16 success.
Falcons, who had been behind for the majority of the match, did threaten to mount a stirring late fightback when skipper Alex Tait scored with 10 minutes to go.
But with the hosts just three points behind and plotting a dramatic, match-winning score, Saints broke away and centre Hutchinson got to the ball first to finish the game as a contest.
It was a deserved victory for the away side, who had been firmly in control thanks to Tom Collins’ first-half score and 14 points from the boot of fly-half Sam Olver.
And Saints can now head into next Saturday’s home game against Gloucester with four points to their name in Anglo-Welsh Cup Pool 1.
Newcastle, in their striking orange shirts, had started well at Kingston Park, bossing the early possession and forcing Saints to infringe, giving Mike Delany three early points from the tee.
But Saints responded well and after Ally Hogg was penalised for a high tackle on Olver, the fly-half stepped up to slot a penalty to level the scores.
The Falcons continued to press, with full-back Tait leading the charge as Saints continued to kick the ball into his hands.
But the away side were winning the ball back well on the ground, at least giving them some time to breathe in tricky conditions.
When Saints did try to turn up the heat with ball in hand at the other end, the Falcons stood tall, forcing Olver to take on a drop goal attempt, which he fired wide of the left post.
Olver then missed a chance from the tee, hitting the left upright after some determination from James Wilson had helped to earn a penalty chance.
But Falcons knocked on after the ball went loose and Saints won the resulting scrum, earning a simple penalty chance, which Olver easily dispatched.
Saints were still seeking a try though and they finally got reward for their efforts when Luther Burrell raced away and gave the pass at the perfect time to speedy wing Collins.
Collins punched the air after sliding in under the posts and Olver converted to give his team a 10-point lead with a minute of the first half remaining.
There was still time for Delany to cut the gap with a penalty, as the Falcons trotted in with slightly more hope at half-time.
But Saints immediately got those three points back as prop Paul Hill did the business in the scrum and Olver landed the long-range penalty attempt.
The Falcons were squandering their big chances to put pressure on the away defence with their lineout creaking at crucial times and Saints defending well from open play.
When the hosts did finally set up and attack from a secure lineout in the Saints 22, centre Fred Burdon wasted a chance as he knocked on before dotting the ball down.
The Falcons finally decided to take the penalty points on offer, with Delany again hitting the target to reduce the deficit to seven points once more.
But after nice a tidy combination from centre duo Hutchinson and Burrell got Saints on the front foot, Olver slotted another penalty to restore the 10-point cushion.
Debutant Lewis Ludlum then had to be on his toes to stop the Falcons charging in for their first try at the other end as Saints once again shut the door in the opposition’s faces.
But Falcons finally broke through with 10 minutes remaining as they recycled well to hand Tait a chance to score.
The full-back gratefully accepted and Delany converted to bring Falcons to within touching distance of Saints at 19-16 behind.
The home side now had the bit between their teeth, but as they tried to mount another late attack, Saints managed to break and the chase was on to reach the ball.
Jamie Elliott got a boot to the ball and Hutchinson won the race to dot down and finish the game as a contest.
The hardy Falcons fans started to filter out of the ground as Olver missed the conversion.
But the failure to convert didn’t matter to Saints, who saw the final seconds out to secure back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
Newcastle Falcons: Tait (c); Watson, Burdon, Willis (Hodgson 72), Sinoti; Delany, M Young (Egerton 66); Lockwood (Vickers 48), Sowrey (Lawson 48), Wilson (Welsh 48); Witty, Davidson (G Young 64); Hogg, Holmes (Chisanga 57), Chick.
Saints: Wilson; Packman (Elliott 60), Burrell, Hutchinson, Collins; Olver, Kessell (Dickson 63); E Waller (Beesley 63), Clare (Fish 67), Hill (Denman 63); Ratuniyarawa, Day (c) (Moon 78); J Onojaife (D Onojaife 78), Gibson, Ludlum.
Referee: Greg Macdonald