Newcastle Falcons 16 Northampton Saints 24: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings
The Saints coaches have received plenty of criticism this season, but at Kingston Park on Sunday, they got it spot on.
The team they selected to take on Newcastle Falcons proved to be the perfect blend - one good enough to earn a 24-16 success in the Anglo-Welsh Cup opener.
Although the margin of victory was far from huge and Saints needed a late Rory Hutchinson score to make sure, the coaches deserved credit.
Because they managed to tick all the boxes that crop up in this competition.
They managed to give vital game time to patient young players and senior stars who needed it.
And they managed to get the combinations right, especially at centre, where match-winner Hutchinson and Luther Burrell struck up an impressive partnership.
With James Wilson at full-back, there was plenty of security in a key position, while in the back row, Jamie Gibson’s know-how helped debutant Lewis Ludlum and Jordan Onojaife.
In the second row, Christian Day, who has been strutting his stuff in English rugby for more years than some can remember, combined well with new boy Api Ratuniyarawa.
And up front, hooker Charlie Clare came in for his first start, alongside Ethan Waller and Paul Hill, who are young players with plenty of experience.
Although Saints eventually threw even more fledling talents into the mix and the Falcons fought back, there was still Lee Dickson and Jamie Elliott to come on to steady the ship.
Elliott played a key role in the late defensive effort and Hutchinson’s try, giving Saints the boost they needed to get over the line.
It was a performance full of character in front of fans who also showed plenty of grit, having paid to watch what was far from a classic on a typically wet and windy north-east afternoon.
Saints can now move on to Saturday’s game against Gloucester with a creditable display and four points under their belt.
And they have also achieved the pre-match aim of securing back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
Players will get the chance to make it three in a row this weekend as many look to push for a starting place when the Premiership returns at Worcester a week on Friday.
But the characterful win against Gloucester and the spirited showing at Newcastle are sturdy platforms on which to build.
The pressure is now off slightly and that should give players, young and old, the freedom to express themselves.
Supporters will hope that Saints can now get on a roll before the big derby battle at Leicester Tigers on December 3.
And with a deep squad to call upon, there is every chance they can turn their short-term ambitions into reality.
How they rated...
Provided wisdom in a key position and his big boot was used to gain Saints ground in windy conditions... 7
Couldn’t really get in the game as there were few chances to use his trademark pace against a tough Newcastle team... 6
Showed his experience with a powerful performance in which he set up the first try for Tom Collins and got Saints on the front foot on a few occasions... 7
RORY HUTCHINSON - CHRON STAR MAN
A really strong display from the young centre, who scored the crucial late try and also put in some big tackles, including a superb last-ditch stop on Sinoti Sinoti... 7
Whenever he plays, he usually finds his way to the try line, and this was no different as he slid in for a first-half score... 7
A largely assured display from the youngster, who did put in a few kicks that weren’t quite on the money, but put in many that were and also defended well... 7
Had scored the winning try against Gloucester on the previous weekend, but he wasn’t able to have the same sort of impact here... 6
Looked strong around the park, carrying well and he will hope to build on this display in the coming weeks to challenge his brother for the No.1 shirt... 7
Made his first start for Saints and didn’t do much wrong as he played his part in a strong forward showing... 7
Put Newcastle under real pressure in the scrum and looked strong in open play as he showed his class... 7
Got through a lot of work, making plenty of tackles and carries as he again impressed in Saints colours... 7
His influence was noticeable throughout and the coaches will be so happy to have the experienced lock back in action... 7
Made his presence felt at the breakdown as Saints often won the battle on the ground and he can be pleased with this performance... 7
Like Day and Burrell, this man was key in steering the younger players around the park and he made plenty of telling contributions... 7
A strong debut from the highly-rated back row forward who appears to have a very bright future at Franklin’s Gardens... 7