Northampton Saints 32 Newcastle Falcons 31: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Saints almost received a dose of their own very sour medicine on Saturday afternoon.
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Because, just as Wasps had been six days earlier, Phil Dowson’s side had seemed to be on track for a serene finish to their Gallagher Premiership home game.

But, just as Wasps did, they offered an invitation to their visitors.

And they very nearly saw them accept it.

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Newcastle couldn’t quite complete the near miraculous comeback that Saints had done in Coventry, where they scored twice in the final three minutes to snatch a 40-36 success.

But the Falcons’ fighting spirit was never in question on a day when they twice looked to have been floored.

Saints were 13-0 and 32-14 up, but Newcastle went 14-13 ahead before eventually losing 32-31.

Dave Walder’s side, shorn, as Saints were, of several hugely influential players, looked very limited during an opening 32 minutes almost exclusively dominated by their hosts.

Ollie Sleightholme scored twice on his 50th appearance for SaintsOllie Sleightholme scored twice on his 50th appearance for Saints
Ollie Sleightholme scored twice on his 50th appearance for Saints
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But when the Falcons were given a glimmer of hope with a Tom Penny try, they soon swooped for a second via the same player.

Saints’ discipline, as it has so often in recent times, went completely out of the window.

They conceded penalty after penalty, forcing referee Jack Makepeace to send David Ribbans to the sin bin.

And as has been shown on myriad occasions this season, if you give a Premiership team a foothold in a game, you are very likely to pay.

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Pay Saints did as they fell behind, leaving club captain Lewis Ludlam, who was unusually among the replacements, looking far from happy on the sidelines as he saw his team start to unravel.

Ludlam would eventually help his side over the line at the end, but not before the Falcons had given them another fright, pulling back to just a point behind with nine minutes to play.

Saints faced the prospect of what would have been a hugely costly home defeat.

But thankfully for them, they managed to see it out, with nerves jangling all around.

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Winning when you are not playing to your full potential is crucial, but Saints will know this is certainly not a pattern that is sustainable for a full season.

They are going to have to get into the groove - and quick.

They face a potential banana-skin fixture at a Bath team who pushed Saracens close on Saturday afternoon.

And the west country side will be licking their lips when they see how Saints have struggled defensively, particularly in terms of staying disciplined under pressure, so far this season.

It is a Bath team that has lost all six league games this season and one Saints will be expected to beat.

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But if they fall asleep in the fashion they did against the Falcons, they will get a very rude awakening indeed.

How they rated...

GEORGE FURBANK - was a huge threat in attack all day, eating up the ground and putting real pressure on the Falcons when he had the chance... 7.5

OLLIE SLEIGHTHOLME - scored twice on his 50th Saints appearance, showing his finishing ability while also getting stuck in when he needed to... 8

FRASER DINGWALL - delivered a tidy assist for Sam Matavesi's try and looked decent in attack, though he did miss a couple of tackles he would normally make... 6.5

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RORY HUTCHINSON - looked sharp during his time on the pitch, setting up Ollie Sleightholme's first score and drawing defenders in well, but he was forced off after a high hit... 7

TOM COLLINS - a typically lively showing from the wing as he capped his day with yet another try for his team... 7

JAMES GRAYSON - missed a couple of kicks but his passing was superb at times as he fixed defenders before creating openings, as shown when he set up the score for Juarno Augustus... 7.5

ALEX MITCHELL - CHRON STAR MAN - no shortage of spark from the scrum-half as he fizzed the ball around and probed for openings in the Falcons defence. Came off before the Falcons' second-half fightback... 8

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ALEX WALLER - gave away one clear penalty, but aside from that he didn't do too much wrong overall as he made plenty of tackles... 6.5

SAM MATAVESI - lit up the Gardens with his trademark smile after scoring during the first half, having popped up on the wing... 7

PAUL HILL - this was a really strong showing from the prop, who acted as scrum-half a few times in the first half, and who showed he can play a bit, while mopping up trouble here and there... 7.5

DAVID RIBBANS - found himself in the sin bin at the end of the first half as Saints continued to give away penalties, though he did carry well when he got the chance... 6.5

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ALEX MOON - a really forceful display from the lock as he carried the fight to the Falcons, showing huge hunger to win the collisions... 7

ALEX COLES - showcased his tidy handling again here and this was a decent display overall, especially in attack... 7

AARON HINKLEY - produced one superb offload that opened the door for Tom Collins' try, and his physicality was evident throughout as he topped Saints' tackle count with 16... 7.5

JUARNO AUGUSTUS - delivered a trademark try, shrugging off several defenders on his way to the line as he once again displayed his immense physicality... 8

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

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MATT PROCTOR (for Hutchinson 46) - got few chances to showcase his skill as Saints started to lose their grip on the game, with the Falcons suddenly the ones playing all of the rugby... 5.5

ETHAN WALLER (for A Waller 52) - got a decent pass or two away, but Saints found themselves on the back foot as the Falcons took over... 5

ROBBIE SMITH (for Matavesi 55) - always looks hungry for action and he was able to get involved a little against his former club... 5

CALLUM BRALEY (for Mitchell 55) - not the kind of cameo the scrum-half would have hoped for as some of his kicking put Saints in trouble, giving the Falcons a way back into the game... 4

ALFIE PETCH (for Hill 59) - wasn't really able to get too involved in the game as the Falcons started to turn the screw late on... 5