Rory Clegg’s touchline conversion four minutes from time thudded off the right post as Newcastle missed out by a whisker in the Basque country last night.
With Dean Richards having prioritised performance over result that will have been of little concern to the director of rugby, who had plenty of positives to take from the night.
Those attempting to gauge the impact of Newcastle’s summer influx will have to wait to make a more substantial analysis, with only three of their 10 summer signings thrown in.
Samoan trio Kane Thompson, Alesana and Anitelea Tuilagi are yet to enter the country, Ruki Tipuna is on the mend from a hamstring tear and Uili Kolo’ofai, Juan Pablo Socino and Josh Furno were all missing.
Prop Alex Rogers, the former Harlequins and Lille man who will spend the season with Blaydon, was a late loan call-up for Mark Irving due to a family bereavement, the two clubs at vastly differing phases of their pre-season.
Bayonne were playing the last of their warm-up matches as they prepare to host French and European champions Toulon a week today in their league opener, while for Newcastle this was the first of a month’s worth of pre-season friendlies.
It certainly did not show in the early exchanges, the visitors by far the more dominant force as coherent passing and solid game management from Phil Godman got them into the right areas.
Jamie Helleur used the territorial dominance to good effect when his linebreak and offload to Danny Barnes induced the penalty from which Godman put them ahead, but Bayonne’s policy of not kicking goals paid dividends shortly after.
Marvin O’Connor was the beneficiary when a line-out in the right was spun left, Blair Stewart drawing the defence and putting the French Under-20s cap through a hole.
Scott MacLeod put the Falcons ahead as the big Scot scrambled in at the right corner from a frantic passage of play, but sustained pressure from a resurgent home side was brought to bear when Joe Rokocoko’s offload put scrum-half Guillaume Rouet through a gap to score.
The former All Black was a growing influence on the game and, even though there was more than a hint of forward pass about it, the referee waved play on soon after as his offload put full-back Martin Bustos Moyano in for a third try in the left corner.
The first-half scoring was not done yet, however, the visitors reducing the interval deficit to 19-13 when play was swung from right to left. A long, looping pass took out two defenders, and Sinoti Sinoti was on hand to turn his man inside-out before dotting down in the corner.
Mass substitutions at half-time thwarted some the flow thereafter, Adam Powell’s linebreak ruffling a few feathers in the home defence before a sublime line-break from Rory Clegg gave Ally Hogg a run-in of a try.
Clegg slotted the conversion to nudge Newcastle ahead by one, but sustained scrum pressure near their own try-line saw repeated re-sets before the referee finally lost patience and awarded a penalty try having already sent Andy Saull to the sin-bin.
Of the other replacements Calum Green seemed at home in the engine room, Simon Hammersley took most of what was thrown at him at full-back and Mike Blair visibly lifted the pace at scrum-half.
Scott Wilson’s bulldozer of a try gave Clegg a kick to win it, but even in defeat there was plenty to be positive about.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: L Smith, S Brown, D Barnes, J Helleur, S Sinoti, P Godman, W Fury; A Rogers, G McGuigan, O Tomaszczyk, D Barrow, S MacLeod, M Wilson, W Welch (captain), R Mayhew. Replacements: R Hawkins, E Fry, S Wilson, C Green, A Hogg, M Blair, R Clegg, A Powell, A Saull, S Hammersley.
Sin-bin: A Saull (65).
Facons scorers – Tries: S Sinoti, A Hogg, S Wilson. Conversions: R Clegg. Penalties: P Godman.
BAYONNE: M Bustos Moyano, J Elissalde, J Rokocoko, M Ugalde, M O’Connor, B Stewart, G Rouet; L Pointud, A Etrillard, G Muller, D Senekal, M Chisholm, J Monribot, P Gayraud, D Haare. Replacements: A Iguiniz, G Arganese, G Jgenti, L Fa’aoso, P Taele, B Chouzenoux, C Ancely, J Marmouyet, C Loustalot, S Fernandez, Sayerse, G Lovobalavu, G Larrart, C Otazo, JC van Rensburg, B Duhalde.
Bayonne scorers – Tries: M O’Connor, G Rouet, M Bustos Moyano, Penalty try. Conversions: M Bustos Moyano 2, C Loustalot.