Some people see rugby union’s losing bonus point system as a reward for failure, but Newcastle Falcons are not complaining.
For the second week in succession they fell within the magical seven-point buffer, Noah Cato’s interception try and Joel Hodgson’s cool-headed conversion extending the gap between them and Worcester at the bottom of the Aviva Premiership to 12 points with seven games remaining.
Dean Richard’s scrappers lack nothing in heart and, even though they now have two less league points than they did at the same stage of their 2012 relegation season, they at least had the character to battle back from an abysmal first-half showing.
They were bettered in every area despite playing with the wind during the first 40.
The table-toppers were quicker to the ball, more powerful in contact, more structured in their play-calling and light-years more ruthless in exploiting space when it appeared.
Despite playing into the guts of a howling gale Northampton led 19-6 at half-way with three unanswered tries, Newcastle offering little other than Rory Clegg’s boot as they again failed to use the elements to their advantage.
It was a lot better after the break as they upped the energy and ambition, Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards stating: “I was pleased with the outcome in the end, but you wouldn’t have said that at half-time.
“The boys had a chat during the interval, they challenged each other to turn it around and they managed to do so. We didn’t capitalise on the wind before half-time, we conceded three tries and you could forgive a team in that situation for thinking ‘what the heck do we do now’?
“To be fair to the players there was some very honest talk from them in the changing room and they turned it round.”
Richards’ side were just not at the races in a one-sided opening half, full-back James Wilson putting Northampton a try up after seven minutes when a botched Newcastle line-out on their own 22 conceded a quickly-tapped free kick, the ball worked to the left.
Clegg slotted two well-struck penalties as the home side maintained a foothold, but centre Tom Stephenson’s try on 16 minutes sounded the alarm bells as he walked through the midfield unopposed.
Ally Hogg’s tidy work at the scrum base and Alex Tait’s contribution at full-back had been virtually the only positives for Richards’ side, who shipped a further try on 32 minutes when Kahn Fotuali’i’s run, Jamie Elliott’s support and George Pisi’s passing freed Wilson for a walk-in down the right.
Myler’s curling conversion added the exclamation mark, Newcastle at least starting the second half with fire in their belly and a seemingly renewed sense of purpose.
Playng into the wind encouraged them to keep the ball in hand rather than their previous aimless kicking game, but they were left empty-handed when two penalties in the 22 saw attacking line-outs fizzle out.
Adam Powell’s line-break and Chris York’s supporting run handed Clegg a third penalty from in front to narrow the gap to 10, the hosts enjoying by far their best spell.
Myler wiped it straight off with a strike from straight out on the 22, Newcastle’s introduction of Hodgson adding much-needed fizz for the closing quarter.
Powell’s busy running asked further questions having replaced the injured Jamie Helleur and, just when the game seemed to be petering out into nothing, Cato popped up with an interception try after clawing in a lofted pass down the right.
Hodgson held his nerve with the conversion from wide out to get to within bonus-point territory, a kick which handed his side further impetus in their quest to remail a Premiership entity.
Despite his joy at the bonus point Richards was quick to add a caveat, stating: “When we analyse the game we will have to look at the bad bits as well as the good. We have had a tendency this season to drift in and out of matches, but the amount of quality game time has steadily increased.”
“That does not excuse the fact we were poor in the first half, our contact-area work and first-up tackles were off and as a consequence we had to commit more players to the breakdown.
“The quality of ball they had meant we were stretched defensively, but we battled back and got our reward.”