Semi-final qualification already beyond them, Newcastle Falcons used last night’s LV= Cup dead-rubber as a full-contact training session towards their Premiership run-in – putting in arguably their best performance of the campaign.
Facing a month which sees them meet Bath, Harlequins, Northampton and Leicester in their quest for top-flight survival, Dean Richards removed the cotton wool from his main men in a timely if ultimately meaningless victory.
Dominant in the set-piece and making yards in contact, their all-round supremacy manifested itself in a super team try on eight minutes when the pack did the rough stuff and fed wide to Phil Godman.
The Scottish fly-half has had his critics during his second spell at Kingston Park, but there was no knocking his show-and-go on the 22 as the entire Dragons defence bought it and watched him race between the posts.
Converting his own try, the stand-off was instrumental in changing the point of attack as one-out runners and wide decoy plays were mixed to good effect.
It seemed so alien from a Falcons side who have laboured their way through much of the campaign, Dom Barrow returning to the second-row like he had never been away.
The momentum just kept coming, Mark Wilson marking his 100th game for the club with a 20-metre sprint for a try down the left flank after Sinoti Sinoti had put him away from a two-on-one midway through the half.
The Samoan winger was popping up everywhere, showing precisely the kind of creativity so longed for by the Kingston Park faithful.
Gonzalo Tiesi, the Argentina centre on his much-awaited debut, was a blend of brutal hits and cutting runs. It was refreshing – and then some.
Scrum-half Warren Fury made the third try when persistent blind-side running put Wilson through a gaping hole for the Cumbrian’s second of the night, Godman slotting the conversion from the right touchline as the Dragons stood bereft under their crossbar.
A penalty in the 22 and an attacking line-out only marginally failed to deliver a bonus point when over-eager fringe crawling saw a penalty given the other way.
Newcastle took the half-time lead beyond three scores with a simple Godman penalty from the very last kick.
Having hardly had a touch for the opening 40, the Welshmen began the second half with their tails up, a string of penalties seeing Matt Thompson sent to the sin-bin but his side holding out with a man less in the pack.
The Dragons were down to 14 men themselves but on a permanent basis when Nic Cudd was red-carded for a tip tackle on Adam Powell just after the hour mark.
The replacement flanker spent less than two minutes on the field before being sent straight off.
Franck Montanella and Jamie Helleur’s returns for the closing quarter served as further benefits from the exercise, the scoring rate having ground to a standstill despite the Falcons’ continued forward dominance playing into the wind.
Replacement hooker Scott Lawson’s eyes lit up when Warren Fury’s dab into the right corner fell the way of the big Scot, only for play to be pulled back for an earlier knock-on.
Battling on without Scott Wilson, Kieran Brookes and Ally Hogg, all involved in the 16-16 draw between Scotland A and England Saxons, their front-row was again denied a try by a whisker when Montanella was held up over the line.
A pitch again cutting up badly was hardly helping them, but they gave it a go until the last.
Replacement fly-half Rory Clegg searched for width with a string of attacking passes, Noah Cato toiling away out wide but unable to turn his possession into points.
Sinoti on the opposite flank looked an altogether more threatening runner when given the opportunity, but it was a forward who delivered the four-try bonus point when lock Fraser McKenzie stumbled through a hole to score down the left.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: A Tait, N Cato, G Tiesi (J Helleur, 50), A Powell, S Sinoti, P Godman (R Clegg, 63), W Fury (C Pilgrim, 67); R Vickers (F Montanella, 58), M Thompson, O Tomaszczyk (G Strain, 63), D Barrow (S MacLeod, 50), F McKenzie, W Welch (captain), A Saull, M Wilson.
Sin-bin: M Thompson (48 mins).
Falcons scorers – Tries: P Godman, M Wilson 2, F McKenzie. Conversions: P Godman 2, R Clegg. Penalties: P Godman
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: D Evans (W Evans, 71), W Harries, A Hughes (A Smith, 69), L Robling, H Amos, K Burton (D Jones, 48), J Evans; N Williams (A Coundley, 61), H Gustafson (T Thomas, 69), F Chaparro, M Screech (C Hill, 78), R Sidoli (captain), J Groves, D Waters (N Cudd, 55), I Jones.
Red card: N Cudd (67 mins).
Referee: D Jones (Wales). Attendance: 3,326.