Newcastle Falcons produced their best half-hour of rugby in years and then spent the remainder of a frustrating afternoon undoing all of their good work.
A lightning start to their Aviva Premiership clash saw them making mince-meat of a Gloucester side strewn with internationals, taking the lead as early as the second minute through Tom Catterick’s scintillating try in the left corner.
Rob Cook’s hurried clearance handed the hosts a line-out on the right which they converted into a slick first-phase try.
Dom Barrow’s take at the front, Adam Powell’s charge forward and Will Welch’s line-break had the Falcons in behind Gloucester in the blink of an eye, Ally Hogg drawing the last man and handing Catterick a sprint to the line past veteran James Simpson-Daniel.
Rory Clegg used all his local knowledge to swirl a fabulous conversion between the uprights, doing the same from a pair of penalties as his pack had the Gloucester scrum on toast.
Then, critically, they ran out of puff.
Whether from physical or mental exhaustion, a lone Phil Godman penalty was all they could manage in a final 50 minutes which saw them unrecognisable from the side which had so convincingly dominated the opening exchanges.
“Some of the boys just aren’t quite fit enough,” admitted Dean Richards, making no attempt to shirk the issue as their stamina waned.
“For 25 minutes I thought we played exceptionally well and really controlled the game, then we took our foot off the gas.”
Freddie Burns’ penalty had got the Cherry and Whites off the mark, and on 31 minutes came the decisive moment which seemed to turn the tide as full-back Rob Cook scurried in for a try at the right corner and a 13-8 half-time lead.
Richards added: “Gloucester got a couple of cheap penalties then snuck over towards the end of the first half.
“Timing is everything in terms of when you score, and getting a try before half-time is one of the key moments in that.
“Although we went in five points up, we then conceded another couple of cheap penalties at the beginning of the second half.”
Desperately hanging on, Newcastle’s pack somehow kept Gloucester’s rolling maul at bay from a string of penalties.
Alex Tait hauled Jonny May into touch five metres from the line and Ally Hogg produced a try-saving piece of cover work.
Burns got Gloucester to within two with a straightforward penalty from repeated infringements, and on 53 minutes the dam was finally burst when May dived in at the left corner.
Noah Cato had flown out of the defensive line and missed a long, looping pass, but the visitors’ multiple overlap had left him little other option as May collected and sped home.
That put them three points up, and even when replacement fly-half Phil Godman levelled matters with a penalty around the hour mark, Burns stepped up with two more.
A late spell of forward pressure almost culminated in a winner as Sean Tomes was held up over the line, Richards more inclined to lament the wasted numbers out wide rather than carp over whether or not the ball had been grounded.
The director of rugby said: “To be honest we shouldn’t have been in that position if we had shown a little bit more control in the game, and that was the most disappointing thing in the game. We had the possession but didn’t understand how to use it, and if you can’t do that then you are never going to win.”
Newcastle Falcons: A Tait, N Cato, A Powell, J Fitzpatrick, T Catterick, R Clegg (P Godman 54), M Blair (Fury, 71), F Montanella (R Vickers, 54), M Thompson (G McGuigan, 71), O Tomaszczyk (S Wilson 54), S MacLeod (S Tomes, 67), D Barrow, M Wilson, W Welch (captain), A Hogg.
Tries: T Catterick. Conversions: R Clegg. Penalties: R Clegg 2, P Godman.
Gloucester: R Cook, J Simpson-Daniel (C Sharples, 68), H Trinder (M Tindall, 75), B Twelvetrees, J May, F Burns, J Cowan (D Robson 60), D Murphy (Y Thomas, 2), D Dawidiuk (K Britton, 73), S Knight (R Harden, 50), T Savage (captain), W James (E Stooke, 65), S Kalamafoni, M Kvesic, B Morgan (G Evans, 65).
Tries: R Cook, J May. Penalties: F Burns 4.
Referee: A Small.