In what was a workmanlike performance against a useful-looking Falcons side, Chris Ashton's late try on his return from suspension put the gloss on a victory which had been built on a relentless defensive shift by the hosts, hitting a 91% tackle success rate, denying a Newcastle side who could have scored two tries at least, holding the edge in metres made, possession and territory.
Both sides made several changes to the victorious starting XVs in their last games. That saw Sean Maitland switch to full back to replace Alex Goode with Nathan Earle taking his place on the right wing and Chris Wyles staying on the left wing as Marcelo Bosch remained at centre but Nick Tompkins came in alongside him. Owen Farrell, captaining the side, remained at fly half with Ben Spencer coming in alongside him at scrum half. Into the pack, and a new-look front row featured Richard Barrington, Jamie George and Vincent Koch, whilst at lock, Will Skelton partnered George Kruis, as Maro Itoje switched into the back row, Michael Rhodes moved from 6 to 7 and Jackson Wray was at 8. Newcastle were coming off a six try European Challenge Cup win against Lyon and made no less than eight adjustments. An exciting backline saw Alex Tait at full back, with Vereniki Goneva and Marcus Watson on the wings outside Fred Burdon and Juan Pablo Socino. The half back combination featured Joel Hodgson at fly half and Sonatane Takulua at scrum half. Forwards-wise, Rob Vickers, Scott Lawson and Jon Welsh formed the front row with a second row duo of Calum Green and Evan Olmstead and Callum Chick, captain Mark Wilson and Ally Hogg making up the back row.
A charged down kick gave the visitors an attacking platform inside the first minute, and though they were penalised for holding on, Saracens conceded a penalty 30 metres out allowing Hodgson to give Newcastle a fourth minute lead. However. when Hogg impeded Itoje at the restart, Farrell was able to level the scores at 3-3, but the Falcons were soon pressing again. Another penalty gave them a lineout on the fringe of the 22 and as the maul travelled 15 metres, Saracens entered from the side. The second maul was held up and from the third attempt, the visitors narrowly failed to ground the ball; Newcastle came back for the penalty, and given the incessant pressure, Saracens' concession of the three points was something of a let-off. The home side's first real attack came just before the quarter hour when Wyles' run instigated a fine flowing move from right to left, but a kick forward by George sailed dead in front of him. Their opponents were having far more of the play and putting the ball through the hands, though not seeming to make much ground.
A stolen lineout near half-way led to Saracens' first try after 20 minutes, as Newcastle conceded a penalty in the resulting play and taking the home side to within ten metres. An astute pass from Spencer out of the ruck was met perfectly by the advancing Bosch to go through a gap in the visiting defence and in at the left hand corner as Farrell added the conversion for 10-6. Having made the breakthrough, the hosts nevertheless found themselves under sustained pressure again as an excellent kick and chase by Goneva trapped Earle behind his own line, and though Saracens offended again from the five metre scrum, Newcastle couldn't get across the line and were eventually forced into the knock on. Sarries had a welcome opportunity to clear their lines as they won a penalty from that scrum. Spencer looked to have brpken through for a second try just after the half-hour mark but the Falcons won a crucial turnover. However, the home side went further ahead as Farrell kicked a scrum penalty from 30 metres four minutes before the break. The half ended as Wray latched onto a wayward Hodgson kick and advanced, but was halted by a high tackle, only for the home side to be penalised in the lineout as the half ended.
It would be 30 long minutes before either side scored a point in a half littered with incessant stoppages and reset scrums (although Christmas is a time for repeats I suppose). Spencer, Barrington and George combined for a promising move which broke down in the 43rd minute, and Newcastle continued with ball in hand, but again not gaining much field position, before the hosts had to repel another rolling maul, which they did, and this is heartening, given that this is a key part of the Exeter Chiefs attack which they will face in two weeks time. Wholesale substitutions on the 50 minute mark hardly assisted the flow of the game, but it didn't take long for one replacement, Ashton, to announce his return, as, following a lineout on half-way, the ball was worked in from the right to the centre through Bosch and Burger, allowing the winger to chip forward but narrowly fail to gather for the try. Rhodes had another chance on the hour as Goneva lost the ball in the tackle, but the flanker knocked on himself when attempting to offload.
Another lineout error by the Falcons gave Saracens a chance to edge further ahead, as following a crooked throw, the visitors were penalised at the ensuing scrum and Farrell made it 16-6. Newcastle rallied and went through a series of threatening drives, with Fonua at the heart of them, but Sarries held their shape and eventually the knock-on came as it had before. Saracens saved their most cohesive passage of play to the 76th minute as the ball went through the hands to the left where Wyles went close but was denied, and the ball was switched back the other way, where Farrell's scintillating long pass went over the heads of three teammates and was met perfectly by Ashton to go in at the right hand corner. Farrell lost his footing when trying to convert so it stayed 21-6.
15 Sean Maitland - 14 Nathan Earle (23 Chris Ashton 50) - 13 Marcelo Bosch - 12 Nick Tompkins (22 Alex Lozowski 72) - 11 Chris Wyles - 10 Owen Farrell (c) - 9 Ben Spencer (21 Richard Wigglesworth 58)- 1 Richard Barrington (17 Titi Lamositele 62/ 1 Richard Barrington 79) - 2 Jamie George (16 Schalk Brits 50) - 3 Vincent Koch (18 Juan Figallo 50) - 4 Will Skelton (19 Schalk Burger 51) - 5 George Kruis - 6 Maro Itoje - 7 Michael Rhodes (20 Joel Conlon 74)- 8 Jackson Wray
15 Alex Tait - 14 Marcus Watson (23 Dominic Waldouck 51) - 13 Fred Burdon - 12 Juan Pablo Socino - 11 Veriniki Goneva (22 Craig Willis 78)- 10 Joel Hodgson - 9 Sonatane Takulua (21 Samson Egerton 78)- 1 Rob Vickers (17 Ben Harris 78) - 2 Scott Lawson (16 Ben Sowrey 54)- 3 Jon Welsh (18 Paddy Ryan 78)- 4 Calum Green - 5 Evan Olmstead (19 Will Witty 48) - 6 Callum Chick (20 Opeti Fonua 45) - 7 Mark Wilson (c) - 8 Ally Hogg
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