Northampton Saints took all five league points from their 39-31 victory over Newcastle Falcons on Friday to stay top of the league.
The first-half was an open, attacking spectacle that was quite fitting of the league’s first game of the new year.
Stephen Myler’s early try was just the beginning of his incredible night, as he brought up his 2000 points landmark for the Saints.
Chris Harris struck for the Falcons, before George Pisi was able to dive over before the break to see the leaders go in with the lead.
The second half was even more action packed, and when Josh Furno was issued with a yellow early in the half, the Saints threatened to pull clear, especially when Calum Clark gained their third try.
A penalty try followed for the hosts, but George McGuigan went under a sea of bodies to get his side back in the game, even more so when Alex Tait got their third score of the evening.
However, Luther Burrell kicked himself over the line to seal the tie, though Newcastle did claim a bonus point as Richard Mayhew bundled his side over in a storming match at the Gardens.
The first 2015 game of the Premiership was a wonderful advert for the league, as both teams stormed out of the blocks in a match of almost constant attacks.
It took Myler 11 minutes to open the scoring, kicking through a penalty in a half where both number 10’s dominated proceedings. And five minutes later, Myler’s strong start to the year continued when he went over in the corner.
The try was a wonderful example of counter-attacking play from the league leaders, with Ben Foden’s sprint forward seeing the Saints make good ground, before the ball eventually came to the kicker following neat handling, who followed it up with a conversion.
With a ten-point lead inside 16 minutes, the fact the visitors were able to claw themselves back into the game is a huge testament to their resilience.
Harris was the man who touched down, but an inch perfect kick by Tom Catterick was able to give Harris the opportunity, and Catterick narrowed the score, adding the extras.
Newcastle’s kicker levelled the scores with another penalty just before the half hour mark, but Northampton took back their lead with the game’s third try. It was yet another stunning one to light up the Gardens, and Myler again was at the heart of it.
Following a switch from right to left, the kicker’s delicate ball through was met by the run of Pisi, who dived over to restore the advantage. Myler added the points to see Saints take a seven point lead.
He continued his 100 percent record in the second period with a penalty, and the Falcons were reduced to 14 men after Furno was issued with the yellow after a series of fouls.
Northampton took advantage of the extra man within minutes, adding their third try of the night in a half they took hold of early on.
Following a spell of pressure inside Newcastle’s 22, Foden danced around a number of Falcons challenges, before feeding Ken Pisi out on the right. And despite checks from the TMO, his inside pass to Clark was backwards, though Myler missed the posts for the first time.
Despite Furno’s return to the pitch, a penalty try was added when a maul forward saw Northampton steam over the line, and Myler became only the second Northampton man to bring up 2000 points, writing his name further into the Saints record books.
But Newcastle got a second try minutes after, when they managed to heave themselves forward following a lineout.
It was an almighty effort which looked unlikely, but McGuigan drove under bodies, with Catterick reducing the lead to 13. And Newcastle really lit up the game soon after, when they got another five-point score.
Harris handed off two Saints players, and had the know-how to find Alex Tait, who went over, with Catterick striking well to ensure an intriguing last 15 minutes. But the Saints did seal the game following another counter attack, and Burrell did well to leap over.
It came after George North’s inside pass to Burrell hit the deck, though Burrell resurrected the attack as he kicked through for himself. James Wilson, taking over kicking duties from the replaced Myler, kicked his first points of the night.
A fourth try came for the Falcons after they again drove over the line, Mayhew with ball in hand as they stormed through the Saints backline to gain the bonus point. Catterick continued his strong kicking performance with the conversion.
Northampton saw through the victory, but they were pushed all the way by the visiting side, who again threatened one of the league’s leading sides.
Tries: Myler, G Pisi, Clark, Penalty Try, Burrell
Cons: Myler 3, Wilson
Pens: Myler 2
Tries: Harris, McGuigan, Tait, Mayhew
Cons: Catterick 4
Yellow Card: Joshua Furno
Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Samu Manoa, 7 Phil Dowson (capt), 6 Calum Clark, 5 Christian Day, 4 Sam Dickinson, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Mike Haywood, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Matti Williams, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Ben Nutley, 20 Tom Wood, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 James Wilson, 23 Tom Stephenson.
Newcastle Falcons : 15 Alex Tait, 14 Chris Harris, 13 Adam Powell , 12 Anitelea Tuilagi, 11 Danny Barnes, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Mike Blair, 8 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 6 Richard Mayhew, 5 Josh Furno, 4 Calum Green, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Eric Fry
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Rob Vickers, 18 Alex Rogers, 19 Scott MacLeod, 20 Andy Saull, 21 Ruki Tipuna, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Tom Penny
Date: Friday, January 2
Venue: Franklin’s Gardens
Kickoff: 19:45 GMT
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Gareth Copsey, John Meredith
TMO: David Sainsbury