Newcastle made a triumphant return to the Premiership with a precious away win over a Bath side who were in the play-offs only six weeks ago.
Number eight George Graham scored twice and wing Ben Stevenson provided the other Newcastle try. Victory was no less than they deserved for a confident, committed team effort.
Bath, without half a dozen players involved in the Autumn Nations Cup, created excellent tries through Joe Cokanasiga and Josh Matavesi but the losing bonus-point was all they merited.
Fly-half Brett Connon missed a straightforward chance to put Newcastle ahead early on and it was Bath who scored first, with a try by Cokanasiga after nine minutes.
The England wing was first involved out on the left touchline after a break by Rhys Priestland and popped up again on Cameron Redpath’s shoulder to take a deft offload. Priestland converted for a 7-0 lead.
The home side could have been further ahead shortly afterwards. But Ben Spencer’s touchdown was ruled out by the TMO because Redpath had knocked on rather than been stripped of the ball when tackled just short of the line by Luther Burrell and Tom Penny.
Bath were showing plenty of ambition but their attempts to gain control of the game were stymied by penalties conceded at the breakdown and turnovers.
Graham grabbed a well-earned try for the visitors after 22 minutes, fed from a quickly taken line-out by Michael Young. Connon could not convert.
The fly-half was also wide with a long-range penalty on the half-hour but did convert a second try by Graham just before the break to give Newcastle a 12-7 half-time lead.
FULL-TIME: Bath 12 Newcastle Falcons 19.
WE ARE BACK!
— Newcastle Falcons (@FalconsRugby) November 21, 2020
Bath found their rhythm after the break to fashion a classy try for Matavesi against his former club but it was unconverted and the visitors hit back almost immediately when Stevenson dived in at the corner. Connon’s kick opened up a seven-point margin.
There was no letting up though and the Bath defence had to work overtime to keep out a constant barrage of attacks in a frantic third quarter as veteran Toby Flood orchestrated affairs in the Newcastle midfield.
England lock Charlie Ewels came off the Bath bench to add his bulk and leadership qualities but came under scrutiny for a robust front-on tackle on Adam Radran which earned a yellow card. Connon was just wide with the penalty.
Priestland missed a long-range penalty as Bath struggled to get out of their half and they needed the sort of encouragement that replacement Semesa Rokoduguni provided with a crunching tackle on Penny.
But it was Newcastle who finished well in control, looking for the try bonus point which did not come.
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) November 21, 2020
The new Leicester era under head coach Steve Borthwick got off to a cracking start with a try bonus-point victory over Gloucester in their Premiership opener at Welford Road.
Borthwick took over from former director of rugby Geordan Murphy during the break between the last season and this new one.
And he sat in the stands to see wing Kobus van Wyk, hooker Tom Youngs, scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth and replacement hooker Charlie Clare get Leicester’s tries in a thumping 38-15 triumph.
Fly-half Zack Henry kicked three penalties and two conversions and his replacement Joaquin Diaz Bonilla landed a conversion and penalty.
Gloucester’s tries came via hooker James Hanson and scrum-half Joe Simpson, with centre Billy Twelvetrees adding a penalty and conversion.
The Leicester faithful, watching on TV, could have been forgiven for jumping for joy after the season of woe they endured in the previous campaign.
The Tigers were back to their best in a performance which was probably better than anything they have played in the last year.
FT | Worcester Warriors 11-10 London Irish
It was tense but it’s a winning start 😅 pic.twitter.com/s4N790V1kY
— Worcester Warriors (@WorcsWarriors) November 21, 2020
Elsewhere, Worcester got their Premiership season off to a winning start with a narrow 11-10 victory over London Irish in an error-ridden game at Sixways.
Tom Howe scored the decisive try for the hosts midway through the second half, with Billy Searle adding the rest of Worcester’s points from two penalties.
Irish replacement Nick Phipps had gone over for the visitors moments before Howe’s try, with Paddy Jackson converting having already slotted over an early penalty, but it was not enough to deny the Warriors.
There was a minute silence before the game for Worcester president Cecil Duckworth, whose death at the age of 83 was announced earlier in the week.
Duckworth was a major benefactor to the Warriors over a number of years and was awarded the CBE for services to charity in 2013.