Northampton Saints’ youngsters ensured their Premiership Rugby Cup campaign finished on a high note with a resounding 34-26 triumph over Newcastle Falcons.
The men in Black, Green and Gold led 19-7 at the interval thanks to three tries from Luke Frost, JJ Tonks and debutant scrum-half Jake Garside – with skipper James Grayson adding two of three conversions.
And while injuries mounted up for the hosts after the break, Reece Marshall and Tom Litchfield crossed for further Northampton tries to ensure that Saints ended their Cup campaign with a bonus-point victory.
Both sides showed plenty of ambition in the opening salvos of the match, looking to run the ball from deep to the enjoyment of the crowd at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.
Saints turned down a couple of early shots at goal to kick to the corner, which paid dividends in the tenth minute as Bedford loanee Frost crashed over from close range one phase after a five-metre lineout.
Grayson’s conversion from right of the posts was good to put the hosts into a 7-0 lead, but Falcons hit straight back with a rolling maul score of their own shortly after, with hooker Robbie Smith the beneficiary and Joel Hodgson converting.
Saints were back ahead in similar fashion with 24 minutes played, as the penalties started to mount up against Falcons. Grayson kicked to the corner and Northampton set up the maul well, with Tonks latching onto the ball at the back to score – although this time Grayson’s conversion from close to the touchline drifted just wide of the posts.
Grayson made amends with a superb 50-22 kick moments later to hand the hosts field position, and finally as Saints built the phases, Jack Makepeace lost patience as Newcastle’s Smith infringed again and showed the hooker a yellow card.
Northampton won a penalty from the resulting scrum and like a flash, No.9 Garside had taken a quick tap and darted through a couple of tackles to score, with Grayson adding the extras from the tee.
The scoreline stayed at 19-7 until the break, although Taqele Naiyaravoro and Duane RatuVilai Willemsen were replaced by Ethan Grayson and George Patten respectively, with Marshall having already come on for James Fish earlier in the half.
Callum Burns was introduced for his Club debut ahead of the second half in place of Tom Lockett, and injuries continued to plague Saints as ten minutes later Geordie Irvine was replaced by Karl Garside.
George Hendy got back brilliantly to scoop up a dangerous Iwan Stephens grubber-kick on 55 minutes, but Falcons had penalty advantage and were back in the contest with another five-metre rolling maul try scored by hooker Smith.
Hodgson’s conversion sailed through the posts as Northampton made a switch at scrum-half, with Coventry loanee Pete White replacing Jake Garside – and the hosts hit straight back immediately from the kick-off as Marshall charged off the back of a ruck to secure a try bonus point.
Prop Ed Prowse was the next to go off injured for Saints as Leroy O’Neil entered the field for his debut, meanwhile Newcastle edged closer again with a well-worked move off the back of a scrum to send skipper Pete Lucock through a gap.
James Grayson slotted a penalty with 13 minutes remaining to move Saints more than a score clear, and Litchfield made sure of the result shortly after as Hendy wriggled out of a tackle and sent the centre through a gap down the left wing.
There was still time for Marcus Tiffen to score in the left corner after Zach Kerr’s break for Newcastle, but with Falcons more than a converted try behind, Northampton managed the clock well in the closing stages and sent the ball into the stands as soon as the clock ticked into the red to end the game.