Chris Ashton scores on return from suspension as Saracens edge out Newcastle
Chris Ashton made a try-scoring return from his 13-week suspension to help Saracens down Newcastle 21-6 and remain top of the Aviva Premiership standings.
The 29-year-old wing came on as a second-half replacement after completing his latest ban, for biting the arm of Northampton prop Alex Waller in September , and made the immediate impact he would have hoped for at Allianz Park.
Ashton, who is joining Toulon at the end of the season, was all smiles as he finished off a flowing move to touch down in the right-hand corner five minutes from time for Saracens' second try of the match.
Centre Marcelo Bosch grabbed Sarries' other try in the first half as they remained in top spot, albeit now level on 42 points with Wasps following their four-try success over Bath.
It was some joy for Saracens who had learned before the game that England prop Mako Vunipola had sustained knee ligament damage during the European win over Sale last weekend and could miss the Six Nations. He joins brother Billy on the long-term injury list.
The hosts struggled to spark into life in the opening half of this contest, where Falcons' pack dominated for large spells but failed to pile up the points. And the visitors paid for it in the end as they slumped to a sixth league defeat of the season.
Newcastle went into the clash buoyed by fine form in both the Premiership and Europe, winning three out of the last four games, and they attacked Saracens with real confidence and intention in the opening 20 minutes, camping themselves near the try line but failing to find a way across it.
Desperate Saracens defending by legal and illegal means at times foiled and frustrated Falcons and they visitors must have felt aggrieved that referee Matthew Carley seemed in generous mood towards the hosts, keeping his yellow card tucked firmly away in his pocket.
Falcons managed just two penalties from Joel Hodgson in the opening half, with Saracens responding through Owen Farrell's three-pointer before Bosch charged over the line for the opening try in the 21st minute. Farrell converted and it gave the hosts a 13-6 half-time lead they hardly deserved.
Falcons' pack continued to have the better of their rivals in the set-piece but the service the backs got could not be turned into points.
And Farrell kicked Saracens further ahead with a penalty before the home side finished strongly.
Ashton was introduced in the 49th minute and he was given a resounding reception by the Allianz Park crowd.
And the man discarded by England coach Eddie Jones showed he had lost no sense of awareness during his enforced lay-off as he popped up on the far side to catch Farrell's pass and stroll over for the final say.