Jimmy Gopperth makes try-scoring return to Newcastle with front-runners Wasps
Former Newcastle points machine Jimmy Gopperth emerged from the replacements' bench at Kingston Park to plunder the try bonus score in a 34-30 win that ensured Wasps would go into the new year on top of the Aviva Premiership table.
In a pulsating see-saw contest played out in front of a 8,730 crowd, Newcastle's biggest home gate of the season, Wasps only needed a single point to overtake Saracens, who are away to Leicester on New Year's Day, and Gopperth's 46th-minute try guaranteed that Dai Young's side that they would at least achieve that.
Ultimately though, Wasps managed to bag a maximum five points - no mean achievement considering they leaked two tries in the opening four minutes and trailed 12-0.
Danny Cipriani, their maverick fly-half, led the fightback with a superb opportunist try before Gopperth, his half-time replacement, helped to finish the job - at the expense of the club with whom he twice won the Premiership's Golden Boot.
There was just a minute on the stadium clock when Newcastle full-back Alex Tait sliced through the Wasps defence before shipping a pass inside to Tonga scrum-half Tane Takulua, who dotted down to the right of the posts.
Joel Hodgson was off target with his conversion attempt but from the botched kick-off England Sevens star Marcus Watson scooped up the loose ball and hared up the left wing, outstripping former Newcastle full-back Rob Miller on a 70-metre scoring run.
This time Hodgson added the extras, leaving a stunned Wasps 12-0 down and in a state of some disarray.
Young's side quickly got their act together thereafter but it took them until the 20th minute to get a score on the board. A piece of sublime simplicity from Cipriani did the trick, the outside-half gathering his own chip over the Newcastle defence to score under the posts.
Cipriani damaged his left leg in the process and had to have treatment before taking the conversion, which he duly slotted, reducing the deficit to 12-7.
Two minutes later Wasps were in front. Cipriani's former Wasps midfield partner Dom Waldouck, a replacement for the injured Watson, made a hash of fielding a kick from scrum-half Dan Robson and flying wing Christian Wade beat Newcastle centre Belisario Agulla in a race to touch the ball down over the try line - by a fingertip, after lengthy examination by the TMO.
Cipriani's conversion put Wasps 14-12 up with 22 minutes on the clock but their lead only lasted four minutes.
Newcastle prop Rob Vickers barged over from close range in the 26th minute and Hodgson's conversion left Newcastle back in front, 19-14.
Wasps were fortunate not to lose Kyle Eastmond to a yellow card for a dangerously high tackle on Tait, though Hodgson kicked the resultant penalty. That stretched the home side's lead to 22-14 but in first-half overtime Wasps had a third try.
After patiently pounding away with a wave of attacking phases, Thomas Young - Wasps' blindside flanker and son of boss Dai - cut through the Newcastle defence from 10 metres out for a try that Cipriani converted to cut the deficit to 22-21.
Cipriani had been struggling since his try and at the interval he was replaced by Gopperth, who wasted little time in making himself at home in his old surroundings.
Six minutes into the second half the Kiwi fly-half took a feed from Robson and cut inside Newcastle number eight Opeti Fonua to claim Wasps' try bonus. He also converted to give the visitors a 28-22 cushion.
There followed an exchange of penalties between Hodgson and Gopperth before Wasps centre Elliot Daly - back in action after the red card he received on England duty against Argentina last month - stepped up to bang over a 51-metre penalty that extended Wasps' lead to 34-25.
The visitors lost two men to the sin bin in the second half - winger Josh Bassett for a deliberate knock-on in the 57th minute and then flanker Guy Thompson for some deliberate spoiling. The Falcons' late pressure brought some reward, with flanker Mark Wilson scoring the 78th-minute try that ensured they finished with both a try bonus and a losing bonus point.