Falcons edge out Sharks for first win
September 13, 2013
Sale's Mark Cueto is tackled by the Newcastle defence
© PA Photos
Newcastle Falcons notched their first Aviva Premiership victory of the season with a narrow 15-14 victory over Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium in Salford on Saturday night.
The Falcons responded impressively to being overpowered 21-0 in torrential rain at home to Bath last week on their return to the top flight. They were equal to the Sharks, surprise 22-16 winners at Gloucester last weekend, in greasy conditions following pre-match rain.
The visitors' points all came from penalties, four by former Scotland fly-half Phil Godman and the clincher through his replacement in this match Rory Clegg. Home captain Dan Braid scored the game's only try 10 minutes before half-time. Yet home number 10 Nick Macleod, preferred again to former England fly-half Danny Cipriani, rued missing the conversion and two penalties.
Cipriani was again omitted from the Sale matchday squad while centre Jonny Leota missed out, having picked up a knock against Gloucester. Mark Cueto moved to the centres with Tom Brady starting on the wing.
The Falcons, who announced the retirement of centre Tane Tu'ipulotu due to a knee injury this week, made five changes including flanker Will Welch returning as captain. Inside centre Adam Powell, prop Oliver Tomaszczyk, hooker Matt Thompson and second row Fraser McKenzie also came in, the latter facing the club he left over the summer.
Macleod failed to capitalise on early pressure when his right-sided penalty attempt came back off the left upright. He made no mistake from the left of the sticks a few minutes later though.
Sale twice stole line-outs in the Newcastle half but could not take advantage. Indeed, the Falcons won two penalties down the right and from the second Godman levelled with a lengthy kick midway through the first period.
Yet the Sharks responded positively and another Macleod penalty, from a similar position to that which hit the post, restored their lead. Sale attacked again and, after Newcastle blindside flanker Dom Barrow was sin-binned, they kicked to the right corner and from the line-out opposite number Baird dived over to score. Macleod pushed the touchline conversion across the posts.
The Falcons rallied and, although wing Tom Catterick missed with an ambitious penalty attempt from inside his own half, Godman put one over from right in front as Barrow returned. A further foray into Sale territory saw Godman add three more from the left to make it 11-9 at the break.
Newcastle picked up from where they left off and Godman's penalty from the right put them ahead for the first time since their return to the Premiership. Sale responded via Dwayne Peel's break from inside his half but Macleod could not convert the resulting penalty. However, he was on target five minutes later from a central position to regain the lead.
The Falcons were dominating at the scrum, which gave them a penalty just to the right of the posts with 13 minutes to go. Clegg made no mistake. Sale thereafter threw everything they had at Newcastle, but the visitors were up to the task.
It meant a first Premiership victory in charge of the Falcons for director of rugby Dean Richards, 12 months on from the end of his three-year ban for his part in the 'Bloodgate' scandal with Harlequins.
Newcastle director of rugby Dean Richards believes his side got the result they deserved, "We probably edged it in the second half and deserved to win," he said. "It was a tight affair and if we'd sorted out our defence of the rolling mauls in the first half it might have been a little bit further.
"Full credit to our boys; you look at the defence in the last five, 10 minutes. I thought we were under the cosh a little bit because we were quite happy to give them possession but I thought we defended extremely well, put our bodies on the line and that was probably the thing that got us the result."
Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond found it hard to argue with his rival. "Second half I thought they were a far better, streetwise team than ourselves, didn't allow us to play and a couple of decisions went against us. (I'm) thoroughly disappointed. That's how it goes, but on their second-half performance I think they deserved their win."
As for Macleod's misses, Diamond said: "We expect our kickers to be at high percentages and he had a bit of an off day in that department, but tight games are won and lost on the kicks. Newcastle won it tonight through having an accurate kicker and being a bit more streetwise in the game."
Dan Braid's first half try was not enough to propel Sale to victory © PA Photos
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