Newcastle Falcons 13 – 18 Sale Sharks
Newcastle Falcons had to make do with a hard-earned losing bonus point as a late try from Jonny Leota took the Aviva Premiership’s northern derby out of their grasp.
The home side led for the majority of a keeny-contested afternoon at Kingston Park, Rory Clegg finding his range with the boot and Juan Pablo Socino crossing for their only try.
Dogged defence and eager forward play were the order of the day with neither side yielding much in the way of clear chances, Newcastle now entering back-to-back European clashes with Stade Francais placed 10th in the table.
The Falcons started with a flourish on their way to an eventual 10-8 half-time lead, Socino following up last week’s man-of-the-match performance with a well-taken first try on nine minutes.
It all stemmed from a penalty on half-way, Clegg going for touch rather than testing his long-range goal-kicking.
The resulting line-out on the 22 saw off-the-top ball worked to Socino at first receiver, the Argentinean beating three men on his way to the line in a run which showcased his powerful running, side-stepping and low centre of gravity.
Clegg slotted the extras from in front for a seven-point lead, Sale soon biting back when the video referee awarded a try to visiting skipper Dan Braid.
The Kiwi flanker managed to stay just inside the right corner flag after the ball was flung wide by Samoan centre Leota, defenders having been sucked in numbers towards the other side of the field by a powerful rolling maul.
Cipriani’s missed conversion ensured the Falcons remained in front by a whisker, Alesana Tuilagi rattling a few bones with his shuddering midfield tackles.
Clegg and Socino worked the corners with some neat tactical kicking, Socino’s line-break and Sinoti’s support run earning a penalty in front of the posts for a high tackle.
Clegg duly slotted for double figures, his side ending the half on the defensive as Sale plugged away.
Leota’s claims for a try in the left corner were denied when the video referee spotted a double movement, Newcastle’s maul defence holding tight to force a penalty as their line remained in tact.
The Sharks reduced the gap to two when Cipriani sent over a penalty from in front, the stand-off firing wide with the final kick of the half as his side missed out on a single-point interval lead.
Scott Wilson’s last-minute addition at tight-head prop did nothing to weaken the Newcastle scrum following Oliver Tomaszczyk’s withdrawal, his side exhibiting the greater defensive patience as the visitors shipped a handful of midfield penalties at the breakdown.
Tuilagi repeated his robust tackling as Sale probed down the blind-side, Adam Powell an attacking force down the right after his introduction on the half-hour for the injured Gonzalo Tiesi.
Only a slight knock-on denied Tuilagi a try when the Samoan almost scooped up a loose pass on half-way, the Falcons’ returning international contingent boosting the cause when Italian Josh Furno emerged from the bench.
His side extended their safety buffer to five when more Sharks indiscipline handed Clegg a penalty from 40 metres out, the former Harlequins and England Saxons stand-off bisecting the uprights from in front.
Cipriani answered back just after the hour mark from much closer in as an advacing maul was stopped illegally, Powell’s interception relieving further danger as the visitors maintained their charge.
Alex Tait’s rush defence had forced a hurried attacking decision with Sale having the extra man, but the Salford-based side had the lead for the first time when Cipriani’s chip-and-chase out of his own 22 saw Mark Jennings put away down the right.
The replacement full-back drew last man Sinoti to hand Leota a run-in, Cipriani converting for a five-point lead following their length-of-the-field score.
The hosts chanced their arm in a frantic finish with Sinoti among those probing for a gap, but the Sharks held on .
A Tait (S Hammersley, 70), S Sinoti, G Tiesi (A Powell, 29), JP Socino, Al Tuilagi, R Clegg, M Blair (W Fury, 70); R Vickers, G McGuigan (A Rogers, 70), S Wilson, C Green, D Barrow (K Thompson, 70), M Wilson, A Saull (captain, J Furno, 53), A Hogg.
Falcons scorers – Tries: JP Socino. Conversions: R Clegg. Penalties: R Clegg 2.
M Haley (M Jennings, 56), L McLean, J Leota, S Tuitupou, M Cueto, D Cipriani, C Cusiter (W Cliff, 60); E Lewis-Roberts (A de Marchi, 56), M Jones (S Mamukashvili, 66), V Cobilas (R Harrison, 56), J Mills (M Easter, 63), A Ostrikov, D Braid (captain), M Lund, J Beaumont.
Sale scorers – Tries: D Braid, J Leota. Conversions: D Cipriani. Penalties: D Cipriani 2.
Referee: D Richards. Attendance: 5,572.