Newcastle Falcons 22 – 36 Sale Sharks
Newcastle Falcons’ squad were given a useful work out but were on the losing end of the result as Sale Sharks claimed victory in the inaugural Kings of the North match at Kingston Park on Sunday.
Leading 19-17 at the break and building on their advantage in the second half, the game was nonetheless a valuable hit-out as Dean Richards runs the rule over his playing resources ahead of the Aviva Premiership season.
The Falcons were made to battle from behind after just three minutes when Neville Edwards made the most of turnover ball down the left-hand side.
The Winger was on the end of former All Black Dan Braid’s pass as Newcastle’s scramble defence was breached, fly-half Joe Ford adding the extras.
It could have been more but for a try-saving tackle from Alex Tait on his own 22 as the Sharks flooded through, the Falcons dealt a further blow when Scrum Half Harry Bassett left the field injured.
Dan Taylor was given an earlier-than-expected debut having played a full 80 minutes for Tynedale the day before, but earned man of the match honours with a nuggety display.
Sale increased their lead to 12-0 on eight minutes when John O’Donnell exploited numbers out wide to score in the right corner, but the Falcons’ refusal to lie down delivered them a quick-fire reply.
Chris Harris was the man to score down the right-hand side, the Centre rounding off a flowing counter-attack as George McGuigan’s turnover saw Callum McKenzie break down the left wing. He found Royal Navy Back Row Dave Fairbrother, whose line-break set up a ruck on the 22.
Play was whipped wide from the breakdown, Joe Nayacavou drawing the defence towards him before feeding Harris on a scissor line for a well-taken score.
Full Back Brett Connon slotted the conversion, Sale restoring their 12-point buffer when a sensational solo try from Edwards saw him step his way through the defence.
Ford converted, Newcastle reducing the interval arrears to 19-10 when Connon sent over a long-range penalty with the final kick of the half.
Sale changed all but two of their line-up for the second period, the home side starting with the same XV which had finished the first 40 as they repelled an early Sharks attack.
Slick work from George McGuigan in the rolling maul prevented a try as the visitors kicked a penalty into touch, Mark Wilson breaking well from the base of the scrum as they marched upfield.
McKenzie’s urgent running earned the Darlington Mowden Park man a close shave as he was bundled out next to the left corner post from a patient attack, but the Sale try-line was breached on 53 minutes.
Craig Willis was the man to do it, the Fly Half jinking his way over with some neat footwork in the shadow of the posts after Mark Wilson and Andrew Foster had gone close in the build-up.
Connon converted to get to within two points of the lead, but the Sharks nosed away when replacement Mark Jennings scored a converted try from a break down the left.
Newcastle continued to turn to their bench as Bevon Armitage came on for a debut in the centres, but it was Sale who had the next say on the scoreboard when Mark Easter rumbled over from a maul in the left corner.
Rob Vickers’ try ensured they finished on a high note, the replacement prop collecting Nayacavou’s offload after Rob Hawkins’ line-break had set up a period of sustained attacking pressure.
The Falcons’ next Kings of the North assignment comes on Saturday September 19, when they travel to Leicester Tigers.
B Connon, A Tait, C Harris, A Powell, C McKenzie, C Willis, H Bassett; B Harris, G McGuigan, A Rogers, C Green, S Robinson, D Fairbrother, J Nayacavou, M Wilson (c).
Replacements: R Hawkins, R Vickers, S Wilson, S MacLeod, R Mayhew, D Taylor, B Armitage, D Temm, A Foster.
Falcons scorers – Tries: C Harris, C Willis, R Vickers. Conversions: B Connon 2.
T Arscott, J O’Donnell, S James, N MacLeod, N Edwards, J Ford, C Cusiter; R Harrison, T Taylor, V Cobilas, A Ostrikov, G Nott, C Neild, D Braid (captain), J Beaumont.
Replacements: N Briggs, J Flynn, C Parker, B Evans, M Easter, D Seymour, V Fihaki, P Stringer, M Jennings, T Jeffers, M Rogerson, L Parfitt, J Mitchell, T Morton.
Sale scorers – Tries: N Edwards 2, J O’Donnell, M Jennings, T Jeffers, M Easter. Conversions: J Ford 2, N MacLeod.
Referee: D Richards. Attendance: 3,035.