Newcastle Falcons recorded their third successive Gallagher Premiership victory on Saturday, showing intensity and composure to defeat Sale Sharks in front of 27,284 supporters at St James’ Park.
The boot of Sonatane Takulua and a Toby Flood try proved key as Dean Richards’ men continued their Great Escape, a late Sale try adding drama right at the death.
It was the visitors who had the first opportunity for points, Faf de Klerk firing wide with a long-range penalty attempt four minutes in, but it proved only a temporary reprieve as Denny Solomona crossed for the opening try in the right corner from a Tom Curry offload.
De Klerk slotted the conversion, Newcastle trying to find their attacking rhythm with a typically electric run from Sinoti Sinoti inside his own half but finding themselves 10-0 down whe De Klerk sent over a penalty from 35 metres.
Takulua got the Falcons off the mark on 16 minutes when the Tongan scrum-half sent over a penalty from similar range, but his side were reduced to 14 men when Logovi’i Mulipola was sent to the sin bin.
Newcastle defended the resulting five-metre scrum heroically, and were denied a try by the television match official when Andrew Davidson was deemed to be offside having scored from a charge-down of a Sharks clearance kick.
A show-stopping run from Sinoti Sinoti signalled the home team’s attacking intentions, and they were rewarded with a second penalty from the resulting phase play when Sale infringed at a ruck 40 metres out in front.
Takulua made no mistake at the Leazes End as he bisected the uprights, Sale’s 10-6 lead standing at half-time thanks to the TMO ruling out a Sharks try for an obvious offside from a hack downfield.
But that was soon changed four minutes into the second half when the Falcons surged into the lead, Toby Flood scoring from first receiver at a five-metre scrum.
That came about as a result of Ben Curry being sin-binned for killing a ruck following Sinoti’s electric run down the left, Takulua converting from left of centre and following up with a long-range penalty to send St James’ Park potty.
Takulua repeated the trick from closer in on 55 minutes when Sale hands in the ruck conceded a penalty five metres from the try-line, the Falcons having earned prime field position through runs from Simon Hammersley and Chris Harris, among others.
Defensively, too, Newcastle were raising their game, winning a crucial jackal penalty inside their own 22 to snuff out a Sharks attack around the hour mark.
But it was the boot of Takulua doing the damage on the score-board, the half-back nailing his fourth penalty on 62 minutes from 40 metres out after a strong home scrum forced the whistle of the referee.
Even when Sale kicked a penalty to the right corner 10 minutes from time the Falcons’ defensive line-out unit came up with a crucial steal, but the visitors regained their scoring touch three minutes from time when Byron McGuigan’s converted try in the left corner reduced the deficit to five.
Newcastle held their nerve to close out the game, taking four precious Premiership points.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Sonatane Takulua; 1 Sam Lockwood, 2 George McGuigan (Kyle Cooper, 68), 3 Logovi'i Mulipola (David Wilson, 68), 4 Calum Green, 5 Andrew Davidson, 6 Gary Graham, 7 John Hardie, 8 Mark Wilson (captain, Callum Chick, 73).
Falcons scorers - Tries: Toby Flood. Conversions: Sonatane Takulua. Penalties: Sonatane Takulua 4.
Sale Sharks: 15 Luke James, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 James O’Connor (Cameron Redpath, 26), 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 Sam James, 9 Faf de Klerk; 1 Ross Harrison (Tom Bristow, 68), 2 Rob Webber (Curtis Langdon, 65), 3 WillGriff John (Joe Jones, 68), 4 Josh Beaumont, 5 James Phillips (Bryn Evans, 60), 6 Tom Curry (Cameron Neild, 65), 7 Ben Curry, 8 Jono Ross (captain).
Sale scorers - Tries: Denny Solomona, Byron McGuigan. Conversions: Faf de Klerk 2. Penalties: Faf de Klerk.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys. Attendance: 27,284.
de Klerk 6,77
de Klerk 14
Hammersley, Goneva, Harris, Matavesi, Sinoti, Flood, Takulua, Lockwood, McGuigan, Mulipola, Green, Davidson, Graham, Hardie, Wilson
Replacements Cooper, Brocklebank, Wilson, Olmstead, Chick, Stuart, Connon, Williams
James, Solomona, O'Connor, Janse van Rensburg, McGuigan, James, de Klerk, Harrison, Webber, John, Beaumont, Phillips, Curry, Curry, Ross
Replacements Langdon, Bristow, Jones, Evans, Neild, Warr, Redpath, Reed
referee: Craig Maxwell-keys
assistant: Adam Leal
assistant: Wayne Falla
TMO: Sean Davey