A Nick MacLeod penalty eight minutes from time denied Newcastle Falcons a losing bonus point as Sale Sharks ran out 16-8 winners at a torrential Kingston Park.
The boot of Danny Cipriani and a try from winger Tom Brady were the other scores, leaving the Falcons with just one point to show from their last two Aviva Premiership matches over the festive period. Dean Richards’ charges must now wait until early February to get their league season back on track as the Amlin Challenge Cup and LV= Cup take centre stage.
Starting the contest brightly, Kieran Brookes had the crowd in full voice from the word go with a barnstorming carry through the heart of Sale’s defensive line to earn Newcastle a penalty which Phil Godman duly slotted home for a 3-0 lead.
But three minutes later Sale were level courtesy of a Cipriani penalty after the Falcons conceded a needless penalty ten metres inside their own half. Cipriani, who has been tipped by Sale boss Steve Diamond to break into the England fold this year, had the chance edge his side in front on 15 minutes with his second penalty attempt of the evening, but his effort flew wide of the upright and the score remained three apiece.
From the restart Newcastle went on the attack in the shape of stand-in skipper Ally Hogg, who broke down the nearside to earn perfect field position in which to penetrate Sale’s backline. 15 metres away from the visitors' line, the ball was swung wide to full-back Alex Tait but the move came to nothing, however referee Andrew Small awarded the hosts a penalty for an infringement at the breakdown. Godman was unable to convert 25 metres out and the Falcons missed the chance to go ahead.
The Scotland international was made to pay three minutes later when Sale flyer Brady romped in at the corner following a swift backline move. Cipriani’s exquisite touchline conversion gave Sale the ascendancy at 10-3.
This seemed to liven up the Kingston Park club, and the Falcons clawed themselves back into the contest courtesy of Andy Saull, who was underneath a pile of players to touchdown from a rolling maul. Godman failed with the touchline conversion.
Sale responded in positive fashion, with Jonny Leota and Sammy Tuitupou combining well to race up-field to go within inches of Newcastle’s whitewash. Referee Mr Small blew up at the breakdown and sent Carlo del Fava to the sin bin for an altercation off the ball. Camped on the Falcons’ try line with a scrum, the Newcastle pack earned a penalty and Godman was able to clear into touch. Seemingly going into the break with a two point deficit to overturn in the second period, the Falcons were their own worst enemies, giving away a penalty 15 metres out and Cipriani made no mistake to make it 13-8 to the Greater Manchester outfit.
At half-time the rain lashed down onto what was becoming an ever increasingly boggy surface, making for tricky conditions for free-flowing rugby. Just passed the hour mark Cipriani was gifted another opportunity to land a penalty, but his 30 metre kick drifted wide to keep the game very much in the balance.
For all of Newcastle’s endeavour in the last 20 minutes of the game the Falcons were unable to breach Sale’s rear-guard. New recruit Sinoti Sinoti was one of the major plus points for the Tynesiders with the Samoan international puncturing holes in Sale’s defence. James Fitzpatrick looked proactive when he entered the fray in the closing stages, but it was too little too late as MacLeod’s penalty with the clock ticking down, condemning Newcastle to defeat and no consolation losing bonus point.
The Falcons now turn their attention to the Amlin Challenge Cup as they entertain French Top 14 club Brive next Thursday (kick-off 7.45pm). Tickets are still available for the game by calling the Falcons Ticket Hotline on 0871 226 6060 or click here to purchase online.
Tait, Cato, Barnes, Powell, Sinoti, Godman, Blair, Vickers, Lawson, Brookes, Del Fava, MacLeod, Wilson, Saull, Hogg
Replacements McGuigan, Montanella, Tomaszczyk, Tomes, Mayhew, Fury, Clegg, Fitzpatrick
Miller, Brady, Leota, Tuitupou, Cueto, Cipriani, Peel, Harrison, Taylor, Cobilas, Mills, Paterson, Braid, Seymour, Gaskell
Replacements Jones, Roberts, Thomas, Ostrikov, Fihaki, Cliff, MacLeod, MacKenzie
referee: Andrew Small