A hat-trick of tries from Nili Latu were not enough for Newcastle Falcons to end the Aviva Premiership season on a winning note as Sale Sharks shaded Saturday’s all-northern tussle.
The Falcons trailed 15-10 at the midway point, Latu scoring a pair of tries from the back of the driving maul in the week that the Tonga captain signed newly-extended terms to remain at Kingston Park.
Right from the off Newcastle showed their determination to play attacking rugby, Alex Tait catching Mike Delany’s kick-off on the full while Latu put in one of many big carries.
But it was Sale who had first say on the scoreboard, skipper David Seymour scoring in the right corner as his side dabbed a close-range penalty into touch to set up an unstoppable maul.
Danny Cipriani missed the conversion but added a penalty in his final game for the club, Newcastle testing the visitors’ defence when Delany put in a scything break which got him to within five metres of the try-line.
Sale infringed under pressure as the Falcons hammered away for a score, the hosts kicking the ball into touch and scoring from the lineout when Latu peeled off the back of a maul and sped in unattended at the corner.
The Kiwi’s no-look pass to Michael Young had the crowd on their feet as Newcastle countered around half-way, but it was the Sharks who were first to reach double figures when TJ Ioane’s break and quick hands from Cipriani freed centre Sam James for a try in the left corner.
Chris Harris’ outside break and offload was within a whisker of putting Alex Tait away for a try as the Falcons maintained their foot-hold in the game, but it was to Latu that they again turned for the final points of the half as the No 8 scored from another advancing maul.
The Falcons roared out of the blocks for the second half and were level on 48 minutes when another 13-man maul delivered Latu’s hat-trick try, the hosts having kicked for touch when presented with a penalty in front of the posts.
Dan Temm and Michael Young had both gone close to scoring in the preceding five minutes, the flanker doing Cipriani for pace but knocking on in the act of grounding, while Young was pulled back for offside after pouncing on a loose ball at the back of a five-metre scrum.
Tait’s claim for a 55th minute try was denied by the video ref as the winger knocked on under the posts from a hard midfield line, Juan Pablo Socino running 40 metres from turnover ball but losing his grip in contact on the hour mark.
A pair of Joe Ford penalties put Sale six ahead going into the dying embers of the season, Newcastle earning a pair of attacking line-outs in the last two minutes but not managing to convert them as the visitors held on.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: Simon Hammersley (B Agulla, 57), Alex Tait, Chris Harris, Juan Pablo Socino, Marcus Watson, Mike Delany (C Willis, 68), Michael Young (S Takulua, 62); Rob Vickers, Rob Hawkins (S Lawson, 40), Mike Cusack (T Vea, 40), Calum Green, Will Witty, Mark Wilson, Dan Temm, Nili Latu (captain).
Falcons scorers - Tries: N Latu 3.
SALE SHARKS: 15 Mike Haley (J Ford, 40), 14 Will Addison, 13 Sam James, 12 Johnny Leota, 11 Nev Edwards, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Peter Stringer; 1 Eifion Lewis-Roberts (R Harrison, 55), 2 Tommy Taylor (N Briggs, 68), 3 Vadim Cobilas (B Mujati, 55-60-74), 4 Bryn Evans, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 6 Cameron Neild, 7 David Seymour (captain, M Easter, 55), 8 TJ Ioane.
Sale scorers - Tries: D Seymour, S James. Conversions: D Cipriani. Penalties: D Cipriani, J Ford 2.
Referee: Matt Carley. Attendance: 7,089.
Hammersley, Tait, Harris, Socino, Watson, Delany, Young, Vickers, Hawkins, Cusack, Green, Witty, Wilson, Temm, Latu
Replacements Lawson, Rogers, Vea, Thompson, Mayhew, Takulua, Willis, Agulla
Haley, Addison, James, Leota, Edwards, Cipriani, Stringer, Lewis-Roberts, Taylor, Cobilas, Evans, Ostrikov, Neild, Seymour, Ioane
Replacements Briggs, Harrison, Mujati, Mills, Easter, Mitchell, Ford, Jennings
referee: Matthew Carley
assistant: Tim Wigglesworth
assistant: John Meredith
TMO: Graham Hughes