A frenetic fight back, ten minutes from time, saw Newcastle Falcons Under-18s almost record an unlikely win in their Aviva Under-18 league clash against Sale Sharks on Sunday.
Trailing their near neighbour’s 29-5 approaching full time, scores from centres Luke Wilson and Callum Burn brought the team to within three points of their rivals.
It was a remarkable position to be in, having conceded 29 points by the half way stage, but ultimately, Sale’s lead would prove unassailable.
In a breathless start, the Falcons, playing into a strong wind, were 7-0 down almost straight from the kick-off.
Taking the high ball, Callum Chick attempted to offload to his team mates but lost the ball forward.
From the resultant scrum, Sale whipped the ball out to the wide channels where winger Rory Hardmann stepped inside two defenders for an unopposed run to the line. Sale scrum-half James Mitchell added the extras.
The Falcons’ response however was immediate, and after winning the ball back from the kick-off proceeded to march up field.
Finding space on the right, fly-half Brett Connon fixed his man to create an overlap before delivering the pass to outside centre Callum Burn who broke the line and offloaded to winger Dan Marshall to score a well taken try.
Kicking into a blustery wind, Connon was unable to add the extras but on the evidence of the opening exchanges, an end to end encounter appeared to be in the offing.
Building into the match, the Falcons continued to probe into Sale territory looking for a way through, however it would be the visitors that would seize the initiative with two converted tries in the space of five minutes midway through the half.
The first came after disrupting a Falcons scrum on the Sale 10 metre line and working themselves quickly up field.
Then after conceding a penalty at the restart the Falcons were pushed back to their own line as Sale drilled the kick into touch, before a cleanly taken line out saw Sale lock Matthew Postlethwaite driven over.
While the score of 21-5 made unpleasant reading, the Falcons were displaying some excellent skills as they looked to secure a foothold back into the game.
Unfortunately for the home team, and the majority of the healthy crowd, the final killer touch was eluding them, the most glaring when a perfectly weighted cross-field kick failed to be gathered for a certain try.
What was looking like an uphill struggle, took on the air of an attempt on Everest in the final five minutes of the 35 minute half.
Firstly, a penalty for Sale extended the scores to 24-5 before a further try, from a second driven line out, took things to 29-5.
While the Falcons did enjoy the final attack of the half, the good interplay between Connon and Marshall failed to add anything to the scoreboard.
When Sale established a foothold in Falcons territory at the start of the second half, it seemed only a matter of time before the 30 point barrier would be breached, but in a committed defensive display, the young Falcons not only kept Sale away from their line, but drove them back up field.
After weathering this initial storm, the second half was definitely that of the Falcons, as the majority of the period was played squarely in Sale’s half.
Excellent defence from the visitors and more handling errors from the home side conspired to make the half a scoreless affair until eight minutes from time, when the Falcons went on a rampage keeping ball in hand, which was required as the strong wind had dissipated into a light breeze.
After spending 10 minutes camped in the Sale 22 and being held up twice, the momentum shifted as the visitors conceded a flurry of penalties.
Losing centre Sam Bedlow to the sin bin after a deliberately knock on, the Falcons took immediate advantage as Luke Wilson decided on a quick tap and go and smashed down under the posts.
With a successful conversion added, 29-12 almost instantly became 29-17 when a further series of penalties allowed the home team to wipe out the territorial deficit of the restart.
From a well taken line out on the Sale 22, the Falcons then floated the ball along the line and despite Sale’s best efforts, outside centre Burn who was now playing on the wing scorched down the near touchline to score while fly-half Connon nailed a perfect touchline conversion.
With only three minutes remaining, this seemed like nothing more than a consolation score. This message failed to make it to the Falcons who then went on to score the try of the game.
Fielding the kick-off well, Connon, Adam Redman and Johnny McPhillips set off up field with pace and purpose.
Holding his pass to McPhillips until the last possible moment, Redman created a two on one for the fullback and Burn to work with.
In the narrow confines along the touchline, the pair managed to create the space needed to release Burn for his second of the afternoon.
Showing good game awareness, the youngster from Alnwick ran in towards the goal in order to make the conversion easier, which fly-half Connon rewarded by adding the extras.
With time rapidly ebbing away, the black and white tide launched one final assault on the Sale line but there was to be no fairy tale finish and the three point deficit would prove the difference between the sides.
Speaking after the match, academy manager Mark Laycock was disappointed to lose out, but able to identify positives in his team’s performance.
He said: “What we did in the last 10 to 15 minutes was outstanding, the way we played, looked after the ball was brilliant and off the back of that we scored some fantastic tries.
“Callum Burn did really well to score two excellent tries and will rightly take the accolades for that, but there was some seriously impressive play in the build up to those from both the forwards and the backs.”
He continued, “The lads on the bench made a big impact when they came on which was pleasing to see. We were lacking a bit of self confidence at the start. Once we realised we were talented enough to compete with them, we let our inhibitions go and we played some good rugby.”
Looking ahead to the next Under 18 fixture against Leeds on Saturday, Laycock is hopeful of a positive performance.
“Going into next weekend’s game against Leeds that will be the big thing for us, to trust ourselves, trust our instincts and doing what we know we are capable of,” he added.