Newcastle Falcons ‘A’ got their Aviva A League campaign off to the perfect start with a hard-fought 26-18 victory over Sale Jets at Kingston Park.
After taking a battering against the elements during Friday’s Aviva Premiership opener with Bath Rugby, the Kingston Park pitch was in fine fettle for the first A League game of the season.
Boasting Danny Cipriani in their ranks, the Greater Manchester club would have fancied their chances of leaving the North East with the points.
But the Falcons’ superiority in the pack coupled with composure in the backline ensured victory for the hosts.
Newcastle began the contest on the front foot with Warren Fury and Joel Hodgson pulling the strings at the heart of the backline. Earning a penalty on five minutes, the northeasterners turned down a possible three points in favour of a kick to touch to underline their attacking intent early on.
And after a series of drives from James Fitzpatrick and Tane Tu’ipulotu which got the black and whites within touching distance of the try line, the Falcons were awarded a penalty. This time Newcastle elected to go for goal with Hodgson making no mistake directly in front of goal to give his side a 3-0 lead after seven minutes.
Hodgson had the chance to repeat the trick five minutes later, this time from all of 40 metres, but his effort whistled wide of the upright.
Midway through the first-half Sale went close to breaching the Falcons’ rear-guard with a period of sustained pressure, but the visitors were met with stern defensive resistance. Cipriani got the Greater Manchester club into perfect field position when he booted a penalty deep into touch. However, Sale were unable to capitalise and the Falcons held firm to keep their 3-0 advantage intact.
Just short of the half hour mark Hodgson doubled his tally for the evening with a 35 metre penalty, before Sale sprung into life with a sweeping attacking move with Cipriani the architect. Simon Hammersley’s up-and-under was gathered safely by Cipriani, with the talented No.10 setting up an attack with numbers on his right.
Sale winger Charlie Ingall thought he was in the clear on the far side, but Mark Wilson had other ideas, bundling the speedster into touch on the far side. Play was brought back for an earlier infringement though, and former Falcon Rob Miller slotted home the three points to narrow the gap to 6-3.
Hodgson nailed a further penalty ten minutes from the break to make it 9-3, but Sale hit back immediately with Miller demonstrating his goal-kicking prowess to ensure the Falcons went into the interval with a slender advantage.
The Falcons began the second-half in emphatic fashion with Mark Wilson crossing the whitewash following ingenuity in the backline. Back from injury, half-time replacement Rory Clegg showed guile and deft hands to feed Fitzpatrick on the rampage. Hammersley edged the Falcons closer to the line, before the ball was swung wide to Wilson, and there was no stopping the Cumbrian, who brushed two would-be tacklers aside to score. Clegg’s impressive conversion from out wide extended the Falcons’ lead to 16-6.
Five minutes later Clegg landed another penalty to make it 19-6, but the Jets kept in touch with their North East counterparts to score in the corner on 55 minutes. Sale No.9 Nathan Fowles took charge of a loose-ball from a Falcons line-out midway inside the hosts’ half before hitting Ingall on the blindside at speed. Ingall drew Tom Penny before offloading to Fowles, who dived before the line to skid in for the try despite the desperate defensive efforts of Chris York. Jon O’Donnell failed to convert and the Falcons remained in the ascendancy at 19-11.
At this point Newcastle were starting to play some expansive rugby with Clegg illustrating composure with ball in hand to set the likes of Fitzpatrick and Sean Brown on their way. Looking likely to touchdown from a creative backline move, ironically it was a penalty try that brought the next score for the Falcons. Keeping the ball in the scrum, the Falcons ushered the ball 25 metres up field before the referee awarded the penalty try. Clegg duly converted and the Kingston Park outfit were 26-11 in front.
Two minutes from time Sale reduced the arrears to 26-18 with a converted try from a driving line-out, but the Falcons saw out the remainder of the game to claim the spoils against a tough, well organised Sale side.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Sean Brown, 13 Tane Tu’ipulotu, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Tom Penny, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Gary Strain, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Scott Wilson, 4 Will Witty, 5 Sean Tomes, 6 Harrison Collins, 7 Mark Wilson, 8 Chris York (c)
Replacements: 16 David Nelson, 17 James Hallam, 18 Trevor Davison, 19 Josh Hedley, 20 Ollie Hodgson, 21 Chris Pilgrim, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Chris Harris
Sale Jets: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Charlie Ingall, 13 Mike Haley, 12 Sam Bedlow, 11 Tom Brady, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Nathan Fowles, 1 Aston Croall, 2 Cameron Neild, 3 George Hymes, 4 Tom Holmes, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 6 Mark Easter, 7 Andy Hughes, 8 Josh Beaumont
Replacements: 16 James Flynn, 17 Joe Jones, 18 Matt Lowes, 19 Ben Gledhill, 20 Jonny Kenny, 21 James Mitchell, 22 Jon O’Donnell, 23 Tim Jeffers