Classy Cipriani sets up Sharks win
A moment of magic from Danny Cipriani set up Sale Sharks to edge out fellow Aviva Premiership northerners Newcastle 18-13 at Kingston Park.
The Falcons led 13-11 deep into the second half when the former England number 10 ran it from close to his own line, chipped, chased and collected before delivering a pass for Mark Jennings to send Jonny Leota clear for a try which Cipriani also converted.
With just over 10 minutes left, it was a killer blow that knocked the stuffing out of a Newcastle side who were looking to win three league games in a row for the first time since 2009.
And while the Falcons threw everything at Sale in those closing minutes, they came up short and had to settle for the losing bonus point.
Newcastle got off to an encouraging start. Rory Clegg decided not to kick at goal from halfway to find a decent touch and the Falcons pack drove Sale back mercilessly from the line-out with Juan Pablo Socino smashing through three tackles to score, Clegg converted.
Sale hit back with a try after Cipriani also turned down two kicks at goal to find the corner, with the visitors exerting enormous pressure before Leota's looped pass to Dan Braid saw the captain just get in at the corner.
It seemed Socino must score again after another surging run, but he slipped, and Sale full-back Mike Haley was hard done by to be penalised for a high tackle after catching the Falcons man as he went down. It meant, however, that Clegg was able to stretch Newcastle's lead to 10-5 in the 22nd minute.
Sale believed they had scored again in the 27th minute when Haley broke Clegg's tackle, but the full-back was hauled down just short of the line. It did seem as if Leota had snapped it up to drive over but referee Dean Richards decided there had been a double movement after consulting the television match official and the penalty allowed Newcastle to clear.
Newcastle might have had the edge in the set scrums but Sale were dominating the driving play around the breakdown and they also kept up the pressure by constantly going into the corner, spurning at least four kickable penalties.
Again it seemed they must score but Newcastle turned the ball over in the drive and then also extracted a penalty at the scrum. It was a big chance gone for Sale just before half-time although they went in only 10-8 down after Cipriani kicked a straightforward 38th-minute penalty.
Cipriani could have given Sale the lead after Newcastle gave away a couple of unnecessary penalties in first-half stoppage time, after they had had the chance to kick it out and go down the tunnel, but the home side were let off the hook.
It took a long time for the second half to become lively, and it seemed Alex Tuilagi had raised the temperature when he surged away in front of the West Stand, but there had been the slightest knock-on by the winger as he went for Marc Jones' somewhat risky inside pass.
Newcastle moved into a 13-8 lead when Clegg booted over a 40-metre penalty after big lock Andrei Ostrikov was slow in rolling away from the tackle in the 56th minute.
Braid's strong run put Sale in a good attacking position and the inevitable penalty saw Cipriani cut the lead back to two points in the 60th minute.
Sale were building up a head of steam but an Adam Powell interception almost led to a Falcons breakaway try and a penalty allowed Newcastle to get into the Sale 22, but when they lost the ball on the drive Cipriani came up with his dramatic intervention.
Most fly-halves would have kicked - and he did - but it was a delightful chip which he collected and then he delivered the perfect pass for the length-of the-field try which saw off Newcastle's challenge.