Newcastle edge to narrow opening victory over Sale
Newcastle Falcons survived a last-minute penalty kick at goal to edge a 19-17 win over Sale Sharks in their opening Aviva Premiership game of the season at Kingston Park.
The Falcons led 19-10 deep into the second half but Sale battled back with a cracking try from full-back Byron McGuigan to cut the lead to just two points with Dan Mugford's conversion with just 10 minutes left.
It seemed Marcus Watson had scored a crucial try with three minutes left but the TV replay showed a knock-on and despite Newcastle turning the ball over after the scrum, Sale squeezed out a penalty, found touch and won another penalty with 17 seconds left on the clock.
Up stepped Mugford but he missed the shot at goal from wide on the right and Newcastle held on for victory.
The Falcons led 10-3 at the interval, thanks to some supremely combative defence in five minutes of overtime.
It matched a similar period at the start of the match in which Olympic silver medallist Watson made three classic breaks but lacked vital support and Sale's defence was of the highest order with Laurence Pearce and Sharks skipper Josh Beaumont engineering turnovers.
Scott Lawson's drive for the line from Watson's third foray might have led to a yellow card for hooker Rob Webber when he dived over the ball, but referee Greg Garner decided a penalty was sufficient and Mike Delany gave Newcastle a sixth-minute lead.
AJ MacGinty was wide with a 10th-minute penalty as Newcastle pulled down a maul and they were certainly feeling the pressure and conceded a penalty at the scrum. Sale went to the corner where Beaumont and TJ Ioane both were close to crossing and Newcastle strayed offside for MacGinty to kick the equalising penalty in the 21st minute.
Byron Evans' high tackle on Simon Hammersley gave Newcastle the chance to go to the corner and after a pulverising drive and another penalty, they lost their own throw only to turn the ball over on the 22. Delany then released Juan Pablo Socino, whose long pass saw Sinoti Sinoti hurtle over in the corner and Delany converted from the touchline.
Sale came right back into the game almost immediately after the break with Leota scoring after a long curving run with the Falcons defence on autopilot and Mugford's conversion cut Newcastle's lead to just three points before Delany extended it to 16-10 with a 51st-minute penalty when Sale struggled at the scrum.
It may simply have been lack of concentration following a long delay for treatment to Falcons prop Taione Vea who was stretchered off with what looks to be a serious neck injury.
But two more penalties - and 10 metres for arguing - quickly followed and Delany made it 19-10 in the 56th minute.
Nev Edwards' high tackle on Hammersley brought a warning from referee Garner to skipper Beaumont as the Sale penalty count mounted.
Ironically, it was from Newcastle conceding a penalty which saw Sale find the corner and score a great try when it was recycled infield and Mugford's lovely grubber kick split the Newcastle defence for Byron McGuigan's 70th-minute try which Mugford converted to make it 19-17 before that last-minute drama.