Newcastle Falcons claim a dramatic last-minute victory over Sale Sharks to further play-off ambitions.
Early leads and error rates
Falcons were forced to steal a last-minute win at Kingston Park despite tearing into an early 25-point lead in the first half hour. Tries for Calum Green, Gary Graham, Simon Hammersley and Scott Lawson saw the Falcons pick up the try bonus point before either the 30-minute mark or a single point from their opposition.
Sale had started the first few minutes with the lions share of possession, however, this was short-lived. Back-to-back errors from the Sharks saw them drop to 18% possession and 10% territory within the first 15 minutes. The Sale side that beat up Wasps the previous week seemed absent from the evening's early proceedings and didn't arrive until just before half-time. While Sale did enjoy an extended period of possession and gain line success later in the match, their error rate did not drop significantly enough to secure the victory.
Diamond’s crown jewels imperfections
A new look, unfamiliar backline brought together following injuries and bans seems to be the most influential factor in Sale's misfortunes. The lack of cohesion, skill sets and decision-making relative to their predecessors meant Steve Diamond's crown jewel scrum-half Faf de Klerk began to show imperfections. The Faf of old that lost a spot in the Lions and Springboks due to erratic decision-making and costly errors reared his head. One such example was the South African's decision to kick the ball through while camped five metres out from the Falcons' line. Compounding errors are the death of sides flirting with the playoffs.
Newcastle are not currently hitting the heights of recent months and will be disappointed for allowing an injury/ban-ravaged Sale side steal the lead after such a large point deficit early doors. The impact of the returning fit-again England flanker Gary Graham proved significant in Falcons’ early lead. The Scottish-born openside returned from injury looking sharper than ever, rolling and bursting through would-be Sale tacklers for key metres ball-in-hand.
Will Witty, Will Welch and Calum Green must also be credited for Falcons' early lead, showing their capacity for open field operations as well as their usual unseen work in the tight. It would be easier to name the members of the Falcons’ backline that didn't have a profound impact on everything that was good for Falcons, with Michael Young perhaps not quite as threatening as the rest of his backline. A hat tip for Chris Harris who can at times go under the radar in the midst of the likes of Sinoti Sinoti and Niki Goneva.
The Impressive American
Sale's fly-half AJ MacGinty was yet again one of Steve Diamond's top performers, producing remarkable physical confrontations for such a slim-framed man. As well as learning how to make the Sharks tick alongside de Klerk, the American standoff is growing into one of the Premiership's top fly-halves.
Newcastle will sit in third place until the rest of the weekend's fixtures unfold, happy enough to claim a bonus point victory at home, but with a good level of criticism to take into the week’s preparations after losing their early lead to an ambitious Sharks fightback.
Sale can take serious positives away from the way they prised a lead from Falcon's talons but should be hugely critical of their malfunctions throughout the game, specifically their torrid opening 30 minutes. If they want to be considered a top-four side, the men filling in for first-choice players cannot allow for the same mistakes they were guilty of conceding today.
Newcastle Falcons scorers
Tries: Green, Graham, Hammersley, Lawson, Vickers
Conversions: Hodgson (2/5)
Penalties: Hodgson (2/2)
Sale Sharks scorers
Tries: B.Curry, Yarde (2)
Conversions: MacGinty (3/3)
Penalties: MacGinty (3/3)