Battered Newcastle count cost of victory

Newcastle 9 Sale 8
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The Independent Online

Newcastle and Sale did their best yesterday to confound those pundits who expected each of them to be near the top of the Premiership when their World Cup stars return. Between them they contrived to put on a display of rugby which oscillated between the laughable and the lamentable. To say either side could be excused for the plethora of elementary mistakes would be flattering beyond any reasonable limit.

After their lame performance against Saracens a week previously, Newcastle won because their place-kicking was better than Sale's, and they defended with an unmatched intensity throughout the second half when they were under pressure for long periods.

But victory came at a price. Having lost Garath Archer with back spasms just before the kick-off, Mark Andrews suffered a kick to the head and was absent after the interval, Dave Walder suffered a dead leg, while Epi Taione turned an ankle and is likely to be missing for the next few weeks.

Rob Andrew, Newcastle's director of rugby, was full of praise for his younger players. "In the past, some of them wouldn't front up when the going got tough," he said. "Today they did. Sometimes you have to dog it out and we did that today. Whether we deserved to win or not doesn't matter, we are pleased to get the four points. Last week was a lottery and our number didn't come up; this week it did."

However, what will be a concern to Andrew is that the spontaneous creativity and slick handling for which his teams are noted, not to mention the elusive running, seems to have deserted his flyers.

With Braam van Straaten still ruled out with a neck problem and Charlie Hodgson needing another two or three weeks before he is ready, Sale were obliged to rely on Jos Baxendell to wear the No 10 shirt and continue with the goal-kicking duties.

No doubt Sale were hoping that Baxendell's kicking would show an improvement from the Northampton game when, with a little more accuracy, Sale would have beaten Saints rather than share the points in a high-scoring draw.

Poor Baxendell will shoulder most of the blame for missing the conversion of Vaughan Going's try, and three penalties. Though from right under the Falcons' crossbar, with two minutes remaining, Matt Cairns tapped a penalty to himself and passed to Baxendell - who surely would not have missed the easiest kick of the day - whose pass to Mark Cueto was spilled and, with it, the seeming inevitability of a Sale victory hit the deck.

Newcastle: Penalties Walder, Gollings 2. Sale: Try Going. Penalty Baxendell.

Newcastle: B Gollings; M Stephenson, J Noon, M Mayerhofler, T May; D Walder (P Godman, 44), H Charlton (J Grindal, 74); I Peel, N Makin (W Kay, 20-29; 62), M Hurter, C Hamilton, M Andrews (capt, P Dowson, h-t), E Taione (J Dunbar, 74), W Britz, H Vyvyan.

Sale: V Going (C Mayor, 65); M Cueto, J Hoyle, G Bond, S Hanley; J Baxendell, B Redpath; A Sheridan (K Yates, h-t), A Titterrell (M Cairns, 46), B Stewart (S Turner, 53), C Jones (I Fullarton, 7-18; 65), D Schofield, A Sanderson (capt), S Pinkerton, P Davies (J White, 53).

Referee: T Spreadbury (Somerset).