On an evening of high tension here in a match billed as a "St George's Day Celebration", Sale were slain – just about – by Jimmy Gopperth whose virtuoso performance, and his 27 points, ensured Falcons' Guinness Premiership future.
Sale's fate will be decided on the last day of the season against Harlequins at the Stoop but the Newcastle party has started already. Well, kind of. "They are all pretty knackered in there to be honest," Steve Bates, the Newcastle director of rugby said. "In terms of kicking displays, Jimmy's was really up there. If we had lost the kicking battle with [Charlie] Hodgson that would have been deadly so we are all delighted."
Newcastle were good value for their win and the early lead, courtesy of two Gopperth penalties and a further try from the same player as some generous Sale defending allowed him to squirm through. The New Zealander also kicked the conversion before Hodgson got Sale on the board with his first successful penalty of the evening.
Even when they were 13-0 down Sale refused to panic and after absorbing a fearsome period of Falcons' dominance, led by a pack filled with malicious intent, they started to fight back. After Hodgson's successful kick, they swept the ball from one touchline to the other to allow Marika Vakacegu to make the most of a huge overlap. Although the extras Hodgson kicked brought Sale to within three points of the visitors, two more penalties from Gopperth ensured a healthy half-time lead.
After the restart Sale forced the Falcons into conceding three penalties in six minutes, all of which Hodgson converted to close the gap back to just three points. A Hodgson drop-goal brought them level but a simple try for Micky Young stretched Falcons back out in front only for a rampaging reply from Kristian Ormsby to give the home side the lead for the first time at 30-29.
However, Gopperth was not finished there as he landed a long-range penalty to snatch the win. It was still not quite finished, though. Hodgson had a late drop-goal chance to win it but with just seconds left on the clock he pushed his effort wide.
"Everything Gopperth did was simple and basic and he did it well," Kingsley Jones, the Sale director of rugby said. "He was deadly tonight and had one of his best nights and that is how it goes."
Scorers: Sale: Tries Vakacegu, Ormsby; Conversion Hodgson; Penalties Hodgson 5; Drop Goal Hodgson. Newcastle: Tries Gopperth, Young; Conversions Gopperth 2; Penalties Gopperth 6.
Sale: Vakacegu (James, 40); Cueto, M Tait, Thomas, Cohen; Hodgson, Wigglesworth; E Roberts, Briggs, Forster, C Jones, Schofield, Koyamailbole (Fearns, 76), Seymour, Ormsby. Replacements not used: M Jones, Imiolek, O'Donnell, Cox, Leck, Kennedy.
Newcastle: A Tait; Amesbury, Bobo, Tu'ipulotu (Catterick, 72), Biggs; Gopperth, Young; Shiels (Ovens, 76), Vickers, Brooks (Ward, 61), Hudson, Swinson, Levi (Williamson, 44), B Wilson, Afu. Replacements not used: Thompson, Ward, Welch, Pilgrim, Vickerman.
Referee: A Small (RFU).Reuse content