Gopperth's champagne start has real pain finish

Newcastle 16 Sale 16
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The Independent Online

It was, ultimately, an afternoon of frustration and not a little pain for the Jimmy-come-lately in the Newcastle No 10 shirt at Kingston Park yesterday.

From the first to last whistle in the opening 40 minutes, New Zelander Jimmy Gopperth got a grip of proceedings on his home debut, landing four place-kicks out of four, keeping the Falcons on the front foot and stealing possession for the counter-attack that put them 16-10 up at the interval.

By the end of the full 80 minutes, though, the one-time junior All Black was hobbling with a twisted ankle and his side, having lost their momentum and failed to trouble the scoreboard in the second-half, were hanging on for the consolation of a draw.

It might have been different, but when Gopperth got two penalty pots at the posts after the interval the first caught on the wind and drifted wide and the second clipped the left-hand upright and dropped on the wrong side.

All of which left drawn expressions all-round – on the face of the fly-half the Falcons signed in the summer from the Auckland Blues and on the faces of the Sale players, who finished firmly on top and looked like backing up their opening night win against Leicester with a victory on the road. "For us, it's definitely two points lost," Kingsley Jones, Sale's director of rugby, lamented.

For the Newcastle coach, Steve Bates, at least there was the consolation of some indications that he has acquired a capable replacement for Jonny Wilkinson – provided, that is, Gopperth can avoid the kind of ill luck with injuries that dogged his predecessor. "Jimmy's a class player," Bates said. "Hopefully he's not crocked."

Gopperth was not the only class act for the Falcons in the first-half yesterday, the surfeit of quick possession he enjoyed coming courtesy of a rock-solid pack in which the captain and cornerstone, the former All Black tighthead prop Carl Hayman, gave Andrew Sheridan a difficult time.

Newcastle's outside half had two penalties on the board before Sale – down to 14 men with teenage flanker James Haskell in the cooler for a deliberate knock on – hit back with a 10-point flourish midway through the opening half.

Lee Thomas kicked a penalty and converted the try he prompted with a chip from halfway that Mark Cueto gathered and deposited over the home whitewash.

A third Gopperth penalty success brought Newcastle back to 9-10 and then, six minutes before the interval, the Kiwi snaffled turnover ball deep into home territory, Alex Tait hoofed the ball upfield, Neil Briggs fumbled in attempting to clear it and centre Rob Vickerman pounced to claim an opportunist try.

Gopperth converted and that was that on the scoring front until two latish Thomas penalties left the contest all square.

Scorers: Newcastle Try Vickerman, Conversion Gopperth, Penalties Gopperth 3; Sale Try Cueto, Conversion Thomas, Penalties Thomas 3.

Newcastle: A Tait; C Amesbury (R Miller, 71), R Vickerman, G Bobo, T Biggs; J Gopperth, M Young (H Charlton, 64); J Golding, R Vickers (M Thompson, 63), C Hayman (captain), J Hudson (M Sorenson, 60), T Swinson, E Williamson, B Wilson, F Levi (P Browne, 53).

Sale: M Vakacegu; M Cueto, M Tait, A Tuilagi (C Bell, 53), B Cohen; L Thomas, R Wigglesworth; A Sheridan, M Schwalger, E Roberts, C Jones, D Schofield (captain), J Gaskell, N Briggs (D Seymour, 53), D Tait.

Referee: M Fox (RFU).

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