Macleod clips Falcons' wings as new-look Sale are off to a flyer

Sale 35 Newcastle 18
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The Independent Online

The strains of Thin Lizzy and "The Boys Are Back In Town" were in the air as Sale and Newcastle ran out to contest the curtain-raiser to what is now known as the Aviva Premiership in sun-dappled Stockport last night.

David Bowie would have been a more appropriate choice, given the number of ch-ch-ch-ch-changes undertaken by the northern top-flighters since they fought out a basement scrap on the penultimate weekend of last term.

Both clubs sported new coaches, new captains and a host of new players. To the delight of most in the Edgeley Park crowd, it was the Sharks' makeover that drew the first winning blood of the 2010-2011 campaign.

Mike Brewer, the former All Black back-rower now in charge of team affairs at Sale, sat at the back of the main stand watching try-scoring contributions from two of the other new boys in Stockport town – Karena Wihongi, a Kiwi tight-head prop signed from Bourgoin, and Tom Brady, a 19-year-old debutant wing.

For Brewer there was also the satisfaction of seeing Nick Macleod, the Welsh full-back he entrusted with fly-half duties in the absence of the injured Charlie Hodgson, set up both tries and contribute 22 points with the boot.

For Alan Tait, the former Scotland centre appointed as Newcastle's head coach before the final game of last season, there was little more than the pain of what proved to be a pretty comprehensive defeat.

Such has been the scale of change at Sale this summer, they took to the field with just four survivors in their starting XV from the team beaten 32-30 by Newcastle in their final home game of last season: the veteran wing Ben Cohen, hooker Neil Briggs and back-rowers Dave Seymour and Sisa Koyamaibole. They took just two minutes to get points on the board, though, with Macleod landing his first penalty after Newcastle flanker Will Welch had been pinged for failing to roll away in the tackle.

Jeremy Manning, the former Munster No 10, landed an equalising penalty two minutes later, but Macleod banged over two more to wrest the initiative for the home side. But it was the visitors who crossed the whitewash first, on the quarter hour. After Manning had struck the left post with a long-range penalty, Sale failed to scramble the loose ball to safety and flanker Brent Wilson flopped over.

Manning's conversion made it 10-9 to Newcastle but it proved to be a temporary first-half blip for Brewer's men. Ten minutes later Macleod sparked an attack that led to Wihongi burrowing over from close range. Macleod added the extras on that occasion and did so again on the half-hour after directing a chip into the right corner for the flying wing Brady to dot down his debut day.

Trailing 26-13 at the interval, Newcastle summoned Jimmy Gopperth from bench duty as a replacement for Manning. There was to be no turning of the tide, though. Two more Macleod penalties, making it six in all, plus a Dwayne Peel drop goal rendered a second score for Wilson, eight minutes from time, nothing more than a consolation.

Sale: P Williams; T Brady, K Tonetti, A Tuilagi (M James, 75) B Cohen; N Macleod, D Peel (C Leck 63); A Sheridan (A Croall, 55), N Briggs, K Wihongi (J Forster, 55) N Rouse (W Lewaravu, 69), J Gaskell (capt), C Fearns, D Seymour (M Jones, 52), S Koyamaibole (S Cox, 62).

Newcastle: A Tait; G Bobo, L Eves, A Henderson (R Vickerman 55), C Amesbury; J Manning (J Gopperth, h-t), C Pilgrim (M Young 50); J Golding (K Brookes 60 min), R Vickers, T Ryan (G Shiells, 60), J Hudson (capt), T Swinson (F Levi, 66), B Wilson, W Welch (R Pennycock, 50 ), A Hogg..

Referee D Richards (RFU).