Newcastle 9 Sale 14: Hodgson fires Sale to victory in Tyneside Tait à Tait

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The Independent Online

An interesting little Tait à Tait on Tyneside. The return of Mathew Tait to Kingston Park yesterday, in the number 15 shirt of Sale, just happened to coincide with the promotion of his younger brother, Alex, to the Newcastle No 15 jersey he vacated in the summer. Honours in the private full-back family duel finished just about even, neither Mathew, 22, nor Alex, 20, managing to get their names on the scoresheet. It was Mathew and Sale who took the first-day victory, though, thanks to a piece of inspiration from dear old Charlie Hodgson, the fly-half fall guy on England's hiding-to-nothing summer tour to New Zealand.

It might have been different had Ma'a Nonu been in his way, but the Sale No 10 ghosted past four Newcastle defenders – one of them the 18-year-old debutant outside half Rory Clegg, another of them the younger Tait brother – on his way to a 13th-minute try that proved to be the difference between the northerners of the Premiership. It was the only five-point score of what was otherwise a thud-and-blunder contest, helping Sale to their first win on Tyneside in 17 attempts. Philippe Saint-André's side hardly played champagne stuff, placing the emphasis on kicking for territory rather than attempting to cut loose, but they were happy enough to have got off to a winning start having blown their play-off chances with their final-day capitulation at home to London Irish last season. "It's a good feeling to finally win here," Saint Andre, the Sharks' director of rugby, reflected.

As for Newcastle, they looked exactly what they are: desperately short of creative clout following the departures of the elder Tait and Toby Flood and the retirement of Matt Burke. They also missed the steadying influence of Jonny Wilkinson, deemed short of full fitness following his summer shoulder operation. Clegg, the England Under-18 stand-off of last season, did not look entirely out of place as a stand in – "I thought he was outstanding," Steve Bates, Newcastle's director of rugby, ventured – but he leaned rather heavily on the cross-field kick in attack and paid a costly price for one moment of hesitation. That came in the 13th minute when Clegg allowed Hodgson to launch an angled run for the line, although the teenager was not the only guilty party as the Newcastle defence folded like a pack of cards at the first sustained Sale attack. Tait and Jamie Noon were also left clutching thin Tyneside air.

It was just the kind of defensive disappearing that cost Hodgson his place in the England No 10 shirt after the first test at Eden Park in June, though the Yorkshireman did not have long to savour the irony, pushing wide his conversion attempt. Luke McAlister assumed the place-kicking duties thereafter, landing three penalties out of three. Clegg converted two penalties from wide on the left and also landed a drop goal, but even when Sale were reduced to 14 men after Luke Abraham was yellow-carded for a late tackle the Falcons were unable to sharpen their claws in attack. At least they stopped their old boy from scoring, Tom May halting Mathew Tait in the right corner just before half-time.

Ultimately, though, it was a damaging day all round for Newcastle. Geoff Parling, their replacement flanker cum second row, was taken to hospital with a suspected fracture of the cheekbone and the attendance figure was a worrying 5,224 – 2,000 down on the average Premiership gate at Kingston Park last season. It looks like being a long haul of a season for the relegation favourites. They have won just once in 11 league matches now.

Newcastle: Penalties Clegg 2; Drop goal Clegg. Sale: Try Hodgson; Penalties McAlister 3.

Newcastle: A Tait; T May, J Noon, S Davey (T Visser, 61), J Rudd; R Clegg (S Jones, 74), J Grindal; J McDonnell (M Ward, 55), A Long, C Hayman, A Buist, M Sorenson, A Balding (T Swinson, 53), B Wilson (G Parling 53), P Dowson (capt).

Sale: M Tait; M Cueto, L McAlister, L Thomas, D Doherty; C Hodgson, D Peel (R Wigglesworth, 61); L Faure, N Briggs, E Roberts, C Jones, D Schofield (B Cockbain, 56), L Abraham, J-M Fernandez Lobbe (capt), S Chabal (S Cox, 66).

Referee: M Fox (Leicestershire).