The big freeze was back in the North-east of England last night, black ice closing the A1 in Northumberland. Newcastle Falcons managed to beat the conditions to stage their first home league fixture for six weeks. Sadly for Alan Tait's side, they could not beat Sale in the sleet and rain at Kingston Park. Not quite.
Just when they needed a win to ease the pressure applied by Leeds' sudden stirring in the Premiership basement, the Falcons came up just short. They did salvage a draw – courtesy of a 76th-minute try by Tim Swinson, converted by Jimmy Gopperth – giving them a five-point cushion above Leeds, who are away to Bath today.
Not that Dave Thompson, the Newcastle chairman, was a happy man. He was fuming about an apparent knock-on by Sale hooker Marc Jones in the run-up to the try by Fijian Number Eight Sisa Koyamaibole that put the visitors in the driving seat midway through the second-half. "It was a disgraceful decision," Thompson said, pointing a finger at referee Tim Wigglesworth and his assistants. "I am considering making a formal complaint. It was a blatant knock-on."
The try-scoring drama came in the second half after a place-kicking duel in the opening 40 minutes between Gopperth, Newcastle's Kiwi fly-half, and Charlie Hodsgon, Sale's England outside-half. The pair bagged two penalties apiece before Hodgson landed a drop goal to put Sale in front.
Sale might have expected to kick on after Newcastle lost Swinson to a yellow card in the 26th minute, the lock having been deemed guilty of some skulduggery in a ruck. In fact, it was the Falcons who got on the front foot. After a break by scrum-half Micky Young, Newcastle captain James Hudson was held up over the tryline but a third penalty success by Gopperth left the scores tied, 9-9, at the interval.
The Falcons had Euan Murray making his debut at tighthead prop but the outlook was bleak for the Scotland veteran and his new team when Koyamaibole barged over in the 55th minute. Hodgson converted and followed up with a penalty, putting Sale 19-9 up.
Crucially, though, another Gopperth penalty narrowed the gap to seven. Then, with four minutes left on the clock, Swinson dived over from close range and Gopperth converted, leaving drawn expressions all round.
Scorers: Newcastle - Try: Swinson. Conversion: Gopperth. Penalties: Gopperth 4. Sale - Try: Koyamaibole. Conversion: Hodgson. Penalties: Hodgson 3. Drop goal: Hodgson
Newcastle: J Manning; L Fielden, G Bobo, T Tu'ipulotu, C Amesbury; J Gopperth, M Young (J Spice 60); G Shiells (J Golding, 45) M Thompson (J Graham, 57) E Murray (K Brooks,68), J Hudson (capt), T Swinson, B Wilson (F Levi, 57), W Welch, M Wilson.
Sale: N Macleod; D Williams, C Bell, K Tonetti (I Thornely 46), M Tait; C Hodgson, D Peel; A Sheridan, M Jones, K Wihongi, C Jones, K Ormsby, J Gaskell (capt), C Fearns, S Koyamaibole.
Referee: T Wigglesworth (RFU).