Newcastle Falcons 16
Sale Sharks 16
LATE penalties from fly half Lee Thomas drew Sale Sharks level on Sunday in a game that was there for the taking.
‘Two points dropped’ was the general feeling after an error-strewn encounter in the breeze at the Falcons’ exposed Kingston Park ground.
Director of Rugby Kingsley Jones commented: “We made the mistake in the first half of not respecting the Falcons enough and that cost us, particularly when they scored their try.
“Gradually, in the second half, we began to find space behind their inexperienced back three. At the end, I was praying for the match to continue for another five minutes as I thought that we would score.”
During the first twenty minutes, scoring was restricted to penalties – two by Gopperth for the home side, Thomas sending over one in reply.
Sharks’ golden moment of the game came after 24 minutes when a delicate chip ahead by the fly half was captured by Mark Cueto, who turned on the pace to outstrip full back Tait and score the Sharks’ first try of the season. Thomas hit the swaying posts with his conversion attempt, but luckily the ball chose the inside deflection route for two extra points.
Perhaps 10-6 was a decent platform against the wind, but Gopperth chipped away with another penalty.
On 34 minutes came a “What happened next?” moment which Neil Briggs will want to live down. A hopeful long punt ahead by Alex Tait was well covered near the posts by debutant Vakacegu and Briggs. The flanker inexplicably allowed the ball to pop up to Vickerman for an early Christmas present. Gopperth gave the Falcons a 16-10 half time lead which accurately reflected the slight dominance of their strong front five in the pack.
The front row battle between giants Hayman and Sheridan was of interest all afternoon.
During the second period, the Sharks failed to make maximum use of possession and the wind at their backs. Despite spurning several chances, notably when Cohen passed ahead of Cueto and straight into touch, they eventually claimed a deserved draw thanks to Thomas penalties on 69 and 71 minutes. The Sharks ended up on the attack, but relying too much on forward power to cross the line.
Attention now switches to the visit of Bath to Edgeley Park on Friday (7.45 p.m.), a game with a bit of history, and made more interesting by the visitors’ poor start. Defeats against Gloucester and Wasps leave Steve Meehan’s men in an unaccustomed lowly position, whilst the Sharks, in fourth spot, are one of only four undefeated teams in the Guinness Premiership after two rounds. Charlie Hodgson will start at fly half, and there may be a place alongside Dean Schofield for Brent Cockbain. Dwayne Peel’s return from a groin operation has been delayed by a fortnight, whilst Kris Ormsby is hoping to return before the end of the month.