It took an inspired Danny Cipriani to unlock Newcastle Falcons but director of rugby Dean Richards insists inside centre Juan Pablo Socino should share the plaudits following defeat to Sale Sharks.
Sale visited Kingston Park seeking to deny the Falcons a third straight Aviva Premiership Rugby win at the venue for the first time since March 2009.
The hosts led at the break through Socino’s try and the boot of fly-half Rory Clegg, while Sale skipper Dan Braid responded with a neat finish.
Clegg added a further penalty, but his side ultimately had no answer to Cipriani, who produced a sublime chip-and-chase before offloading to Mark Jennings who then found Johnny Leota for the winning try.
“Cipriani is a class player who had two good centres outside him and a good scrum-half feeding him but I thought Juan Pablo Socino was outstanding for us,” said Richards.
“It was incredibly disappointing to lose that game, even if I can’t fault the boys’ effort. Our choice of options was wrong sometimes, as was our execution, and that second try was an absolute killer.
“We were five metres from their line and just needed to hold on but they turned it over, pass, pass, chip and they were away.
“It was a 14-point passage of play in some respects and if we had just held on for one more phase we probably would have scored. The boys put in a real shift and I was really pleased in that respect.
“With another two in the back row it is looking like a good pack here for the next few years provided we can keep everyone together, which I am pretty sure we can do.”
Meanwhile Cipriani insisted leaving the North East with four points is a huge coup for Steve Diamond’s side.
“It is really difficult to come up here because they have really change their brand of rugby, especially with the pitch they have got and their attacking backs,” said the England fly-half.
“We targeted this game as being the toughest of this run of three and the boys really turned up.
“Newcastle have got a real edge about them and the last two weeks wouldn’t have meant much unless we turned up and got the win here.
“There was a time when it looked like we wouldn’t get the win but we hung in and stuck to the game plan and managed to pull through.
“It all starts with our defence and the intensity we bring – last week we showed it and we did again. There were times when we got in front and just had to dig in and we did that by putting our bodies on the line.
“When the whole team knuckles down, that’s the best part of a win like this one.
“We were under the cosh a bit and I checked the D line because I saw their nine was on the left-hand side so I thought the space would be there.
“It wasn’t an entirely accurate kick but luckily I got the bounce and was supported extremely well and the other two finished it off expertly.”
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Newcastle Falcons: Tait (Hammersley 69); Sinoti, Tiesi (Powell 30), Socino, Tuilagi; Clegg, Blair (Fury 69); Vicker, McGuigan (Rogers 69), S Wilson, Green, Barrow (Thompson 69), M Wilson, Saull (Furno 52), Hogg
Replacements not used: Fry, Irving
Sale Sharks: Haley (Jennings 56); McLean, Leota, Tuitupou, Cueto; Cipriani, Cusiter (Cliff 59); Lewis-Roberts (De Marchi 56), Jones (Mamukashvili 66), Cobilas (Harrison 56), Mills (Easter 62), Ostrikov, Braid, Lund, Beaumont
Replacements not used: Fihaki, MacLeod
Penalties: Clegg 2
Tries: Braid, Leota
Penalties: Cipriani 2
Referee: Dean Richards