Newcastle Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards believes his side still have plenty more in their locker this season, despite breaking a nine-year opening day hoodoo in Aviva Premiership Rugby.
A single try from Sinoti Sinoti and four Mike Delany penalties were enough for Newcastle to down Sale Sharks 19-17 at Kingston Park – although the visitors had the chance to steal the win with the last kick of the game.
Tries from Johnny Leota and Byron McGuigan in the second half had brought Sale back into the contest, but ultimately it was not enough as replacement fly-half Dan Mugford’s dramatic final kick sailed wide of the target.
And while Richards admitted it felt good to shake off an unwanted record, after going eight seasons without winning their first Aviva Premiership Rugby encounter, he knows his side can play even better.
“The players have been talking about it for a while. Not necessarily the nine years, but just about getting this first win under our belt,” he said.
“I am not saying they didn’t last year or the year before, but there was a real player-driven focus and you could sense it all week.
“To be fair to Sale they came and they were competitive all the way through. We didn’t take our chances as much as we should have done and they took theirs, other than that final kick of course.
“If it had gone over we’d have been feeling pretty aggrieved but at the same time we’d have only had ourselves to blame.
“We just sat down in the changing room and talked about it as a squad, and said that if we played to our strengths and how we wanted to play in terms of our shapes, we would have been much further ahead.
“But we didn’t do that on the day and that’s a tad disappointing – we won at least, but there is plenty more to come from us which is a nice thing.”
The Sharks lost both their debutants to injuries, with No.10 AJ MacGinty replaced at half-time having taken a knock to his back, following hooker Rob Webber’s broken arm.
But with Newcastle leading throughout the contest, director of rugby Steve Diamond conceded his side did not really deserve their late shot at glory.
He said: “At least we got a bonus point. But I’m just a bit frustrated by our performance. We just got cleared out on the floor and we conceded a lot of penalties and we’ll have to look at that.
“We managed to have a shot in the last minute and it would probably have been a bit unfair if we’d won but I would have taken it.
“Newcastle is always a difficult place to come and get a result and they kept their shape well and caused us a few problems.
“We lost a couple of players with injuries with Rob Webber suffering a broken arm and AJ MacGinty a back injury so we took him off as a precaution at half-time.”
Newcastle Falcons: Hammersley, Goneva, Harris, Socino (Waldouck 72), Sinoti, Delany, Takulua, Welsh, Lawson, Vea (Rogers 50), Green, Witty (Fonua 72), Olmstead, Welch, Wilson
Not used: Sowrey, Lockwood, Chick, Egerton, Hodgson
Sale Sharks: McGuigan, Addison, James, Leota, Edwards, MacGinty (Mugford 41), Phillips, Lewis-Roberts (Flynn 57), Webber (Briggs 31), Aulika (Longbottom 57), Evans, Ostrikov (Mills 60), Beaumont, Ioane, Pearce (Seymour 41)
Not used: Lund, Mitchell
Penalties: Delany 4
Tries: Leota, McGuigan
Conversions: Mugford 2
Referee: Greg Garner
Aviva Premiership Rugby returns this weekend. For a full fixture list please click here