Tim Swinson scored a try three minutes from time for Newcastle Falcons to scramble a draw with Sale at Kingston Park.
Sale were in control of this Aviva Premiership Rugby match when they led 19-9 halfway through the second half – but Jimmy Gopperth’s fourth penalty and the late try from Swinson and Gopperth’s conversion gave Newcastle a vital draw.
Sale gave Newcastle a lesson in finishing and a controversial second half try from number eight Sisa Koyamaibole and 14 points from the boot of Charlie Hodgson looked to have done the job. But Newcastle hit back in the closing 10 minutes and the draw leaves them second from bottom, five points ahead of Leeds – who travel to Bath.
Gcobani Bobo had Sale retreating early with two powerful runs and Gopperth kicked a fifth-minute penalty after James Gaskell piled in from the side. However, the lead did not last long with Hodgson equalising in the eighth minute.
Gopperth knocked over his second penalty in the 12th minute but side entry this time from Newcastle saw Hodgson level the scores again in the 18th minute and he missed a chance to put Sale ahead five minutes later following a marginal late tackle by Mick Young on him.
Hodgson did put Sale ahead with a well-struck drop-goal a minute later and Newcastle did well to overcome Swinson’s 25th yellow card, failing to score while the big lock was off the field. Sale were very lucky not to lose Gaskell when he threw several punches at James Hudson in a hotly-contested ruckus at a ruck in front of the West Stand.
Gopperth mishit a long-range penalty from halfway and Newcastle looked to have scored when Young broke clear and Hudson charged through but the TMO ruled he had not got the ball down.
Sale were driven back at the scrum and the penalty saw Gopperth level the scores just before the break, a real boost for Newcastle with Swinson returning from the sin-bin and the visitors having failed to make the best use of the one-man advantage.
Sale thought they had scored through Nick Macleod early in the second half when the full-back shot through – only for him to be brought back for a forward pass but Sale made a crucial breakthrough in the 55th minute when Koyamaibole drove over but it looked as if hooker Marc Jones had knocked on in the build-up. Hodgson landed the conversion and then added a penalty for Sale to race into a 10 point lead at 19-9 with 20 minutes left.
However, Gopperth raised home hopes with his fourth penalty in the 64th minute, then Jeremy Manning’s chip ahead just eluded Bobo’s grasp with the Sale defence struggling. With three minutes left, Newcastle kicked a penalty to the corner and eventually drove Swinson over for the try – and Gopperth’s equalising conversion levelled things up.