Sale Sharks’ Dan Mugford could not make it two stunning Aviva Premiership Rugby turnarounds in one evening, as the replacement No.10’s last-gasp penalty sailed wide of the mark to hand Newcastle Falcons an opening 19-17 win.
After Leicester Tigers had overhauled a 24-point deficit to win at Gloucester Rugby, Sale looked to have done the same with second-half scores from Johnny Leota and Byron McGuigan giving them a chance to win the game.
Sinoti Sinoti had scored the only try of the first half for Newcastle, and Mike Delany’s heroics from the tee ultimately proved enough as he slotted 14 points for the hosts.
Niki Goneva endeared himself to the home fans early on, making three line breaks inside the first four minutes as the Falcons put huge pressure on the Sale try-line – only for Bryn Evans to rip the ball away at the vital moment.
But Falcons continued to apply the early pressure and were rewarded with a penalty in front of the posts, with Delany doing the honours to make it 3-0.
Sharks had the chance to hit straight back when Newcastle were pinged at a Sale driving Maul, but new recruit AJ MacGinty’s first kick drifting just wide of the mark from the left-hand side.
The visitors were level on 20 minutes however after a five-metre lineout allowed them to put massive pressure on the Newcastle line, and this time MacGinty made no mistake with the penalty.
The fly-half was almost in for the game’s opening try five minutes later as he hacked onto a loose pass and chased downfield, but the Falcons recovered to ground the ball in goal.
Sale looked to turn the screw and after a great carry from TJ Ioane brought the Sharks deep into the Falcons half, MacGinty could kick a penalty into the corner.
But after a Mark Wilson turnover, Newcastle were up the other end quick as a flash, and when Sale were penalised for a high tackle they had a five-metre lineout of their own.
And after another penalty and lineout, Falcons finally crossed the whitewash in the 36th minute through Sinoti, who sidestepped and barrelled over in the left corner from Juan Pablo Socino’s pass.
The Sharks looked for an immediate response before the break, but despite immense pressure on the hosts’ line an impressive defensive effort kept them at bay and eventually forced the turnover to keep it 10-3 at the break.
Prop Jon Welsh picked up where Falcons left off with a drop of the shoulder and a line break, before Delany nudged another penalty through the posts to hand his side a ten-point advantage.
But Sale came roaring back into the contest on 46 minutes as Leota was released on the overlap to score, with Mugford – on for MacGinty – making it 13-10 with the conversion.
There was a lengthy delay before Taione Vea was stretchered off, before a dominant Falcons scrum saw the Sharks front row penalised and allowed Delany to add another penalty from long range.
Eifion Lewis-Roberts was then pinged for sticking his hands into the ruck, and Delany’s trusty boot took the Falcons more than a converted try clear.
Sale were not done yet however and McGuigan scored a wonderful try to blow the game wide open heading into the final ten minutes, as he latched on to Mugford’s chip over the top to score – with the fly-half then adding the extras to take the scoreline to 19-17.
And after Delany missed his first penalty of the evening, the Sharks were given a golden opportunity to win it with a penalty awarded from a driving maul as the clock ticked into the red, but it was heartbreak for Mugford who watched his kick miss the target.
Aviva Premiership Rugby returns this weekend. For a full fixture list please click here