Sale got their GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP campaign off to a sound start with a narrow victory over Newcastle.
Charlie Hodgson’s early try gave Sale the lead, which they never surrendered with three penalties from Luke McAlister.
Newcastle fly-half Rory Clegg kept them in touch with two penalties and a drop-goal but it was not enough to haul back Sale.
The match survived an early pitch inspection and by kick-off the rain had ceased, although the ground was still sodden and the ball slippery in hand.
But it was simple bad tackling that gifted Sale the opening.
Dwayne Peel fed Hodgson on the Newcastle 22 and the fly-half swerved past two Falcons backs before using the intimidating presence of Sebastian Chabal lurking on the left wing to dupe the final defender and cross the line. However, Hodgson sliced the conversion wide.
Despite a shaky start Hodgson was far more comfortable back in club colours after a nightmare summer tour with England to New Zealand.
Peel – desperate to challenge the Ospreys’ Mike Phillips for the Wales and Lions number nine shirt this season – brought sharpness around the fringes to Sale’s attack.
After Hodgson’s early miss the kicking duties promptly switched to McAlister and the New Zealander added a penalty from in front a couple of minutes later.
The promising Clegg – in for Jonny Wilkinson who is back in training after a summer shoulder operation – was looking assured at fly-half, even if he was too quick to turn to his boot at times.
And when Sale strayed offside in defence the 18-year-old calmly got Newcastle off the mark in front of the home fans in the south stand.
Luck was on the youngster’s side moments later when his second penalty attempt hit the post and was diverted over to put Newcastle just two points behind.
Despite the experimental law variations, which are supposed to create a more expansive game, kicking was still used with regularity.
But as the conditions continued to dry the game threatened to open out.
Mathew Tait almost marked his Sale Premiership debut and return to Kingston Park with a try but his 30-yard dash to the line was halted a metre short by Tom May’s shuddering intervention.
Tait, who moved from Newcastle to Sale in the summer, was enjoying a confident game at full-back – the position Martin Johnson has nominated for him in the England set up – despite the jeers of the home crowd.
The England international was lining up against his younger brother Alex, who was wearing the number 15 shirt for the Falcons.
McAlister regained the five-point cushion with another penalty and further ill discipline from Newcastle at the breakdown again allowed the New Zealander to extend the lead 10 minutes into the second half.
A drop-goal from Clegg after a strong run from May kept Newcastle in the game and the sin-binning of Luke Abraham moments later raised their optimism but Sale ground out the win.