Newcastle Falcons secured their first victory at the second attempt on their return to the Aviva Premiership with a narrow 15-14 win over Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium.
In a tightly contested game of few opportunities it was the kicking prowess of Falcons fly-halves Phil Godman and Rory Clegg that did the damage as Sale struggled at scrum time.
Sale skipper Dan Braid crossed for the only try of the game after Newcastle were reduced to 14 men but couldn’t see off their challengers from the North East.
Sharks fly-half Nick Macleod hit the left-hand upright with an early penalty for the home side but got a chance to redeem himself on six minutes, slotting home at the second time of asking as Sale dominated the early exchanges.
On 20 minutes, however, it was all square, Phil Godman levelling from the tee for the visitors from fully 35 metres out after Sale were penalised at the scrum – earning Newcastle their first points of the season.
Newcastle were only level for four minutes, however, Macleod with his second successful conversion of the evening to make it 6-3 from 30 yards out.
Sale continued to push on and the pressure eventually told as Dom Barrow saw yellow on 26 minutes for repeated infringement at the lineout, with Newcastle reduced to 14 men.
Sale opted to kick to touch and the ball was worked to Braid who shrugged off several would-be tacklers to crash over for the try and make it 11-3 within the minute. Macleod missed with the extras from wide on the right, an error Sale were to regret later in the game.
Tom Catterick attempted a booming penalty for the Falcons from well within his own half as the Falcons fought desperately for a way back into the match.
And five minutes before the break Sale were penalised at the scrum and Godman slotted the resulting kick as Newcastle chipped away at the Sharks lead.
The Scottish international fly-half added a third a minute before the interval to make it 11-9 as the sides trotted off at half-time.
Eight minutes after the break the battle of the fly-halves continued as the Falcons won another penalty, and Godman made no mistake with the boot to put Newcastle ahead for the first time in the game.
Starting the game in the unfamiliar position of centre, Sale’s record Aviva Premiership try scorer Mark Cueto was excellent all evening, making one rapid break in the second half that had the Falcons defence scrambling to cover.
With 23 minutes to go Clegg came on at fly-half for Godman as Newcastle looked to find the try that would open up a gap on their opponents.
But hands in the ruck from Newcastle skipper Will Welch handed Sale the opportunity to re-take the lead, Macleod bisecting the posts with his penalty to make it 14-12 to the home side.
Clegg, looking to play the ball, was scragged by Cueto and held onto the ball under pressure as Sale won another penalty to alleviate any Newcastle pressure, Macleod clearing down the line.
Yet Sale had struggled at the scrum all night conceding a number of penalties and Clegg got the chance to restore Newcastle’s lead with his first kick of the evening and kept his nerve to edge the Falcons ahead with 12 minutes to go.
Trailing by a single point going into the final five minutes Sale huffed and puffed but failed to create the chances that would have put Newcastle under any real pressure.
And despite struggling with their discipline in the first half, Newcastle held out relatively easy to claim their first points of the campaign.