It is telling that despite Sale putting together their most complete, and indeed controlling performance of the season Friday night against Newcastle, the Sharks still ultimately required a heroic 74th minute strike from the boot of Will Addison to rescue a much-needed fourth Premiership win of the season.
Sale, who had dominated proceedings against their Northern rivals for much of the game, were cruising towards victory by virtue of touchdowns from Denny Solomona, Byron McGuigan and Bryn Evans until two opportune intercept tries from Verniki Goneva suddenly put the North-East club up 24-23 to the good and threatened to complete a second consecutive Premiership meltdown at home for the Sharks who endured a similar fate against Bristol on New Year’s Day.
But in a final quarter performance which showed an admirable degree of resilience to rebound from two cruelly unfortunate passages of play which allowed Goneva the latter two of his triumvirate of tries, Sale’s game-long scrumtime dominance bore fruit and gave Addison – once again assertive in his captaincy – the opportunity to kick Sale to a well-deserved victory.
Indeed it was a bizarre, bordering on farcical encounter between the Premiership’s two most northernmost clubs. Newcastle entered the Sale 22 precisely four times, one for each try they scored, three of which came from extremely fortuitous circumstances. A 1st minute Joel Hodgson penalty clattered back off the crossbar into the waiting arms of Juan Pablo Socino to hand the Falcons an immediate lead. Sale replied impressively pressuring the visitors into conceding two kickable penalties which Addison duly converted until another serendipitous bounce, this time from a combined Bryn Evans-Magnus Lund lineout interception attempt which popped up to a waiting Goneva who burst pass Cameron Neild and over the try-line.
In response Sale finally began to assert their clear dominance, capitalising on Goneva’s sin-binning for a cynical attempt to kick the ball out of Mark Jennings’ hand to facilitate Denny Solomona waltzing over into the corner, his fifth try in four Premiership appearances. Solomona was then involved in Sale’s second, charging over Joel Hodgson on the touchline before presenting the ball to Sale’s jack-of-all-trades Byron McGuigan who astutely gathered the ball at the ruck and sprang over in the corner to give the home side a deserved 18-12 half-time lead and continue the Namibian’s fine form in 2017.
After the orange slices, Bryn Evans produced a scintillating reaching finish to push Sale out even further on fifty minutes and almost assure Sale of the comfortable win so desperately needed after six consecutive Premiership losses – ‘almost’ being the operative word given the Sharks’ over-eagerness in blindly shipping the ball down the line upon which Goneva feasted. Thankfully, Addison continued his superb form from the kicking tee to knock over the game’s winning score and alleviate the final wave of Falcons pressure, coming good on another of his customary jinking runs to break thirty metres down field and kill off the game’s remaining seconds.
Overall this was not an ideal result. For all of Sale’s controlled and focused play, to so haphazardly gift Newcastle the three tries which ensured they returned to the North-East with both a losing and a try bonus point is a poor reflection of how dominant the Sharks were in all aspects of the game and how convincingly they should have ran in a five-point victory. However at this stage of the season Sale have to be looking behind rather than forwards, and the four points they did accumulate, in combination with Bristol’s 8-42 thumping at the hands of Harlequins finally affords Sale some much-needed breathing room (11 points to be precise) between themselves and the bottom of the table.
Honourable mentions this week extends to the entirety of the team who produced a coherent and efficient performance in victory.
Extra special mentions however go to:
Ross Harrison and Rob Webber for their respective eighty-minute performances;
Mike Phillips who's ball distribution and decision-making appeared noticeably sharper this week;
Mark Jennings who offered an exciting glimpse of his potential as an all-round lynchpin in the middle of the Sharks’ backline
And finally George Nott and Ben Curry for a pair of fiery cameos supplemented by some technically excellent defensive work.
Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, analysis and opinions on all things Sale Sharks.
Please also consider supporting The Shark Tank on Patreon; only £4 a month away from affording an upgrade in hosting subscription.