Newcastle’s Premiership relegation battle is set to go right down to the wire after a 22-17 win over Sale.
The Falcons went into the match at St James’ Park – billed The Big One – seven points adrift after Worcester won 27-25 at Bristol.
The Falcons clawed that back to three with a rousing second-half show in front of a crowd of 27,284 in which they came back from 10-6 down at half-time to win 22-17, with scrum-half Sonatane Takulua kicking five penalties and converting a Toby Flood try.
The Sharks were quickly out of the blocks, forcing the Falcons onto the back foot, and they dominated for much of the first half.
Despite an early missed penalty scrum-half Faf De Klerk sparked a sixth-minute try with a sweeping run and a lovely offload to Tom Curry who sent Denny Solomona careering over. De Klerk’s conversion made it 7-0.
He added a 13th-minute penalty but Sonatane Takulua got Newcastle on the board with a penalty almost immediately when Curry failed to roll away in the tackle area.
Newcastle were reduced to 14 when Logovi’i Mulipola was controversially sin-binned in the 18th minute, either for not rolling away or an early tackle on De Klerk after a quickly-taken penalty.
There was more controversy when Andrew Davidson charged down De Klerk’s kick and appeared to have scored but he was judged to have lost control of the ball.
Calum Green and Sale skipper Jono Ross then squared up to each other and both sets of forwards piled in, and the crowd were not happy when the penalty went against the Falcons after a long discussion between the referee and the TMO.
Newcastle finally gained a foothold in the match after a pulsating run by Sinoti Sinoti and it led to a Takulua penalty to make it 10-6 in the 31st minute.
It looked as if Sale had snatched a second try right on half-time with a kick ahead and touchdown but Byron McGuigan was ruled to have been in front of the kicker.
Newcastle started the second half even quicker than Sale had started the first with a surging run to the Sale line, where Curry tried to kill the release and was sin-binned.
Newcastle opted for the scrum and Toby Flood cut back inside to score, Takulua’s conversion putting Newcastle 13-10 up in the 42nd minute.
It was all Newcastle as their forwards surged to a Sale mishandle to forced a turnover penalty in the 46th minute and Takulua hammered it over to make it 16-10.
Takulua added two more penalties, the first in the 55th minute after Newcastle drove for the line and England back-rower Ben Curry was extremely lucky not to see yellow when he put his hands in the driving maul to concede just a penalty and halt a possible try.
With three minutes left on the clock, Sale gave themselves a chance of snatching victory with a spectacular one-handed finish from McGuigan in the corner and a terrific conversion from De Klerk from the touchline to make it 22-17.
But Newcastle were able to control the ball in the closing seconds and won a penalty which they tapped, set up the ruck and kicked to ball dead as the clock turned red.