February 11 2017
Falcons fans went through the full range of emotions at the AJ Bell Stadium last night, as a topsy-turvy game that could have resulted in five points but in the end yielded only two bonus points as Sale won 26-24.
From the shock of JP Socino’s early try after Joel Hodgson’s second-minute penalty hit the crossbar, to Vereniki Goneva’s yellow card and a 23-12 deficit in the second half, a one-point lead through Goneva’s hat-trick, to the final disappointment of a two-point defeat, this game had it all.
The result was perhaps just about fair, as Sale had more of the possession and territory, while the Falcons scored tries from probably the only four chances we had, two of which were from interceptions by Goneva, while Socino took full advantage of Hodgson’s missed penalty. Sale took points when they needed to and Will Addison’s late penalty just snuck them ahead at the crucial time.
On Goneva – I wonder if he’s the first player to score a hat-trick while also being sin-binned in the same Premiership game? The yellow card was fair I thought, the Fijian jumping into a tackle foot-first, and he could be considered lucky not to have seen red.
Referee Craig Maxwell-Keys had a mixed game, and frustrated away fans with his inconsistent approach to no-arms tackles by Opeti Fonua and Halani Aulika. He wasn’t a deciding factor.
For me, the deciding factor from the Falcons point of view looked to be that we struggled to get key ball-carriers into the game, like Mark Wilson, Rob Vickers and Chris Harris. Belisario Agulla was quiet, as was Socino apart from his try. Joel Hodgson also had a difficult night at fly-half.
The outstanding performers for the Falcons were Calum Green and Sean Robinson I think, who dominated our lineout and carried well, as well as defending well. Nobody else was brilliant though, in my view.
The last scrum (to Sale) was given with 1m29s left on the clock. The ball went into the scrum at 0m39s – more than half the remaining time had gone. Of course, had we been ahead at this point I would’ve been wanting the Falcons to take as much time as possible, but surely this kind of thing isn’t in the interests of rugby as a sport. It can’t be difficult to stop the clock when the scrum is given and not restart it until the ball leaves the scrum-half’s hands.
And finally: a couple of hundred away fans created a great atmosphere in the North Stand. The result might not quite have gone how we wanted, but we had a good time and a good singsong! “Oh me lads…”