By Leipziger, pics by Sheeny & Monkey1
September 25 2005
Our Falcons began 2005 as they finished 2004, with an extremely tense Premiership victory that moves us up to fourth in the table. Yet again the lads gave us more stress than an unemployed single parent and left it late to secure a vital four league points against Sale at Kingston Park.
Tries from Mathew Tait, Jamie Noon and Jonny Wilkinson, who also kicked 15 points, cancelled out two from Jason Robinson and an impeccable display with the boot from Charlie Hodgson, in a game that gave us all feelings of déjà vu from the Cup Final in April.
Injuries to Mark Mayerhofler and Matt Burke from the Leeds win meant David Walder moved to full back to allow for Wilkinson’s return to fly-half, while Tait and Noon started in the centre places. In the forwards, our only change was Micky Ward replacing the departed Marius Hurter. Sale included Charlie Hodgson and their holy trinity of speedy backs, Jason Robinson, Mark Cueto and Steve Hanley.
The visitors were the first on the scoreboard (whose clock was broken) in front of a club record 10,200, with a Charlie Hodgson penalty which Jonny Wilkinson soon equalised before his rival struck again.
We then had a long multi-phase attack broken by a turnover, and Tom May made a cross-field run before offloading to Michael Stephenson who was tackled. We finally broke the opposition defence when Mathew Tait received the ball just inside the Sale half, made a run towards the left corner and evaded a tackle from Jason Robinson to score the opening try.
Wilkinson hit the difficult conversion, but after getting a penalty back, Sale soon fought through from 15 metres and Robinson crossed under the posts to give his side a 10-16 lead after Hodgson’s conversion.
We repeated Sale’s trick ourselves, Wilkinson scoring a penalty before Jamie Noon sliced through the Sale back line for our second try, which Jonny again converted. Despite a fourth penalty from Hodgson, we went in at half time with a slender 20-19 advantage.
With no half time replacements (though James Isaacson had come on for Ian Peel after half an hour) we looked to extend our lead in the second half and continue our record of winning every competitive home game we’ve played against the Mancs. However, it didn’t go to plan as Sale pinned us back in our own half for most of the second period.
Robinson scored their second try, which Hodgson converted before adding another penalty to leave us nine points behind and showing little likelihood of coming back into it, despite the introduction of Joe Shaw, Luke Gross, Mike McCarthy and the return of Peel. Mistakes in attack and giving away penalties yet again were our downfall.
Then, as so often happens in matches, we (as the losing side) began to dominate the last fifteen or so minutes, and Wilkinson decided to kick a penalty in order to at least secure the bonus point, and possibly force Sale into conceding a penalty try. This was creeping into many supporters’ minds when, after kicking a penalty into the corner for a lineout, the referee played a long advantage in the maul as we attempted to smash over the line, before giving us the penalty again.
Again Andy Long managed to hit his man, and as the backs were given their chance to win the match, Wilkinson managed to find a gap in the Sale defence and scored our third try beneath the posts!
Bedlam broke out in the packed stands, and we were all delirious as the England captain converted to give us another one point advantage 30-29. After one more play, the referee decided enough was enough and we had won our third league game in a row.
Harlequins, Newport, Perpignan, Edinburgh, Leeds, and now yet again our team show a blatant disregard for the health of their fans. Still, we watch them for excitement and to see them win, and that is exactly what we got today with a show of great attacking rugby from both sides which, unfortunately for any neutrals, one side had to lose. And we were the side who were ahead at the end, just like in the Cup Final.
Our defence held out for a long time in the second half in the face of intense pressure from Sale, which with their attack is no mean feat. Wilkinson also had one of his best games of the season, whilst the lineout was better than I’ve seen it all season. One negative was that we weren’t able to put Sale away when we were on top in the first half, and in the end we had to go all out for a late try.
We of course have to be happy with our league position, and we now go to Perpignan on Saturday with confidence on the back of two league wins, and going back to October we have now won eight of our last eleven games, not bad considering how we normally go through a season. Attention now turns to the European Cup of course, but we must make sure we continue our run of three league wins in a row at Saracens at the end of this month. This can’t be allowed to be yet another false dawn.