Sale Sharks moved up to second in the Premiership after defeating Newcastle Falcons 31-16 at the AJ Bell Stadium on Friday.
The Sharks controlled the opening period and deservedly moved 18-6 in front at the break thanks to tries from Marland Yarde and Lood de Jager.
AJ MacGinty converted one of those efforts and also added two penalties, while Newcastle’s response came via the boot of Brett Connon.
Connon was successful for a third time off the tee in the second period but two more three-pointers from MacGinty and Rob du Preez effectively sealed a thoroughly deserved win for Alex Sanderson’s men.
Joel Matavesi and Simon Hammersley traded late tries in what was an exciting finale, but it was the Sharks that went home much the happier.
Following successive defeats to Bath and Harlequins, play-off challengers Sale got back on track against Exeter Chiefs and took that momentum into the early stages of Friday’s game.
In contrast to the Falcons, who were slack from the start, the hosts played with tempo and accuracy and opened the scoring as Faf de Klerk’s brilliant pass was matched by an equally impressive finish from Yarde.
MacGinty converted superbly from out wide and then played a crucial role in the Sharks’ next try. Sanderson’s charges were finding gaps in the opposition defence with regularity and, after Josh Beaumont had scampered down the right, the lock found his fly-half.
The US international was put off balance by the retreating Logovi’i Mulipola but still managed to produce a sumptuous off-load to send De Lager across the whitewash.
Newcastle battled back and earned a penalty which their pivot converted to reduce the arrears to 12-3, but they continued to make needless errors.
MacGinty was on hand to punish them as he slotted two three-pointers to move the hosts 18-6 in front at the interval – Connon responding with one of his own to keep the visitors just about in touch.
THAT OFFLOAD!! 😧
AJ MacGinty how have you found that pass! 🤯 Superb!
Lood de Jager with the try and Sale in the mood 🦈 pic.twitter.com/1UrTSouVb9
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) March 5, 2021
Dean Richards needed an improvement from his team in the second half and he received it as they pressured the Sale line. However, they were only rewarded with a Connon penalty.
The Falcons were then boosted when WillGriff John was yellow carded for a dangerous clearout, but they failed to benefit and instead MacGinty restored Sale’s 12-point buffer.
Richards’ men needed tries and it led to them overplaying, resulting in a penalty that Rob du Preez kicked to effectively seal the win.
They did finally get over the line in the latter stages, though, as a Micky Young break was finished off by Premiership debutant Matavesi, but it proved to be mere consolation.
In fact, the Sharks had the final word when Yarde sprinted down the left and fed Hammersley, who touched down against his former club.
London Irish centre Terrence Hepetema was sent off as Leicester continued their recent improvement with a hard-fought victory.
The Tigers had rested a number of their leading players at Bristol last weekend in readiness for this fixture and they were rewarded with a morale-boosting win, though a chaotic card-strewn finish led to a deceptively close 33-32 scoreline.
Kobus Van Wyk, Oli Chessum and Kuri Murimurivalu scored Leicester’s tries. Zack Henry converted the first two and kicked three penalties, while Johnny McPhillips added a penalty and a conversion.
Ollie Hassell-Collins, Matt Cornish and Paddy Jackson crossed for Irish with Jackson adding two penalties and two conversions. They were also awarded a penalty try on the night.