NEWCASTLE Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards paid tribute to his side's last ditch defence after they ground out the tightest of victories at the AJ Bell Stadium, running out 15-14 winners against Sale Sharks.

Both sides struggled in the first half to build any momentum, with regular penalties at scrum time and in the loose.

In the end it was the boot of Falcons fly-halves Phil Godman and replacement Rory Clegg who settled the game, although Sale skipper Dan Braid scored the only try of the first half.

Braid dove over in the corner after Falcons flanker Dom Barrow was sin-binned for persistent infringement at the lineout.

But Nick Macleod failed with the conversion - one of three misses at goal during the evening - giving Newcastle the edge against a re-jigged Sale side with Mark Cueto playing in the middle after an injury to regular centre Johnny Leota against Gloucester.

"We probably edged it in the second half and deserved to win," said Richards. "If we'd sorted our defence out at the ruck and maul in the first half we would have been a bit further ahead.

"But fair play to them, they adapted well to the loss of Johnny Leoto during the week and I think it hit them quite hard. Having to move Mark Cueto into the centre meant they had to readjust their line-up a little bit.

"It doesn't help them at all but full credit to our boys, I thought our defence in the final ten minutes we were under the cosh a little bit and we were quite happy to give them possession but we defended extremely well and the boys put their bodies on the line.

"And that was the thing that got us the result at the end of the game."

Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond admitted he was disappointed with the result given the amount of possession his side enjoyed in the first period, going in at the break 11-9 ahead.

But he conceded Newcastle's improved second half showing - and the form of No. 10s Godman and Clegg - had been enough to send the Falcons back to Kingston Park with the points.

"We're naturally disappointed," said Diamond. "I felt first half we had a lot of ball and we just couldn't do stuff with it.

"We got a try in the corner and we just couldn't get away from Newcastle. Second half I thought they were a far better, streetwise team than ourselves, a couple of decisions went against us, but that's how it goes.

"We're thoroughly disappointed but I think on their second half performance they deserved the win.

"Newcastle were able to put us to ground in the second half and we couldn't get our set-piece scrum wise, and if you give six penalties away at the scrum, you're not going to win many games so we've got to look at that in practice and see if we can rectify that.

"We expect our kickers to be at high percentages, he [Macleod] had a bit of an off day in that department, but tight games are won and lost on the kicks and Newcastle won it tonight with having a more accurate kicker and being a little bit more streetwise in the game."

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