To beat a top side like Sale Sharks you need to do the basics well, have a solid set-piece, kick your goals and have a bit of luck with decisions and the bounce of the ball.
Other than kicking their goals, Newcastle ticked most of those boxes in surprising everyone bar themselves with a 19-12 victory over Bath at The Rec last Saturday.
Dean Richards’ side were five from five at scrum-time on their own feed, were close to the 90% mark in the lineout and retained the ball efficiently as well as only giving away five penalties.
Had Newcastle not left 11 points out there, they would have been even more convincing winners. Brett Connon had a nightmare in front of the poles, missing his first three penalty attempts and two of his other kicks at goal in a total of seven attempts.
We’re happy to put that kicking display down as a one-off, though. Looking at his stats in Newcastle’s last top-flight campaign, Connon kicked 20 out of his 24 attempts (in all competitions) for a success rate of 83%, pretty decent by anyone’s standards. And even if he does forget his kicking boots again, Toby Flood is no mean replacement.
The Falcons cannot afford to see so many points go begging again and will look to build their score from the off and put pressure on a Sharks side that wasn’t wholly convincing in beating Northampton in round one.
Sharks travel without captain and workhorse, Jono Ross, and it’ll be interesting to see what impact that has on the visitors. Connor Collett, a debutant in the win at Bath, Sean Robinson and two-try hero Gary Graham (25/1 for the 1st try) are real grafters in the home side’s back row.
As for the handicap, Sale need the ball to score points. Yet Newcastle enjoyed the most possession of any team in round one, while Sale had the least (the difference was nearly 11 minutes!).
If that trend continues at Kingston Park on Friday night, the Sharks will have to use what little ball they have very effectively to stand any chance of racking up the points and defying the handicapper.
If Sale are not up for it on a cold north-east night, where the thermometer is forecast to barely get above zero, the bookies may regret giving Newcastle a nine-point start.