JONNY Wilkinson's impressive 25-minute comeback for Newcastle yesterday was overshadowed by confirmation of the renaissance of another supreme talent.

Mathew Tait, unable to get in the side at the start of the season, was back to his electrifying best on the left wing as the Falcons comfortably beat a depleted Sale side in the first match in the revamped Powergen Cup.

Toby Flood also impressed on his first senior start at fly half, and the only downside was that the highlight came as early as the second minute with a stunning try by Tait.

After that there was a buzz around the 4,917 crowd every time he touched the ball, which was quite often as he was keen to go looking for it in the first half.

His try stemmed from Colin Charvis, who seemed to pace himself through 80 minutes, running a penalty on his own ten-metre line. From the ensuing ruck on halfway Flood spun out a long, perfectly-weighted pass for full back Matt Burke to take at pace and deliver an equally exquisite pass to Tait.

From 40 metres out the winger feigned to go inside then scorched round his opposite number, Nick Wakley, on the outside to score in the left corner.

Flood added a superb conversion, then after a penalty to the corner the Falcons recycled the ball several times and Flood worked a switch with Jamie Noon, which saw the England centre stopped just short of a post. Scrum half Hall Charlton followed up to burrow over and Burke's conversion made it 14-0.

It seemed a Sale side who had rested eight internationals might be overrun, but the Falcons could not sustain their momentum and visiting fly half Daniel Larrachea landed three penalties to cut the gap to 14-9 after 32 minutes.

Newcastle scored three more tries in the second half, however, and Director of Rugby Rob Andrew said: "It's up to Sale how they approach the competition, but we wanted to show people what we are about.

"We want to play the game at real pace with pride and passion. Half the Premiership sides don't play with ambition. Sale tried to come back at us by grinding us down like Bath did last week, but if we can close down that avenue teams find it hard to stop us."

When Wilkinson made his fifth comeback since the World Cup two years ago Flood switched to centre and Andrew said: "We want to develop him at 10 and 12, where he can spend time between Jonny and Jamie Noon. He's an outstanding prospect and Mat Tait is an immense talent.

"It's taken nine months to get him back together after his England appearance but we have just about got him back to where he was.

"Talented kids go through ups and downs for several years before you see the level of consistency we now have from Jonny and Noony. It varies with each player and a lot depends on how they are handled on the way."

With no Charlie Hodgson, Jason Robinson or Mark Cueto on show, Sale managed few handling moves of note and when one effort broke down in midfield Charlton hacked on into the 22, where Newcastle spurned the chance to kick a penalty and ran it to no avail.

A jinking counter-attack by left winger Oriol Ripol provided Sale's most dangerous first half moment and led to the third penalty, but Burke quickly replied to make it 17-9.

The first half ended with Tait almost scoring again when he chipped over the line and was narrowly beaten to the touchdown by Wakley.

Newcastle replaced props Dave Wilson and Tino Paoletti with Robbie Morris and Micky Ward at half-time, but they were unable to nail down victory until Sale were reduced to 13 men.

They had flanker John Carter sin-binned after 53 minutes and three minutes later No 8 Nathan Bonner Evans followed him after killing the ball under the posts.

This stemmed from relentless Newcastle pressure after they kicked a penalty to touch and all but drove over.

They kept recycling the ball and Flood, Charlton and Mark Mayerhofler almost made the line before the second yellow card left Sale under-powered at the ensuing scrum and Burke romped over in the right corner.

That was the signal for Wilkinson to go on to a rapturous reception, and he immediately showed the trusty left peg was in full working order with a booming clearance.

His distribution was also spot on and just after Carter returned from the bin Wilkinson floated a pass to Burke on the 22 behind a decoy runner and the full back ghosted through a gap and stepped inside to score by the posts. Wilkinson added the simple conversion.

Newcastle sent on more forward reinforcements in giant lock Luke Gross and Mike McCarthy, but opted to give Charlton longer than usual, sending on Lee Dickson just as the game entered injury time.

Charlton capped a fine display with his second try when an exchange of passes with Tait down the blind side saw him scamper over seven minutes from time.

There are already signs that the Welsh clubs will take this competition more seriously than the English, but after winning the cup twice in the last four years Newcastle will not treat it lightly. It is just a pity for their fans that their two other group games are away from home.

Result: Newcastle Falcons 34, Sale Sharks 9.