NEWCASTLE FALCONS’ Premiership survival battle is set to go to the wire after Saturday’s 22-17 win over Sale bolstered their hopes of beating the drop.

Falcons went into their annual match at St James’ Park - billed as the Big One - seven points adrift of safety after Worcester won 27-25 at Bristol.

However, Dean Richards’ side clawed the gap back to three with a rousing second-half show in front of a crowd of 27,284 in which they came back from 10-6 down at half-time to win 22-17, with scrum-half Sonatane Takulua kicking five penalties and converting a Toby Flood try.

“I didn’t say much to them at half-time,” said Richards. “They sit down and talk it through themselves and they tidied it up and delivered.

“We probably made them look good in the first 20 minutes and didn’t get our exits and strategies right, but they are a good side. We enjoy playing here and the atmosphere was fantastic, and the supporters were unbelievable.

“Momentum is everything, so I think we’re doing all right. We set a target of five wins and we’re three into that, so we’re doing all right and if we get another two, we should be somewhere near being safe - but then with Worcester winning, even that’s not sure.

“I’ve said it all along this year, whoever goes down it will be a really good team that is going down because there are 12 really good teams out there. I just hope it’s not us that do go down.”

Sale were quickly out of the blocks, forcing Falcons onto the back foot, and they dominated for much of the first half.

Despite an early missed penalty, scrum-half Faf de Klerk sparked a sixth-minute try with a sweeping run and a lovely offload to Tom Curry, who sent Denny Solomona careering over. De Klerk’s conversion made it 7-0.

He added a 13th-minute penalty, but Takulua got Newcastle on the board with a penalty almost immediately when Curry failed to roll away in the tackle area.

Newcastle were reduced to 14 men when Logovi’i Mulipola was controversially sin-binned in the 18th minute, and there was more controversy when Andrew Davidson charged down de Klerk’s kick and appeared to have scored, but was judged to have lost control of the ball.

Calum Green and Sale skipper Jono Ross then squared up to each other and both sets of forwards piled in, and the crowd were not happy when the penalty went against Falcons after a long discussion between the referee and the TMO.

Newcastle finally gained a foothold in the match after a pulsating run by Sinoti Sinoti led to a Takulua penalty to make it 10-6 in the 31st minute.

It looked as if Sale had snatched a second try right on half-time with a kick ahead and touchdown, but Byron McGuigan was ruled to have been in front of the kicker.

Newcastle started the second half even quicker than Sale had started the first with a surging run to the line, where Curry tried to kill the release and was sin-binned.

Newcastle opted for the scrum, and Flood cut back inside to score, Takulua’s conversion putting the hosts 13-10 up in the 42nd minute.

It was all Newcastle as their forwards surged to a Sale mishandle to forced a turnover penalty, and Takulua hammered it over to make it 16-10.

Takulua added two more penalties, the first in the 55th minute after Newcastle drove for the line and England back-rower Ben Curry was extremely lucky not to see yellow when he put his hands in the driving maul to concede just a penalty and halt a possible try.

With three minutes left on the clock, Sale gave themselves a chance of snatching victory with a spectacular one-handed finish from McGuigan in the corner and a terrific conversion from de Klerk from the touchline to make it 22-17.

But Newcastle were able to control the ball in the closing seconds and won a penalty which they tapped, set up the ruck and kicked dead as the clock turned red.

The victory was, however, mired in a degree of controversy with Sale hooker Rob Webber claiming he was the victim of a biting incident.

Webber claimed he was bitten on the arm by a Falcons player after a first-half melee involving several players from both sides, sparked by a clash involving Green.

“We are aware of the bite allegations and we’ll be having a look at that,” said Richards. “An allegation has been made and I’ll look very closely at it and if there is anything in it, I’ll expect a citing and then we’ll deal with it in due course.

“But we’ll also look very closely ourselves when we get all the angles on it and the recordings.

“We’ll look at it and see if anything needs to be done in due course.”

Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond said: “I think the citing officer will have to have a look at it and he’ll decide what happens. Rob Webber got a bite mark that needed treatment at half-time and after the game.”