Sale Sharks blew Northampton away despite a late rally from Saints
A second-half blitz from Sale Sharks settled this slow September game which proved that TV match officials cannot be blamed for all rugby union’s woes. Northampton Saints rallied strongly to claim a bonus point but succumbed to a lackluster third quarter.
Due to the decision to reschedule this match, originally scheduled for Friday night, there were no replays for referee Matthew Carley to rely on. Gusty conditions and rust led to mistakes, but Sale can look back on this as a key win if they achieve their goal of a play-off spot.
Dan du Preez and Sam James were among its chief architects, with Tom Roebuck also lively on one wing. At the other end, action Tom O’Flaherty marked his debut for the Sharks with a goal and the efforts of Manu Tuilagi, who played almost an hour, were also encouraging.
Northampton seemed to have come to terms more quickly. From the kick-off they spread the ball around inside their own 22 and won an infringement penalty, gaining more momentum when Ben Curry was leveled at the gain line. Salle’s captain needed 15 minutes off the pitch to be assessed for a head injury.
Matt Proctor missed passive shots in midfield and although Roebuck looked to save the day with an interception, the home side conceded two penalties. After hitting the first in the corner, James Grayson converted the second to give the Saints a 3-0 advantage.
Dan du Preez sprawled in a touch out but made amends within minutes – after some sustained exchanges of kicks that drew groans from the supporters – with a rousing strike down the middle. Gus Warr had fed the Springbok rower and the running tackle followed to take a dot pass.
Tuilagi was somewhat peripheral in the first quarter. He resumed play in the 15th minute and barged in on the Saints’ chasers before being penalized for obstruction when his tantalizing run plowed through for Roebuck.
Sale had opportunities to go ahead but were thwarted twice in quick succession. Lujan Salacaya-Lotto, Northampton’s new signing, rose to save a clearance from close range and then O’Flaherty failed to control the ricochet from an open field.
Northampton then spurned their chance – or rather Roebuck snuffed it out with a powerful cover shot on Cortnall Scosan. Alex Mitchell’s blindside kick turned Sale over.
Early season mistakes and general teasing made life difficult for Carly and the referee compounded Skossan’s woes by waving a yellow card in his direction to punish Warr’s check.
Rob du Preez scored his second penalty when Northampton were adjudged to have been fouled and after half-time Sale finally found their groove. In the shadow of his own posts, Dan du Preez played a long pass to Tuilagi, who stretched his leg and released Roebuck.
The impressive 21-year-old, who was born in Inverness but has represented England’s age-group sides, galloped up the middle. Two or three phases later, Luke James crashed. Roebuck burst down the left but couldn’t hold on to finish off a beautiful try.
In a fitting end to a troubled first 40 minutes, Tuilagi sent a pass behind his goal. He then denied the restart to start the second period. No matter. Northampton failed to capitalize.
Scosan was perhaps grateful for the lack of replays when he darted from his flank to meet O’Flaherty in a standing challenge. Carly decided that one warning was enough, but Saints soon bowed to Saleh’s will. They were forced back over their own tryline by a couple of tackles and their scrum dropped metres. Luke James was introduced with a simple entry.
After 55 minutes it was Tuilagi’s signal to leave. The sale was not abandoned. Energized by the arrival of Josh Beaumont, their defense gained a new twist. Tommy Taylor found Roebuck with a floated pass and a snap offload placed at number three. Sam James was the scorer and instantly created the fourth. Two line out drives pressured the Saints and O’Flaherty was able to rush to a well-weighted grubber.
Tom Collins halted the march with what looked like a consolation try for Sale, but then Ollie Sleightholme stepped in after George Fairbank’s break to reduce the deficit to 12 points with 10 minutes to go. While much of the game was clunky and dreary, the finale was fractured and frenetic.
Aaron Reid almost scored from his own chip after some great skill from Ben Curry, who faked a shot from the box and passed multiple defenders. Collins continued to roam and his second earned him a lost bonus point to reward Northampton’s determination.
Scoring Sequence: 0-3 Grayson penalty, 5-3 Warr try, 7-3 R du Preez conversion, 10-3 R du Preez penalty, 15-3 L James try, 17-3 R du Preez conversion, 22-3 S James try, 24-3 R du Preez, 29-3 O’Flahety try, 29-8 Collins try, 29-10 Grayson conversion, 29-15 Sleightholme try, 29-17 Grayson conversion, 29-22 Collins try .
Sale Sharks: L James; T Roebuck (A Reed, 66), S James, M Tuilagi (T Curtis, 55), T O’Flaherty; R Du Preez, G Warr (J Simpson, 66); S McIntryne (R Harrison, 44), A Van der Merwe (T Taylor, 50), N Schonert (C Oosthuizen, 50-78, Schonert 78), C Wiese, M Postlethwaite (J Beaumont, half), JL du Preez ( J Ross 18-28), B Curry (J Ross, 2-15), D du Preez (J Ross, 58).
Northampton Saints: T Collins, O Sleightholme, M Proctor, F Dingwall (T Litchfield, 58), C Skosan (G Furbank, 55); J Grayson, A Mitchell (T James, 60); A Waller (E Iyogun, 35), M Haywood 9S Matavesi, 48), P Hill (A Petch, 55), L Salakaia-Loto, A Coles, A Scott-Young (A Moon, 66), A Hinkley (S Graham ) , 53-78, Hinckley 78), J. August.
Yellow card: Slashed 29.
Referee: Mr M Carley.