Sale got the defence of their GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP crown up and running at the second time of asking by sinking Northampton in a bruising encounter at Edgeley Park. Having lost their opener to Leicester last Sunday, the champions had a point to prove today and, inspired by the 22-point haul of vibrant fly-half Charlie Hodgson, they duly delivered.
The Sharks scored tries through Mark Cueto and Magnus Lund, and generally bullied the Saints throughout in a tempestuous game that threatened to boil over on a number of occasions.
The visitors, who slipped to their first defeat of the campaign, outscored Sale in the try stakes, Sean Lamont – twice – and Paul Tupai going over, but their penalty count was high and Hodgson made them pay.
With the defeat to Leicester still fresh in their memory, a pumped-up Sale came out fighting – in the literal sense.
Prop Andrew Sheridan, making his first start for the Sharks since February, engaged in a bout of fisticuffs with opposite number Pat Barnard in the third minute.
Both players were fortunate to escape sanction, as did Cueto, who bundled Saints winger Paul Diggin into the advertising hoardings soon after with the ball nowhere in sight.
Hodgson had by that time booted Sale into a ninth-minute lead with a sweetly struck penalty from distance and he repeated the dose in the 20th minute to put the hosts further in front.
Northampton lost flanker Tupai to the sin-bin for killing the ball in the lead-up to that second penalty but they nonetheless managed to halve the deficit through a Bruce Reihana three-pointer in the 24th minute.
That was just a temporary reprieve as Sale hit back two minutes later with the game’s first try.
Wave after wave of drives near the Saints’ line were repelled, although the likes of Jason White and Sebastien Chabal had caused enough damage to allow Cueto, following a neat pop-up pass by Hodgson, to go over unchallenged.
Hodgson converted and after Saints hooker Steve Thompson was forced off injured, the fly-half then added two drop goals and a penalty in quick succession to give the Sharks a 19-3 cushion.
But in the last act of the half, Carlos Spencer sent in winger Lamont to drive over from close range, Reihana converting to keep Northampton in touch.
They made further inroads into Sale’s lead six minutes after the break when Spencer and Reihana combined to put Tupai over in the right corner.
The hosts should have pulled clear moments later but after Hodgson had made the initial break, Chris Bell blew an obvious overlap with the line in sight and ended up knocking on.
It was not to matter as in the 54th minute, Lund was the grateful recipient of Reihana’s charged-down kick to sprint clear and over. The try needed confirmation from a video replay.
Lund turned from hero to villain when he was sin-binned soon after for killing the ball but Sale forged further ahead with another Hodgson penalty, in the 69th minute.
Lamont went over for his second try of the match in second-half injury time, but the game was lost by then.