All the talk may have been of new names, new league formats and new signings in the close season, but it was a familiar looking Sharks team that showed they mean to carry on much in the same vein as last season as they toppled a Saints side, who many perceive as geniune Premiership title contenders this year.
Both sides took the field without their most high-profile close season signings, Northampton’s Mark Connors and Bruce Reihana and the Sharks’ Graeme Bond all still in the southern hemisphere, although Northampton did field new Spanish winger Oriel Ripol and he nearly announced his arrival in style with a late try that had apparently given Saints a share of the spoils.
Ripol bagged Saints second try of the game one minute into stoppage time and with a failed Grayson conversion leaving the scores at 21-21 it seemed that a see-saw game would finish honours even, that was until Hodgson coolly knocked over the winning kick.
Before Ripol’s apparent heroics at the death it was a more familiar Saints winger that made the early impression, England’s Ben Cohen scored the first try in the 2002/03 Zurich Premiership season as he finished off a well worked move after just three minutes, veteran stand-off Paul Graysion adding the extra two points.
However, the Sharks hit back almost immediatley, the points coming from an unusual source, the boot of centre Jos Baxendell who put over a well-taken drop-goal.
The home side then moved into the lead as Charlie Hodgson slotted two quick penalties to give the side from the north-west a 9-7 lead before Grayson edged Saints back in front with a penalty just before the mid-way mark of the first-half.
However, Hodgson nailed two more kicks before half-time, to Grayson’s one, as the Sharks went into the interval narrowly leading 15-13 having just edged the see-saw battle for control.
In the second-half, Hodgson and Grayson swapped penalties early on as the game followed a similar rollercoaster pattern, neither side making much headway to create a substantial lead.
The scoring died off for much of the second half as both sides began to cancel each other out and in the end a sixth Hodgson penalty midway through the half was enough to give the home side the breathing space before the frantic finish to the game.
SharksPens: Hodgson 6DGs: Baxendell, Hodgson
Northampton SaintsTries: Cohen, RipolCons: GraysonPens: Grayson 3