Replacement prop Ethan Waller’s 80th-minute try earned Northampton Saints a vital bonus-point 32-12 Aviva Premiership Rugby win over Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Leicester Tigers’ loss to Exeter Chiefs means that Jim Mallinder’s side are now just three points off fifth-place with an East Midlands Derby up next.
After nearly half an hour without a score, Ken Pisi got the game’s first try following some fine Harry Mallinder handling, with Michael Paterson adding a try soon after.
Josh Charnley got his first Aviva Premiership Rugby try since a move from Wigan Warriors RL, but a Stephen Myler just before the break and then Mikey Haywood’s score 15 minutes into the second period knocked the stuffing out of Sale.
Bryn Evans crossed as Sale attempted to mount a comeback, but it was Mallinder’s side who claimed an important win at the AJ Bell Stadium, made all the sweeter when replacement prop Waller raced over with time up on the clock.
— Louis Picamoles (@Picamoleslouis) March 3, 2017
Youngster Mallinder provided the touch of class to unlock Sale’s previously solid defence, dropping Pisi into space and giving the Samoan international a simple run in for the game’s first try with nearly half an hour gone.
Saints had their tails up and had their second within six minutes, this time Mike Haley was forced over his try-line by a fine Northampton kick chase.
A powerful Saints effort from the resultant scrum then gave Paterson the chance to barrel over from close range, with Myler knocking over the conversion to put the visitors 12 points to the good.
And though former Wigan winger Charnley raced over for his first Aviva Premiership Rugby try thanks to a well-judged Mike Haley grubber kick, Myler mitigated the damage to Saints’ lead with a further penalty before the turn, leaving Saints 15-7 ahead.
My man @Joshuacharnley with the meat!!! Watch them come flying through now…
— Will Addison (@WillAddisonB3) March 3, 2017
Sharks hampered themselves by gifting Saints a chance to set up a five-metre lineout with a touch-finder deep into Sale territory.
And as the pressure mounted Haywood struck from a driving maul, steering the well-set squeeze, with Myler’s conversion taking Saints 22-5 in front.
Fly-half Myler then extended that advantage six minutes later from the tee as Northampton dominated, but with Diamond adding Tom Curry from the bench, Sale started to pull themselves back into the game.
It was lock Evans who got over following a period of sustained Sharks pressure, though James’ missed conversion kept the scores at 25-12.
And though it was Sale who looked more likely to score as the game wore on, Saints got what could be a critical bonus point through prop Waller who, on for brother Alex, raced in following a brilliant Northampton attack.