George North scored his first-ever Aviva Premiership try to help Northampton Saints return to winning ways with a 33-14 success over Sale Sharks at Franklin’s Gardens.
North finished the simplest of chances after good work from fellow wing Jamie Elliott in the 22nd minute, having engineered his side’s opening try which was finished by Luther Burrell.
After George Pisi got Saints’ third try the Sharks took advantage of Calum Clark being sent to the sin bin with Mark Cueto putting them back into the game on the stroke of half-time.
But further home tries from Lee Dickson and Phil Dowson after the break ensured victory for Jim Mallinder’s men, who had suffered last-gasp defeat at Gloucester Rugby last week.
Alex Corbisiero returned to the Saints starting XV having been rested against Gloucester, where the Saints suffered their first loss of the new campaign having opened with back-to-back wins.
Stephen Myler made his 200th appearance for the hosts, while his opposite number at fly-half was Danny Cipriani, recalled to Sale’s starting line-up after a match-winning impact off the bench against London Wasps last time out.
And it was Cipriani who had the first chance to open the scoring, but he pulled his penalty short from the half-way line.
The Sharks had started confidently, and Cipriani’s 20-metre pass to Cueto set-up a promising attack in the right corner but Rob Miller was held up by the hosts.
And that seemed to spark the Saints into life as they went straight down the other end to open the scoring. After a number of attacking phases which began with North’s break from half-way, play was recycled by Dickson who found Myler. The fly-half ignored the decoy runs of Clark and Courtney Lawes to feed Burrell who powered through, Myler adding the extras.
It was in the 22nd minute that North’s first try for the Saints came as half-back pairing Dickson and Myler once again combined before the latter released Elliott, the winger taking a hit and laying off for North to finish the simplest of chances. This time Myler was unable to convert.
The Saints were firmly in control and just past the half-hour mark Pisi grabbed his side’s third try. From a line-out Dickson exchanged passes with Myler before bursting past two challenges and putting Pisi through to score under the posts. Myler’s conversion meant a 19-0 lead for the hosts.
With five minutes remaining in the first half Clark was sent to the sin bin for deliberately handling the ball while off his feet in the ruck – and the visitors came close to taking immediate advantage of the extra man when only a last-ditch Sam Dickinson tackle prevented a try-scoring chance.
However, they got the reward their spell of pressure deserved with the last action of the half as Cipriani slipped a pass to the onrushing Cueto who burst through for his third Aviva Premiership try of the season, converted by Cipriani for a 19-7 half-time scoreline.
Cipriani had the chance to move the Sharks to within nine points of the hosts immediately after the break but missed with a penalty, and the hosts were grateful to see Clark return to the action soon after.
And in the 53rd minute Dickson got the try his first-half performance merited, and with it secured a bonus point for the hosts, Myler converting.
Elliott was denied what would have been a fantastic try in the 56th minute when Pisi darted between two challenges to find the winger out wide. He cleverly kicked around the outside of a defender and ran past him, before collecting the ball and crashing over only for television match official Rowan Kitt to rule the ball had gone into touch.
Saints weren’t done there though and when Dickinson made a fine break forward he was aided by replacement Alex Waller backing him up. The ball was fed wide and flanker Dowson took advantage to score the fifth home try of the night. Myler’s conversion moved the score to 31-7 to the hosts.
Nathan Fowles came close to a late Sharks try when the replacement burst through inside the home 22 only to be foiled by Ben Foden’s tackle close to the try-line.
But Foden and his team-mates were powerless to prevent Marc Jones adding greater respectability to the scoreline with a try three minutes from the end, forcing his way over the try-line following a line-out, with Cipriani’s replacement Joe Ford adding the conversion.