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Pack provides platform for Saints to shine

02 Apr 2011
Pack provides platform for Saints to shine

Northampton boosted their Aviva Premiership Rugby play-off hopes with an eight-try victory over Sale, who had hooker Neil Briggs sent off in the second half.

A rampant pack produced two penalty tries for Saints, who secured their bonus point before half-time. Their other tries came from scrum-half Lee Dickson, England winger Chris Ashton, prop Brian Mujati, England flanker Tom Wood and replacements Bruce Reihana and Phil Dowson, with fly-half Stephen Myler kicking 13 points.

Sale replied with tries from replacement hooker Marc Jones and lock Wame Lewaravu, with former England fly-half Charlie Hodgson kicking 14 points.

Hodgson struck first with a third-minute penalty, but Northampton adopted a bold approach five minutes later when they were awarded a penalty within kicking range. They opted for the lineout and their rolling maul had Sale in total disarray before the visitors conceded a close-range penalty. Dickson took a quick tap and darted over, despite the attention of Sale flanker David Seymour.

Five minutes later Sale's Welsh international scrum-half Dwayne Peel was carried off on a stretcher after a long spell of treatment, to be replaced by Will Cliff. Within a minute, Saints left-wing Paul Diggin scythed through the middle before supplying the pass to send Ashton racing in for his side's second try, complete with his trademark swallow dive celebration.

Briggs was sin-binned in the 18th minute for illegally disrupting another destructive Northampton forward surge. Sale sent on back-up hooker Marc Jones as a temporary front row replacement, withdrawing flanker James Gaskell, as Northampton opted for a scrum rather than a penalty kick.

The tactic was rewarded with a try as the Saints scrum, with number eight Roger Wilson controlling the ball with some nifty footwork at the base, forcing the Sharks to back pedal. But referee David Rose denied Dickson a second score by awarding a penalty try just as the scrum-half was dropping on the ball.

Sale, 19-3 down after 20 minutes, rallied to get within six points of the Saints. Koyamaibole surged into the Northampton half and England winger Mark Cueto was hauled down just short before the replacements linked up for Cliff to put Jones in. Hodgson converted from the touchline and landed two penalties, the second when Wilson was sin-binned for going into a ruck from the side.

Northampton clinched their bonus point three minutes before the interval. Myler again spurned a kick at goal, Christian Day won the lineout and Mujati charged in, with Myler tacking on the difficult conversion to send Saints in with a 26-16 half-time lead.

Sale responded again four minutes into the second half when Hodgson and Seymour combined to put Lewaravu over. But the resulting fight in front of the posts ended with Briggs being sent off after receiving a second yellow card for his part in the affray.

Northampton made the most of their numerical advantage with Myler kicking a penalty and a conversion after full-back Foden's break ended with England team-mate Wood crossing for his first Northampton try since arriving from Worcester last summer.

Reihana added Saints' seventh within a minute of replacing Diggin in the 68th minute and substitute flanker Dowson struck the final blow two minutes from time.

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