He might have preferred to be in Paris, but Sebastien Chabal saved Sale and kept Northampton bottom of the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP.
Trailing 18-11 and down to 14 men with prop Andrew Sheridan sin-binned last year’s champions were facing a sixth successive league defeat, one which would have left in even more danger of going down themselves.
But with eight minutes left the long-haired Chabal, left out of the France side this weekend, showed the vision and touch of a back rather than the number eight he is.
Chabal kicked over the Northampton defence and, helped by a kind bounce, regathered the ball and put centre Chris Bell through to score.
Lee Thomas’s simple conversion brought the teams level and so stopped Sale’s recent rot.
They might still have won only one of their last 10 games, but they are in a better position than Northampton, who dropped to the foot of the table when Worcester staged a brilliant recovery in their Friday night tussle with fellow strugglers Newcastle.
The Franklin’s Gardens side have themselves now lost seven of their last eight, the optimism gained from the away win over Leicester having drained away with three defeats in a row.
First-half tries from the experienced pair Carlos Spencer and Ben Cohen had appeared to put them on course for a vital victory, but all they managed in the second period was a Stephen Myler penalty.
Sale, badly hit not just by international calls but also long-term injuries, weathered a storm and thanks to Chabal’s piece of magic got their rewards.
The Saints supporters turned out in force and their side responded right from the start, Myler slotting over a penalty in just the third minute after Ben Foden’s clearance kick had been charged down.
Sale settled into the match, however, and after 13 minutes scored the opening try through Spanish left-wing Oriol Ripol.
Chabal broke away from the base of the scrum, off-loaded well and Ripol was in the clear when he received the pass.
Stand-off Daniel Larrachea failed to add the conversion and the see-saw battled continued with Spencer taking Northampton back in front after 23 minutes.
Captain Bruce Reihana made the initial break and after Spencer and Cohen took play into the Sale 22 the ball came out again and Myler and Robbie Kydd were both involved before Spencer ran through to score.
Myler’s superb conversion from wide out on the left made it 10-5, but the tension mounted again when almost immediately Larrachea kicked a penalty.
Limping from a tackle seven minutes earlier, it was to be Larrachea’s last involvement in the match and Thomas’s first task on replacing him was to attempt a penalty from just inside the opposition half that would have taken his team back ahead.
It had the legs, but was just pushed wide and for the next 15 minutes it was all Northampton.
The pressure eventually paid with Cohen’s 38th minute try. Sale were in trouble from the moment Thomas took a pass over the dead ball line and gave away a five-metre scrum. Wave after wave of attacks followed and Cohen, waiting patiently out on the right, was eventually given the chance by Reihana and made no mistake.
Myler missed the conversion and Sale had the chance to narrow the gap just before the break, but Foden went for a quick penalty instead and the Northampton defence held firm for a 15-8 lead going into the second-half.
The tension was increased when, moments after had dropped a pass that almost let Cohen through again, Thomas reduced the arrears with a penalty after 53 minutes.
Sheridan’s sin-binning for killing the ball looked to have turned the tide Northampton’s way again, but Sale had the last word.
The home side do still have a game in hand over Worcester, however. But every match will be pressure-packed now.