Tries from wings Paul Diggin and Chris Ashton saw Northampton make light of a woeful goal-kicking display from fly-half Stephen Myler to keep the pressure on leaders Leicester at the top of the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP with their first ever league win at Edgeley Park.
Sale had entered the game level on points with bottom club Leeds and this performance, their eighth-straight defeat in all competitions, will have done little to ease their relegation fears.
Northampton led 7-0 at the break thanks to Diggin’s try, converted by full-back Bruce Reihana, but could have been much further ahead as Myler missed four straightforward penalties. Charlie Hodgson and Lee Thomas failed with a penalty attempt apiece for the Sharks.
Ashton then went over shortly after the break and Shane Geraghty slotted a penalty to seal the win, before Ben Cohen got a late try for the home side and Hodgson missed a last-gasp penalty which would have given his side a losing bonus point.
Sale brought Dwayne Peel in at scrum-half with Jonny Kennedy and Thomas at centre and Nick Macleod at full-back. Hooker Neil Briggs and prop Jack Forster get a run while Carl Fearns came into the back row.
Australia international Dan Vickerman was in line for his Northampton debut after being named on the bench, while Roger Wilson replaced Phil Dowson at number eight.
Fly-half Myler should have booted Saints into an early lead as the visitors made an assured start, but he pushed his simple penalty attempt wide.
The stand-off’s shaky start continued as Peel charged down his attempted clearance but Northampton looked the more comfortable side, although they wasted great attacking situations when Sale lock Chris Jones stole two lineouts in his own 22.
Myler once again failed to make Saints’ dominance pay as he missed a second penalty from virtually the same spot as his first and another chance went begging when, after a powerful surge by centre James Downey, flanker Courtney Lawes threw a forward pass which winger Chris Ashton knocked on just metres from the line.
Myler missed two more penalties and, despite the poor state of the Edgeley Park pitch, he could have no excuses for his horror show.
Fortunately for the former Salford rugby league player Hodgson was also off target with his first attempt at goal but Sale began to grow into the game as centre Kennedy made a scything break from his 22, and some stout Saints defence was required to make sure the attack came to nothing.
Northampton hit back as scrum-half Lee Dickson took a quick-tap and freed Ashton, but a lack of support at the breakdown saw the away side penalised and the home side relieved the pressure.
Sale centre Thomas then became the third player to miss with a penalty, although the former Cardiff man’s attempt was from over 50 metres.
For all the enterprise on show the score somehow remained 0-0 until Myler made some amends for his wasteful kicking by creating a try for Diggin as his beautiful grubber sat up for the winger to touch down, Reihana showed his team-mate how it should be done by knocking over the conversion to put Northampton 7-0 up two minutes before the interval.
Ashton, yet to be given a chance by England boss Martin Johnson during the Six Nations, extended the lead as he created and scored a try after the Saints pack had once again disrupted a Sale scrum in the 50th minute.
The Premiership’s top try-scorer switched play from one side of the field to the other where he linked up superbly with centre Joe Ansbro and Reihana to cross, although the Kiwi missed the conversion.
Sale rallied and Macleod blew an almost certain try by hanging on to the ball with two men outside him.
Northampton brought Vickerman on for his debut and Geraghty replaced Myler, with the discarded England man slotting a 65th-minute penalty to put the visitors more than two scores clear.
Wing Ben Cohen gave Sale a glimmer of hope as he reached out to score in the corner after fine work by fellow wide man Marika Vakacegu on the other flank. Hodgson converted from out wide but then saw a long-range penalty in the final seconds strike the post and deny the Sharks a bonus point.