Ben Foden found an outlet for some of his frustration at his latest England omission by inspiring Northampton to victory against his former club at Franklin’s Gardens, a win which confirmed Saints’ GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP status.
The full-back, who has been overlooked by England since he won his first cap as a replacement in the RBS 6 Nations opener against Italy, scored one try and proved a constant menace to injury-ravaged Sale with a series of mazy runs.
Sharks travelled without 11 first-team regulars because of injuries, suspension and international commitments and suffered another setback when replacement hooker Marc Jones sustained an injury in the warm-up.
Former Exeter prop Joe Horn-Smith was promoted from travelling reserve but Sale’s problems increased when scrum-half Chris Leck, centre Chris Bell and lock Dean Schofield were all injured inside 25 minutes.
But Foden showed his old club no sympathy at all as he tormented them throughout an entertaining game, even though he has yet to establish himself in his preferred position at scrum-half which was one of the reasons why he left Sale last summer.
Fly-half Barry Everitt embellished Northampton’s biggest league win of the season win by kicking 14 first-half points but Sale deserve credit for producing a brave defensive effort despite their selection problems.
They held out for 30 minutes though Northampton twice got close to scoring tries. Paul Diggin was forced into touch after Foden made the initial break, then Foden knocked on over the line when Bell put in a crunching tackle.
Instead Northampton had to rely on two penalties from Everitt to nudge ahead, though Charlie Hodgson extended his GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP points-scoring record when he slotted a 25th-minute drop-goal.
But Northampton’s pressure eventually told when Diggin rounded off a superb move for the opening try five minutes later. Foden again wriggled free on the left and former Sale prop Barry Stewart helped to switch the direction of the attack. Everitt added the conversion followed by two more penalties before the break.
Sale’s Scotland full-back Rory Lamont hobbled off early in the second half on his comeback after three months out with an ankle injury.
Sale’s problems mounted when winger David Doherty was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on when Bruce Reihana tried to chase a crossfield kick but Everitt missed his first kick of the afternoon.
Foden put Roger Wilson over but the try was disallowed for a foot in touch but there was no dispute when Courtney Lawes broke free and sent Foden clear for Northampton’s second try.
Northampton thought they had scored again when Soane Tonga’uiha battered his way to the line but referee Dean Richards ruled that the ball had not been grounded.
It proved to be a temporary respite for Sale as number eight Wilson picked up from the resulting scrum and dotted down with Stephen Myler, who replaced Everitt, adding his second conversion.
Northampton clinched the bonus point with the final play of the game when centre James Downey went over on the overlap against an exhausted defence.