Sale’s GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP play-off bid finally ended after they beat Northampton with a bonus-point victory but saw results elsewhere deny them a top-four finish.
The 2006 champions, who were docked a point earlier this week for fielding an ineligible player, claimed a maximum five-point haul to finish the season on 61 points. Yet victories for London Irish, Bath and Harlequins meant Sale’s success was immaterial.
Departing captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe scored a try in the first half and the home side claimed three second-half scores through Eifion Roberts, Dean Schofield and a superb effort from Mathew Tait.
However, finishing outside of the play-off places for the third season in succession marked another significant failure for Sale, who bade farewell to outgoing director of rugby Philippe Saint-Andre and a number of key players.
Lobbe, Lionel Faure, Sebastien Bruno, Sebastien Chabal and Jason White all made their final appearances for the club, while injured centre Luke McAlister will now return to New Zealand.
Northampton contributed to an entertaining encounter, scoring a try in either half from Neil Best and Sean Lamont at a sun-baked Edgeley Park.
Saints fly-half Stephen Myler spurned the opportunity to put the visitors ahead when he missed a penalty in the seventh minute.
Sale gradually assumed control and were rewarded in the 20th minute when Lobbe emerged from a thicket of players to touch down in the right corner.
Charlie Hodgson could not convert from a difficult angle and Northampton got off the mark in the 30th minute when Myler landed a penalty.
Yet Sale remained largely dominant and Richard Wigglesworth showed impressive pace and clever footwork to weave his way through a clutch of players and find Hodgson with a neat short offload.
Hodgson knocked on, however, and his side were punished soon after when Best advanced forward at pace to collect possession and crash under the posts for a try which Myler converted.
Northampton full-back Chris Ashton was sinbinned shortly before half-time for a professional foul and Hodgson missed a penalty moments before the interval whistle.
Myler did likewise for the Saints four minutes after the break but Sale enjoyed a purple patch which saw them claim two tries in five minutes.
In the 53rd minute, Welsh prop Roberts powered his way over in the left corner and then Schofield proved unstoppable when he galloped through for another try.
Hodgson converted the latter score but a long-range penalty from Myler cut the gap in the 63rd minute before Sale secured the points they craved in the 74th minute when Tait waltzed through a clutch of players for a try which Hodgson converted.
Northampton were still not done and Lamont’s pace took him clear down the left flank before he cut infield and crossed the line for a try which Barry Everitt could not convert.