There was no dream start for new director of rugby John Mitchell as his Sale Sharks side were comfortably beaten 27-16 by a dominant Northampton Saints in foggy conditions at Salford City Stadium.
Mitchell took the reins at the Sharks during the week, but his tenure began in the worst possible fashion as the Aviva Premiership’s basement side fell to defeat against Jim Mallinder’s men.
First-half scores from Jamie Elliott, Soane Tonga’uiha and Tom May put the visitors in the driving seat with fly-half Ryan Lamb adding 12 points with the boot.
And despite an improved second half showing from the Sharks, with Rob Miller and Tommy Taylor going over, their poor first 40 minute display cost them as the Saints eased home.
Sale came into the game on the back of a defeat at Gloucester last weekend, while Northampton had edged past London Welsh at Franklin’s Gardens.
There were doubts whether the match would go ahead with the ground shrouded in fog before the start of play, and the poor conditions led to an untidy game.
In the fifth minute the visitors were afforded the first sight at goal, Lamb’s penalty sailing between the posts to give the Saints an early lead, but Nick Macleod levelled the scores after 15 minutes.
Two minutes later Northampton re-established their lead though – the visitors drove for the line and Elliott surged down the Sale blind-side to touch down, Lamb converting.
With 22 minutes gone the Saints extended their lead, prop Tonga’uiha going over after the visitors turned the ball over with Sale struggling at the breakdown, and Lamb again converted.
After 31 minutes Lamb kicked a drop-goal to perfection as the Saints stretched their lead to 17 points.
With the first half all but over, a loose Macleod pass was pounced on by Tom May who showed great pace to burst clear and crash over, Lamb adding the extras to make it 27-3 at the break.
But four minutes after the restart the Sharks hit back, a perfectly-timed move ending with Mark Cueto offloading to Miller who went over, but Macleod’s conversion was wayward.
In the 49th minute Macleod made amends, slotting home a penalty to reduce the arrears in an improved second-half showing from the hosts.
And with the game drawing to a close, Taylor notched his first Premiership try to give Sale hope of salvaging a losing bonus point.
But Mitchell’s side had left themselves with too much to do and the Saints closed the game out effectively to secure their seventh win from ten Aviva Premiership clashes.
Sale meanwhile have only won one of their first ten, and Mitchell will have to turn things around quickly in Manchester with his side already five points adrift at the bottom having played one more than their nearest rivals.