Sale Sharks reinforced their Aviva Premiership Rugby play-off credentials after Eifion Lewis-Roberts and Dan Braid touched down in a dominant performance over champions Northampton Saints.
Steve Diamond’s troops had suffered a setback in recent weeks following back-to-back defeats against Leicester Tigers and Wasps, but didn’t give Northampton an inch at the AJ Bell.
Lewis-Roberts scored from a maul in the first half before Braid followed suit in the second, while Danny Cipriani, who bagged ten points from the tee, was never far away from the action.
Northampton did avoid a shutout as replacement Teimana Harrison barged over and despite the loss, will return from Europe top of Aviva Premiership Rugby’s pile.
Saints, who were looking for their eighth straight win in all competitions while missing the likes of Courtney Lawes and Samu Manoa, started well and were held up five metres from Sale’s try-line after a Ben Nutley infringement.
From there on in the half belonged to the Sharks as a strip on halfway eventually fell into the hands of Cipriani, who played through Vadim Cobilas – only for the prop to throw a forward pass just outside Saints’ 22.
The home crowd would not wait long for something to cheer about, however, as Cipriani slotted over two penalties in quick succession after fierce Sale work at the breakdown.
Still the champions failed to find their feet in a game that was being orchestrated by the forwards and Will Addison was desperately unfortunate to see his grubber bounce into touch at the try-line after fine work from Johnny Leota and Mike Haley.
A Ben Foden intercept, from a Sam Tuitupou pass, then denied full-back Haley a clean sight at the try-line but midway through the half, persistence from Sharks’ forwards paid off with the first try of the game.
Saints were penalised at the maul – not for the first time – and following a succession of reset scrums and a Sam Dickinson sin bin, Sale finally got their rewards off the back of another maul through Lewis-Roberts.
Cipriani knocked over the extras and remained on top before the half time whistle blew, with Leota in particular wasting a chance in a promising position after being pinged for holding on.
Led by a defiant Phil Dowson, the champions were having to work overtime in the second half to stop Sale’s onslaught – but the Sharks hit right back, Addison serving up a massive tackle on George Pisi.
Shortly after, Sale turned the screw further. Calum Clark was binned for going off his feet, and 14-man Saints could not put a stop to a maul which Braid finished off in the 57th minute.
Finally a spell of Saints pressure produced results and after a few goes at the try-line from a close-quarters line-out, Harrison smashed his way over with Stephen Myler converting.
Sale continued to look the more likely to add to the scoreline however and an outstanding run and offload from Addison broke down due to Leota’s obvious forward pass.
That, however, would not ruin Sharks’ day as they completed the job to fire a warning shot at their play-off rivals.