Sale director of rugby Kingsley Jones praised his side’s after they beat Northampton 24-18 but saw results elsewhere deny them a GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP play-off berth.
The 2006 champions, who were docked a point earlier this week for fielding an ineligible player, claimed a bonus-point win to finish the season on 61 points. Yet victories for London Irish, Bath and Harlequins meant Sale’s success was immaterial in the bigger picture of trying to sneak into the play-off spots.
Jones, whose side had also recorded a bonus-point win against Harlequins last week, said: "The way the players have played in the last two weeks has been outstanding.
"There’s been a lot of speculation about people leaving and I think it speaks volumes about the men in the dressing room that they did everything asked of them in the past couple of weeks.
"The period that killed us, of course, was during the autumn internationals.
"We had injuries and people called up to play for their countries.
"With a squad of 31 men, and six or seven kids, and to then be without up to 10 current internationals is very difficult.
"That’s something we have identified and something going forward that we will change.
"We will always endeavour to have international players but I think it’s unrealistic with a squad of 31 to have 10 internationals missing for 12 games.
"Leicester and Gloucester do it, but they have 44 men."
Sale crossed the line in the first half through departing captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and 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, for their part, contributed to an entertaining encounter, scoring tries in either half through Neil Best and Sean Lamont at a sun-baked Edgeley Park.
Jim Mallinder, Northampton director of rugby, paid tribute to departing prop Barry Stewart in his final GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP appearance for the club before retiring.
Mallinder said: "I thought he had a really good game and scrummaged well.
"He’s been a loyal servant to us and to us. It was fitting that he ended his Premiership career here today."
With Tom Smith also set to retire, Mallinder acknowledged he must recruit new players to bolster his front row.
He added: "We’ve got some good props at the club but it’s an area that we need to strengthen and that’s what we’ll be looking to do.
"We’ve finished eighth, which is quite good, and done well in the cup competitions, but we’ll be looking to improve further next season.
"Northampton have the infrastructure to be a top club."