First-half tries from Ben Foden and Tom Wood helped Northampton Saints battle past Sale Sharks to their fifth Aviva Premiership Rugby win of the season at Franklin’s Gardens.
The hosts started quickly and were ahead within four minutes as Foden fought his way over in the corner, following some neat passing out wide.
Wood added a well-constructed second just before the half-hour mark, but Sale started to control territory and possession as the half wore on.
Denny Solomona scored an excellent debut try to give Sale hope late in the second period, but they paid for their wastefulness in front of the try line as Luther Burrell crossed in the final minute to confirm a Saints win.
There were celebrations before kick off as Alex Waller led the Saints out on the night of his 200th game, while winger Juan Pablo Estelles made his first Aviva Premiership Rugby appearance.
— Louis Picamoles (@Picamoleslouis) December 23, 2016
Louis Picamoles, Christian Day, Courtney Lawes and captain Tom Wood all returned – while Sale Sharks handed a debut to Solomona.
But the home fans were going crazy early as full-back Foden dotted down in the corner after some powerful Saints running created space for him to dive over on the right.
It was almost worse for Sale minutes later as Picamoles charged through their defence before handing off to Ken Pisi. The winger spilled the ball near the try line and the referee deemed it was knocked forward after Nic Groom touched down.
Sale settled down after that and almost created a moment of their own, as Solomona threatened to escape down the right wing.
But the Saints remained in control and scored a second try following a line-out, as Wood crossed from a few yards after a neat inside pass from Waller.
Sale surged forward looking for a response as Solomona caught a neat cross-field kick, but the Saints remained strong and turned the ball over.
And things got worse for Sale just before half time as scrum-half Mike Phillips was sin-binned for a neck role on Waller.
The Sharks continued to pressurise Northampton’s defence after the break but yet again they thwarted the visitors – with Sale going through multiple phases at the five-metre line but unable to convert.
Northampton had a chance to make them pay as Stephen Myler lined up a penalty, but the fly-half dragged his effort wide from the right – his first miss at Franklin’s Gardens in three months.
And minutes later they were left frustrated once more as Groom tried to sneak over from a yard out, but he lost control of the ball and knocked on.
Myler kicked a penalty shortly after but Sale continued to show plenty of fight as they created a try-scoring opportunity straight after.
— Northampton Saints (@SaintsRugby) December 23, 2016
Some neat passing created space on the left, but they failed to keep their composure at the vital moment and the ball went out of play.
But they finally broke through with 15 minutes left as Solomona brilliantly finished in the corner.
Sale pushed hard to get back into it but Northampton’s strong defence did the business, and Burrell powered his way through several tackles in the last seconds to round it off.