Sale Sharks got their season off to the perfect start at the Salford Community Stadium with a gutsy 20-15 win after a pulsating first half.
Fourteen man Sale held off a barrage of late Northampton phases to open up their Premiership campaign with a win. The Sharks were defending their own line for the last 10 minutes with a man down after captain Rob Du Preez was sent into the sin bin for consecutive penalties.
Saints started the game the fastest and had the first score after scrum half Tom James made a line break from his tap and go. Just one phase later Tommy Freeman’s athletic finish in the far corner gave the visitors the optimal start.
Sale struck back almost immediately as Du Preez gave a wonderful ball inside to Sam James who was tackled five metres out, before the South African fly half gave a delightful miss pass to winger Tom Roebuck who managed to shake off a couple of tackles and get over to level the scores.
It wasn’t long before the Sharks were over the whitewash again. After some excellent first phase rugby off the attacking line out, scrum half Raffi Quirke’s flat pass found Du Preez who gave a pass out the back into the hands of Roebuck who gave a simple pass to Tom O’Flaherty who went over for Sale’s second try of the half. Du Preez couldn’t add the conversion with the score at 12-7.
Fin Smith added a penalty for the Saints but once again Sale’s pressure told with a great mix of their South African strength and northern grit ensured Ethan Caine crashed over from a well controlled maul. The Sharks took a commanding 20-10 lead into half time.
Northampton had the worst possible start to the second 40 with captain Fraser Dingwall limping off with a leg injury. Last year’s runners up were under the pump early in the second half, however several handling errors from the Saints backs let Sale off the hook.
It took another 30 minutes for the next points on the scoreboard. A great box kick from Tom James inside his own 22 metre line was tapped back acrobatically by James Ramm on the halfway and fell into the hands of Alex Coles who drew his man expertly before handing back to Ramm who strolled into the corner. The extras were then missed by Smith.
Sale continued to control territory throughout the second half until a flurry of penalties gave the visitors a great attacking base deep in the home side’s half. Last year’s finalists showed some incredible heart with tackle after tackle, however too many penalties gave referee Adam Leal no choice but to send Du Preez to the bin but the fabled Sharks defence saw them through an important win.
Sale head to Leicester next Saturday while Northampton take on Bristol at Franklin Gardens.