A second-half comeback appeared to be on the cards for Northampton Saints, but ultimately Denny Solomona’s first-half hat-trick proved decisive as Northampton’s winning run at home came to an end against Sale.
Sale secured a bonus point before half-time with four tries from their wingers, but Saints managed to close Sale’s lead down to just nine points, looking like a different side after the interval.
Michael Paterson, Rob Horne and Heinrich Brüssow all crossed but the clock was against the hosts and it was too big a deficit to overcome.
Saints were hampered by early injuries to Tom Wood and skipper Christian Day, but Sale got out of the starting blocks quickly, dominating the play in Northampton’s half.
And Solomona broke the deadlock after five minutes as their pressure paid off, with the winger dotting down in the corner despite Ahsee Tuala almost stopping him in his tracks.
Sale were rewarded with a penalty soon after for their intensity at the breakdown, with South African scrum-half Faf De Klerk – having already nailed a touchline conversion – slotting over the crossbar from near the halfway line.
Piers Francis replied with a kick of his own to close out the first quarter of the game, and to get Saints on the scoreboard after a tumultuous period in Sale’s half.
But Solomona soon had his second score of the afternoon as the Sale backs returned Francis’ crossfield kick, and dashed down the wing in high numbers before the England international pierced through the middle and dotted down in front of the posts.
Francis notched another three-pointer but Solomona couldn’t stop scoring in the first half as he crossed again in the corner following a brutal Sale line out.
The forwards paved the way and De Klerk once again added the extras to send Sale 24-6 ahead on the approach to half-time.
But another furious break meant Marland Yarde secured the bonus point for the Sharks before the clock could hit 40 as some impressive footwork from de Klerk’s chip over the top saw him plant the ball under the posts.
The second half started in a much better fashion for the home side, as Michael Paterson crossed the whitewash for their first try of the game, after numerous phases wore the Mancunian side down.
Referee Wayne Barnes also sent Jono Ross to the bin, but Saints also paid a price as Luther Burrell became the latest casualty of the afternoon.
Northampton pressed for their second try, and while Sale’s defence were in phenomenal form, they couldn’t stop Rob Horne as he latched onto a long-range pass from Francis to dot down in the right corner.
The comeback was well and truly on with Saints now only 13 points behind, and soon Mike Haley ended up in the sin bin after tripping Cobus Reinach who was chasing his own punt forward.
De Klerk slotted a second penalty through the sticks to put the scores at 18-34, but Saints were eyeing up their next score to close the gap.
They made their way through Sale’s defence and it was Heinrich Brüssow who reached out for the line, scoring his first try in Black, Green and Gold to cut Sale’s lead to nine points with ten minutes remaining.
Saints then made a gripping break for the line only to be unluckily dispossessed by Sale, and time wasn’t on Northampton’s side as they searched for a late winner.
SAINTS Tuala; Tuitavake, Horne, Burrell, Foden; Francis, Groom; Ma’afu, Haywood, Brookes, Ratuniyarawa, Day (capt), Wood, Brüssow, Harrison
Replacements Marshall, van Wyk, Ford-Robinson, Paterson, Gibson, Reinach, Myler, Pisi
SALE Haley; Solomona, Addison (capt), James, Yarde; James, De Klerk; Harrison, Webber, John, Evans, Ostrikov, Ross, Curry, Strauss
Replacements Jones, Flynn, Aulika, Beaumont, Neild, Cliff, McGuigan, Charnley
5’ SALE Try Solomona Conversion De Klerk 0-7
13’ SALE Penalty De Klerk 0-10
19’ SAINTS Penalty Francis 3-10
26’ SALE Try Solomona Conversion De Klerk 3-17
32’ SAINTS Penalty Francis 6-17
35’ SALE Try Solomona Conversion De Klerk 6-24
39’ SALE Try Yarde Conversion De Klerk 6-31
HALF TIME Saints 6-31 Sale
43’ SAINTS Try Paterson Conversion Francis 13-31
53’ SAINTS Try Horne 18-31
61’ SALE Penalty De Klerk 18-34
70’ SAINTS Try Brüssow Conversion Francis 25-34
FULL TIME Saints 25-34 Sale