A dominant final half hour wasn’t enough to help the Saints come from behind at AJ Bell Stadium, Sale tries either side of half-time ultimately proving too big a hurdle to overturn in a gloomy Salford.
With a tentative game poised at 6-all approaching the break, Sam James’ score before and Will Addison’s after took the Sharks into clear water before a superb defensive effort kept the Saints at bay - even despite Stephen Myler’s try.
An early Saints penalty to the corner came to nothing - as did a James break at the other end - while Kieran Brookes was just held up short of a first try in black, green and gold as the home 22 was breached for a second time.
Danny Cipriani also pushed wide the first chance of points from the tee, but when a high tackle afforded him a second just moments later, the Sharks 10 made no mistake. He would also double the lead six minutes later with a second penalty from range, but Myler soon responded after the hosts played it on the floor under pressure from Tom Wood and Mike Haywood.
Scoring opportunities were proving few and far between, but the Saints’ next would in fact come from Addison’s sharp break for the Sharks. When the hosts failed to look after possession, Luther Burrell hacked upfield and did excellently to look after the ball and win another penalty for Myler to even the scores.
Parity, unfortunately, wouldn’t last long and when Sale worked an overlap on the left, Sam James collected his own precise chip forward to slide in the afternoon’s first score, one converted from wide by Cipriani.
It was to prove a good spell for the hosts and while the visitors did well to repel a couple of close range driving mauls, the lead increased shortly after the resumption when Addison collected Mike Haley’s high kick and went under the posts.
The Saints’ frustrations would grow further when the TMO pulled back Jamie Gibson’s fine finish for a foot in touch and they would then overthrow a lineout after a penalty took them within five metres once more.
The pressure was eventually to prove too much and after another driving lineout took Saints up to the line, Ben Foden carried close and Myler flew into the line with the finish, also converting the score.
Sale did well to scramble two more chances into touch on the left, Gibson for a second time denied and Foden then bundled out with the ball as the game became more and more Saints dominated.
Crucially, however, the pressure would not equal points and the hosts would win two penalties in quick succession to sweep upfield - the second in kickable range for Cipriani.
His hooked effort handed the Saints a lifeline, as did Nick Macleod’s 40-metre effort that cannoned an upright with just two minutes to play, but despite racing upfield with a pair of penalties of their own as the clock turned red, the finishing touch again eluded the visitors and Sale clung on for the points just metres from their own line.
14mins SALE Miss pen Cipriani
17mins SALE Pen Cipriani 3-0
23mins SALE Pen Cipriani 6-0
30mins SAINTS Pen Myler 6-3
34mins SAINTS Pen Myler 6-6
36mins SALE Try James Con Cipriani 13-6
HALF-TIME SALE 13 SAINTS 6
45mins SALE Try Addison Con Cipriani 20-6
54mins SAINTS Try + Con Myler 20-13
68mins SALE Miss pen Cipriani
FULL-TIME SALE 20 SAINTS 13
SALE SHARKS Haley; Arscott, James, Leota, Addison; Cipriani, Cusiter; Harrison, Taylor, Cobilas, Evans, Mills, Braid (cast), Ioane, Beaumont
Briggs, Flynn, Mujati, Ostrikov, Lund, Stringer, Macleod, Jennings
SAINTS Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell, Elliott; Myler, Fotuali’i; A Waller, Haywood, Brookes, Lawes, Paterson, Gibson, Wood (cast), Dickinson
Hartley, E Waller, Hill, Day, Harrison, Dickson, Hanrahan, Tuala
REFEREE Andrew Small