Northampton Saints were denied the Christmas top spot in the Gallagher Premiership after defeat to Sale Sharks, and director of rugby Chris Boyd admitted his side were dragged into an arm wrestle at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Lewis Ludlam scored for Saints in the first half, but the men in Black, Green and Gold were kept scoreless after the break with Chris Ashton, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Akker van der Merwe crossing the whitewash for Sale.
Results elsewhere saw Saints slip down to second in the league standings after six matches, and Boyd pinned the defeat on the Sharks showing their bite at the breakdown.
“We need to go back to some really key little parts of our game and make sure we get it right.”Chris Boyd
“We got sucked into an arm wrestle that we didn’t want to have,” he said. “To be fair to [Sale], they forced us into spaces we didn’t want to go into.
“It certainly wasn’t the game we wanted to play and they were on the front foot and dictated it to us.
“Guys were spooked into poor execution and poor decisions under pressure – we’ve just got to get better at that.
“It was a very frustrating day at the breakdown and when you can’t get any ruck speed it changes the picture quite a lot.
“We need to go back to some really key little parts of our game and make sure we get it right.”
This was a third straight defeat for Northampton in all competitions, but Boyd is adamant it is not time to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
The Kiwi coach is already looking forward to a battle next weekend with Gloucester Rugby at a sold-out Franklin’s Gardens, and is urging Saints supporters to keep the faith.
He added: “It’s not a lot of big fixes; we don’t have to reinvent the wheel here, we just have to be significantly more accurate with what we’re doing – when we’re accurate, we can play our game, and when we’re not it’s sloppy and too easy to close us down.
“But one swallow doesn’t make a summer, either positively or negatively, and we’ll just go back to the drawing board.
“We saw a really impressive Gloucester performance [against Worcester] on Friday night and we’re going to have to play a lot better to get something at home next Saturday.
“The thing about Gloucester is that they have the best defence in the competition. Everyone talks up Danny Cipriani and their attacking threat, but they are actually very stingy when it comes to line breaks and points against them.
“So they are good on both sides of the ball and it will be a good challenge for us.”