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Match Report: Northampton Saints 38 – 34 Sale Sharks

Northampton Saints produced their greatest-ever Gallagher Premiership comeback to defeat Sale Sharks 38-34 at a packed-out cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.

The men in Black, Green and Gold trailed 24-7 at the interval despite Tom James’ try – with Arron Reed, Tom Curry, Rob Du Preez, and Ewan Ashman all crossing to hand the visitors a try bonus point.

Sharks then extended their lead to 20 points early in the second half, but with Manu Tuilagi sent off earlier in the match and then two more yellows for Cobus Wiese and Ashman, Northampton roared back as Tommy Freeman, Matty Proctor, Callum Braley, and Fraser Dingwall all scored to send Saints third in the table in dramatic circumstances.

FIRST HALF

Sale broke the deadlock after nine minutes; with a lineout on five metres, the Sharks’ drive edged towards the line, and while Saints managed to halt it short, they had committed numbers on defence and Rob Du Preez was able to hit a cross-field kick over for Reed to score in acres of space.

The conversion was missed by Du Preez, and the Sharks were dealt a blow in the 14th minute when Tuilagi was red-carded for a dangerous fend to the head of Freeman.

The visitors came close on 17 minutes with a smart lineout routine sending Ashman down the left touchline. Saints scrambled back to clear, but there was nothing they could do two minutes later as Curry powered through a gap in the line to run under the posts.

The scoreline went to 12-0 as Du Preez landed the routine conversion, and the Sharks added seven more points in the 22nd minute after Curry broke from deep, and after Du Preez put Saints under pressure in defence with a well-placed grubber, the fly-half then dummied his way over the line.

However, Northampton burst into life two minutes later with Freeman dancing through a gap on halfway and turning on the afterburners, before the wing found scrum-half James with a brilliant support line to finish under the posts.

At 19-7, the next score was crucial, and Sale thought they had it four minutes before half-time. With a penalty kicked into the corner, Jean-Luc Du Preez burrowed over into the corner, but the TMO stepped in to chalk off the try for an infringement at the previous lineout.

But the Sharks were not to be denied with the clock in the red, as another penalty was kicked into the corner and this time the visitors’ maul rumbled over the whitewash, with Ashman coming up with the ball to make the scoreline 7-24 at the break.

SECOND HALF

A Du Preez penalty ensured Sale started the second 40 with three points, but they went down to 13 men when Cobus Wiese made contact with the head of Fin Smith and was yellow carded.

Saints threatened a comeback immediately, winning a couple of penalties to take them five metres out before Freeman crashed through after the ball came quickly off the top of the lineout.

Smith landed the conversion to make it 14-27, and a 50-22 from James shortly after kept Northampton on the front foot. After earning another penalty for offside, the hosts spun the ball wide through Smith and Freeman for Proctor to walk over in the corner.

Smith’s conversion drifted left of the uprights, and Saints were pegged back by yet another maul try for Sale, after Saints infringed at a lineout in midfield and Sam Dugdale crashed over from five metres out.

Northampton’s pack got their revenge on 66 minutes as they earned a penalty try and a yellow card for Ashman, who came in at the side to cynically drop a five-metre drive.

Tom Collins, on as a replacement, showed his electric pace to dart through a gap ten minutes later and found Braley on his shoulder, and the scrum-half did well to hold off two defenders and score under the posts.

Hutchinson’s conversion brought the score difference to just one point, and when Collins fired the ball out wide for Dingwall to dive over with two minutes remaining, Saints led for the first time in the game and the sensational turnaround was complete.

There were still two minutes to hold out, but Saints captured the kick-off and held out to allow Hutchinson to boot the ball into touch and send the home supporters into raptures.

LINE-UPS:

SAINTS: Furbank (c), Freeman, Proctor, Dingwall, Ramm, F Smith, James; A Waller, R Smith, Hill, Ribbans, Moon, Scott-Young, Hinkley, Augustus.
Replacements: Cruse, E Waller, Petch, Coles, Graham, Braley, Hutchinson, Collins.

SHARKS: Carpenter, Reed, S James, Tuilagi, O’Flaherty, R Du Preez, Warr; Rodd, Ashman, Schonert, Wiese, Hill, Ross (c), T Curry, J-L Du Preez.
Replacements: Caine, McIntyre, Oosthuizen, Beaumont, Dugdale, Quirke, Ford, Roebuck.

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