Northampton Saints came away from the AJ Bell Stadium with a losing bonus point after a narrow 18-13 defeat at the hands of Sale Sharks.
The hosts held a slender 7-5 advantage at the interval after Denny Solomona cancelled out Cobus Reinach’s early score – with Rob Du Preez’ conversion splitting the sides.
And the England winger doubled his tally in the second half, meaning that despite Ollie Sleightholme’s second try in as many appearances for Saints, they could not claw back the deficit.
Luther Burrell and Api Ratuniyarawa led Saints out at the AJ Bell Stadium, with both players celebrating personal landmarks in Black, Green and Gold – 150 and 50 appearances respectively.
And it was Northampton who got off to a blistering start, spreading the ball wide for Andrew Kellaway to make an incisive break.
The Australian fed Taqele Naiyaravoro who in turn offloaded to the onrushing Reinach inside him to score a scintillating try, although James Grayson could not convert from the touchline.
Sharks looked to respond straight away, and after one score by Arron Reed was ruled out by referee JP Doyle for a forward pass, they touched down moments later in the opposite corner through Solomona.
Fly-half Du Preez converted well from the sideline to take the score to 7-5 in the 9th minute, but Saints’ pack started to assert itself from there on and won a couple of penalties to send themselves deep into the hosts’ territory.
However, camped on their own line Sale won a crucial penalty of their own to turn the ball over and then clear their lines.
Fraser Dingwall and Burrell were winning collisions and turnovers in midfield, but Northampton struggled to hold on to possession and the Sharks saw another try disallowed when skipper Jono Ross obstructed Teimana Harrison in the build-up.
Saints’ dominant scrum won a penalty on the stroke of half-time, but Grayson’s tricky attempt from out wide just shaved the outside of the post to keep the score at 7-5 at the interval.
Saints were caught out clearing their lines early in the second half, Sam James collecting the ball and allowing Reed to surge into space, ultimately giving Du Preez the easiest of shots at goal under the posts after Northampton failed to roll away.
But Sale’s fly-half made a big error kicking the ball out on the full, and Saints took full advantage, going through the phases before Sleightholme found space to dart over the line in the right corner to level the scores at 10-10.
Sharks hit straight back again though, using a penalty advantage to full effect with Faf de Klerk flinging a long ball to James who drew the man and offloaded to Solomona who was left with a simple finish in the corner.
An incredible show of strength from Naiyaravoro prevented Sale from going further clear with ten minutes remaining, as he dragged Reed out of play just a yard out from his own line.
But after Du Preez broke through, a high tackle on O’Connor gave the fly-half another easy penalty in front of the posts for Sale to take them two scores ahead with five minutes remaining.
And while a late offside decision allowed Grayson to secure a losing bonus point for Saints, there was not quite enough time for Boyd’s charges to snatch an away victory.
Northampton’s next match sees them host Newcastle Falcons next weekend at Franklin’s Gardens, with tickets still available starting from just £28 for adults and a special price of just £1 for juniors. Buy now by CLICKING HERE.