With just four points separating half a dozen teams in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table at the start of the day's play, a win was more important than the performance. This was especially so given that this was the only home league match during the Six Nations period and there was a point to prove after the results during the same few weeks last year and the World Cup earlier in the season.
Nevertheless, with sunshine breaking out across the Gardens after an afternoon of heavy rain showers, it was the visitors who had the first opportunity to put points on the board. But the usually reliable Nick Macleod dragged his kick horribly short and to the right of the posts. However when a similar, albeit closer, opportunity was handed to Stephen Myler a few minutes later, the Saints fly half made no mistake and gave the home side an early lead.
Sale managed to level the scores soon after in controversial circumstances. Mark Cueto kicked over the top of the Saints defence and claimed he was taken out as he ran to catch his own kick. Despite the Gardens crowd roaring their disapproval, referee Greg Garner awarded the visitors a penalty which Macleod duly dispatched to restore parity.
Both sides were making errors which were giving a scrappy, but no less entertaining, feel to the encounter. Myler was able to emerge from the battle on the half-hour mark to put the Saints back in front with a penalty kicked from a similar distance to his first. The fly half soon followed that up with another successful effort at goal, this time with an impressive effort from just inside the Sale half to put the Saints six points clear.
On the stroke of half-time, Myler was able to strike a vital blow with his fourth penalty of the afternoon. Former England international Andrew Sheridan was sent to the sin-bin by referee Garner for killing a dangerous looking attack, and continuing the theme of the game Myler bisected the posts to keep his 100% record with the boot and give the Saints a 12-3 lead at the interval.
Sale flew out of the traps in the second half and were rewarded for their persistent pressure in Saints territory when Macleod knocked over his second penalty of the afternoon to reduce the gap to six points. Myler soon restored the Saints' nine point advantage though when the visitors were penalised for offside and the fly-half slotted his fifth penalty from five.
The Sharks were more than competitive despite still being down to 14 men and even managed to grab the first try of the game on 50 minutes. Working the ball from right to left, Sale were able to get into a position where they had a man over and Cueto dived over in the left hand corner for the what proved to be the only try of the afternoon which, despite Macleod missing the conversion, brought the visitors back into the contest.
Myler missed his first penalty of the game on 54 minutes as his effort dropped just short of the posts but he atoned for that miss just two minutes later when he stretched the Saints' lead with his sixth successful penalty goal from directly in front of the uprights.
Sale captain Sam Tuitupou was shown the yellow card on 59 minutes for a high tackle on Vasily Artemyev but it didn't affect his side too badly as an impressive long-distance penalty from Macleod closed the gap down to four points. But as Tuitupou returned to the field, Myler extended the home side's lead with a well-struck penalty from out wide on the left.
Ryan Lamb entered the field with five minutes remaining to replace the Travis Perkins man of the match Myler and made an instant impact as he took the Saints out of sight with a beautifully taken drop-goal to put the hosts 10 points clear with only two minutes to play.
With the very last kick of the game, Macleod gave his side a losing bonus point as he slotted through his fourth penalty of the afternoon but his contribution proved not to be enough as the Saints secured an excellent 24-17 victory to move further clear of the Sharks and keep the pressure on the top two in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table.
10mins SAINTS Pen Myler 3-0
12mins SALE Pen Macleod 3-3
31mins SAINTS Pen Myler 6-3
35mins SAINTS Pen Myler 9-3
40mins SALE Yellow Card Sheridan
40mins SAINTS Pen Myler 12-3
HALF-TIME SAINTS 12 SALE 3
44mins SALE Pen Macleod 12-6
48mins SAINTS Pen Myler 15-6
50mins SALE Try Cueto 15-11
56mins SAINTS Pen Myler 18-11
59mins SALE Yellow Card Tuitupou
65mins SALE Pen Macleod 18-14
71mins SAINTS Pen Myler 21-14
78mins SAINTS Drop-goal Lamb 24-14
80mins SALE Pen Macleod 24-17
FULL-TIME SAINTS 24 SALE 17