Northampton Saints were beaten by the narrowest of margins on Saturday as Sale Sharks shaded a tense cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens clash.
Saints took the lead early in the second half as a sensational move set up Alex Mitchell to score, but Rohan Janse van Rensburg scored what proved to be the decisive try on the hour mark – with George Furbank’s last-minute penalty just drifting wide of the posts in the gusty conditions.
Sale opened the scoring with three minutes on the clock; after an early scrum penalty against the hosts, AJ MacGinty called for the shot at goal and slotted three points.
And two minutes later things got worse for Saints as Arron Reed challenged Rory Hutchinson under a high ball and came out on top, gathering to score in the left corner.
MacGinty’s conversion was good to make it 10-0, but Northampton produced an immediate response by winning a penalty from the kick-off and driving the resulting lineout over in the corner – with Augustus coming up with the ball.
Furbank’s brilliant conversion from out wide made it 7-10, but Sam James stretched Sale’s lead with 17 minutes on the clock as the Sharks applied pressure from a five-metre scrum before flicking the ball wide into the fullback’s path.
MacGinty missed the conversion, and then bizarrely there was a change of referee as Tom Foley went over on his ankle and Matthew Carley replaced him.
There was also changes afoot for Saints as Coles replaced the injured Teimana Harrison at flanker, and the towering 22-year-old made an immediate impact after Augustus won a penalty on halfway and Furbank kicked to the corner.
Northampton found some momentum as the phases built and just before the break Coles powered over, with Furbank slotting the conversion to bring the scores within a point at 14-15.
It was a sensational start to the second half for Saints as Matt Proctor broke down the left and offloaded brilliantly from the floor to Ollie Sleightholme. The young winger then found Courtnall Skosan on his shoulder, who duly drew the last man and passed inside to Mitchell to round off a fantastic team score.
Furbank’s conversion from out wide was again inch perfect to send Saints 21-15 ahead, but the hosts – despite dominating possession and territory for the next 15 minutes – could not add to their lead and the Sharks made them pay on the hour mark.
A high kick from replacement scrum-half Faf de Klerk rode the wind and bounced kindly inside the 22 for Sale’s James, who had Van Rensburg on his shoulder to score just to the right of the posts.
MacGinty made no mistake with the routine conversion to put his side one point clear, and that proved crucial as Saints began to hammer on the door again in the final ten minutes.
Rory Hutchinson found some space down the left and Skosan was stopped five metres out by a high tackle, but the chance came to nothing as the resulting lineout was lost and Sale cleared their lines.
Saints set up one last chance with the clock in the red as they won a breakdown penalty out wide; Furbank pointed to the posts despite the windy conditions, and although he struck his kick well, it just drifted right of the posts to end the game.
Next up for the men in Black, Green and Gold is a home clash against Exeter Chiefs next Sunday back at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.