Twenty-six unanswered points saw the Saints see off Sale for a bonus point Aviva Premiership win.
There were echoes of the Round 15 trip to Saracens in the way the two teams took their time to size each other up in the opening 20 minutes. There was cut and thrust as the action shifted left and right, forward and back, but aside from a long-range Danny Cipriani penalty attempt there were no clear-cut chances for either side.
There were signs of what was to come from a Saints perspective, however, as phases were put together and intent shown with penalties being kicked to the corner in search of tries.
Frustratingly things just were not clicking, and these flashes rarely turned into flames. Indeed, Sale’s try, when it came at the end of the opening quarter, came about from Saints not managing possession deep in the visitors’ territory.
The Sharks disrupted a Saints lineout in a threatening position, and a long kick and superb chase later Neil Briggs was throwing in five metres from the home line. Saints did well to hold out the initial thrust, but repeated phases created an overlap on the left and the score for Bryn Evans.
Two quick-fire penalties later and Sale had a double-digit lead that, in all honesty, they had not had to work that hard for.
For their part Saints continued to get into good positions but were unable to turn them into points, much to the chagrin of the sunlit supporters, a five-metre lineout turned over by the Sharks one such example.
But pressure can do funny things, and as George Pisi swung a pass to the overlapping supporting runners on the right Evans just could not help himself from reaching out with his right hand and slapping the ball down.
The lock saw yellow, Saints went to the corner again and this time capitalised to the full, Mikey Haywood’s opportunism earning the hooker a try after Lee Dickson had been stopped inches short.
It was the perfect fillip just before half-time, and there was more to come five minutes after the restart when Ken Pisi was sent over by superb handling in a heavily-congested blindside.
There had been a 14-point swing with Evans off the field, but he was powerless to stop Saints scoring number three 90 seconds later, James Craig snaffling up a loose ball to put Dickson through a gap. Tom Arscott managed to get back, but Tom Collins was cruising up on the outside and with a nice offload the winger was over.
With Stephen Myler nailing all three conversions Saints had a 10-point lead, and with half-an-hour still to play the bonus point looked like a formality, especially given the apparent irrepressible momentum that the hosts had built up.
But the fourth try would not come. There were charges a-plenty, and a sweeping attack which ended when Harry Mallinder’s lovely-weighted grubber took a bad bounce away from the chasing Collins.
Sale had shown both against Saracens and Harlequins recently that they had the ability and temperament to play until the bitter end, and when Cipriani broke up the left touchline a score looked very much in the offing, especially with a supporting runner on either side.
Ben Foden’s defence was enough to stop him, shutting down the options quickly and creating time for his team mates to scramble back. But the Sharks kept on coming, building up pressure through a series of phases that was threatening to put the contest back into the balance.
And then, all of a sudden, Arscott was down while running an arcing line, bringing a stoppage in play, lengthy treatment and eventually his replacing. Unfortunately for Sale, the full back had also dropped the ball, meaning play restarted with a scrum to the Saints.
The power came on, a penalty was awarded, and the air had gone from Sale’s bubble.
There was still work to be done, but as the game’s structure broke down while Saints went through phases on the visitors’ line it looked like the bonus point try would remain elusive.
But the score was not as elusive as JJ Hanrahan’s running, and when the Irishman’s dancing feet took him around the men in front of him and to the whitewash Franklin’s Gardens was rocking for the result it craved.
SAINTS Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Mallinder, Collins; Myler, Dickson (capt); E Waller, Haywood, Hill, Craig, Day, Gibson, Wood, Harrison
Reps - Marshall, A Waller, Denman, Matfield, Fisher, Fotuali’i, Hanrahan, Tuala
SALE Arscott; Addison, James, Tuitupou, Edwards; Cipriani, Stringer (capt); Lewis-Roberts, Briggs, Mujati, Evans, Mills, Neild, Ioane, Easter
Reps - Taylor, Harrison, Parker, Lund, Seymour, Mitchell, Ford, Jennings
REFEREE JP Doyle
8mins SALE Miss pen Cipriani
19mins SALE Try Evans 0-5
23mins SALE Pen Cipriani 0-8
27mins SALE Pen Arscott 0-11
36mins SALE Yellow card Evans
37mins SAINTS Try Haywood Con Myler 7-11
HALF-TIME SAINTS 7 SALE 11
45mins SAINTS Try K Pisi Con Myler 14-11
48mins SAINTS Try Collins Con Myler 21-11
53mins SAINTS Yellow card G Pisi
77mins SAINTS Try Hanrahan 26-11
FULL-TIME SAINTS 26 SALE 11