Northampton Saints were edged out in the second half at the AJ Bell Stadium, going down 22-10 to Sale Sharks in round six of the Gallagher Premiership.
The clash was finely poised at the break, with the scores level at 10-10 after Lewis Ludlam cancelled out Chris Ashton’s try, and Rob du Preez and Dan Biggar exchanged penalties.
But the Sharks shut out Saints in the second 40, with Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Akker van der Merwe crossing the whitewash to hand Sale a hard-fought victory.
The hosts began the game on the front foot, building the phases inside Saints’ 22 and winning a penalty for a high tackle. Du Preez knocked over the routine kick to register the first points of the game.
Northampton then saw a pass intercepted in midfield and the Sharks took full advantage, with du Preez’s kick through earning them a five-metre scrum, but Cobus Reinach stole back the ball from Faf de Klerk’s grasp.
However, Saints found themselves 10-0 down after a second interception by Ashton gave him a free run in to the right of the posts, and du Preez made no mistake with the extras.
Dan Biggar did knock over a penalty shortly after though to reduce the deficit, with Sale penalised by referee JP Doyle at the breakdown, and with 33 minutes on the clock Saints came alive with Rory Hutchinson bursting through the midfield and charging 50 metres towards the line.
The Sharks were penalised as they scrambled back, and following a lineout and rolling maul it was Ludlam who squeezed over in the corner – with Biggar smacking over a brilliant touchline conversion to level the scores.
With 10 minutes left in the half a high tackle from Matt Proctor gave du Preez the opportunity to edge the hosts back in front, but the fly-half pushed his penalty attempt wide of the uprights.
Two big line breaks in two minutes from Taqele Naiyaravoro gave his side some momentum, with Northampton looking the more dangerous side before the break, but a squandered lineout on Sale’s five-metre line saw their last chance to score before heading into the sheds go begging.
The Sharks struck first after the interval; after building the phases in Saints territory, it was van Rensburg who scythed through a gap to dive under the posts, leaving du Preez a simple conversion.
Proctor departed the field for an HIA, and it was then a double blow for Northampton as Sale struck again soon after through van der Merwe at the back of a rolling maul – although this time du Preez was wide of the mark with the extras.
The Sharks’ fly-half missed another long-range penalty shortly after, pulling his kick left of the posts, but still Sale were pressing for a fourth try roared on by a partisan home crowd.
Resilient defence from the visitors kept them at bay however, with Courtney Lawes poaching the ball under his own posts.
Both sides began to cough up possession with regularity in the final 20 minutes, and despite replacement Ahsee Tuala giving Saints some good field position with an effective hack through, another turnover at the breakdown allowed the Sharks to clear their lines.
The clock was against Northampton and they could not trouble to scorers again to register a bonus point in defeat – the men in Black, Green and Gold now look forward to a sold-out home clash against Gloucester Rugby next weekend.