Northampton Saints 53-24 Sale Sharks, Aviva Premiership, April 2
Saints crush Sharks in eight-try romp
April 2, 2011
Saints crush Sharks in eight-try romp%]
Northampton took a big step towards the Aviva Premiership play-offs with a crushing 53-24 victory over Sale Sharks at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday.
The Saints warmed up for their Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Ulster next weekend by notching eight tries, cementing their place in the top four of the table and keeping their hopes of a home semi-final alive. Scrum-half Lee Dickson, winger Chris Ashton, prop Brian Mujati, flanker Tom Wood and replacements Bruce Reihana and Phil Dowson all crossed for the hosts with their dominant pack also rewarded with two penalty tries.
Hooker Marc Jones and lock Wame Lewaravu grabbed tries for the Sharks while fly-half Charlie Hodgson kicked 14 points in an eye-catching display, but they had little answer to Northampton's physicality, especially after losing hooker Neil Briggs to a red card.
Sale enjoyed plenty of ball in the opening exchanges and drew the first penalty of the game after less than two minutes. Hodgson wasted little time in pointing to the posts and landed the long-range kick to open the scores.
The Northampton pack set about redressing the balance and pressure at scrum time secured a penalty that was confidently kicked to the corner. The attempted driving maul was thwarted but some quick thinking from Dickson following another penalty saw the scrum-half squeeze over between the tackles of Ben Cohen and flanker David Seymour, although he had to wait for the Television Match Official to verify the score.
Stephen Myler added the extras before the Saints' pack laid down another impressive marker at scrum time, with Sale scrum-half Dwayne Peel coming off the worse. The Wales international required lengthy treatment on the field before being eventually stretchered off. The Northampton forwards picked up where they had left off following the resumption and laid the platform for a slick handling move from their back-line, which saw Paul Diggin burst through at pace before finding his fellow winger Ashton out wide. The England international coasted home - finishing off the move with his familiar splash dive.
Sale continued to struggle with Northampton's dominance up front and were soon forced into another penalty that allowed Myler to kick to the corner. A further penalty resulted in a final warning for Sale flanker James Gaskell but it was Briggs who paid the price with a yellow card when Northampton's latest powerful drive was pulled down illegally.
Northampton tasted blood and they were rewarded for their efforts with a penalty try after Sale were forced into desperate measures to deny their advancing pack a well-deserved score. Myler added the simple extras and the home side were soon on the front foot again with a good tackle from Sale wing Mark Cueto stopping his England team-mate Ashton in his tracks.
Within moments Cueto was spearheading a rare Sharks attack with Hodgson opting to put width on the ball with a penalty advantage. The ball was recycled and worked to replacement Jones who crossed in the corner before Hodgson added an excellent conversion.
Northampton's Chris Ashton dives over to score a try during his side's Aviva Premiership clash with Sale at Franklin's Gardens © Getty Images
Briggs' return brought Sale back to full strength and there was further cause for hope with Hodgson's second penalty after Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley was singled out at the breakdown. Northampton's indiscipline continued to work against them with No.8 Roger Wilson the next player to be sin-binned after playing the ball at a ruck and Hodgson's successful kick brought the Sharks to within three points of the hosts.
As half-time approached, Northampton pounced again. This time Mujati exploited a huge gap in the Sale defence to power his way over for the bonus point try, with Myler's conversion the last act of the half.
A 14-man Northampton began the second period strongly with lock Christian Day going close but Sale's commitment at the breakdown kept the hosts out. Instead it was the Sharks who trouble the scoreboard next with Lewaravu crossing after a multi-phase move orchestrated by Hodgson, but the score was soured by the dismissal of Briggs, who was shown a costly second yellow card for charging into a dispute in the wake of the try.
Back to a full complement, Northampton conjured an immediate reply courtesy of Myler's boot after Gaskell was penalised for not releasing in the tackle. Quick hands from Saints then put fullback Ben Foden away on an excellent angled run that took his side deep into the Sale 22. The ball was recycled wide to Wood who fended off Gaskell before touching down in the corner.
Myler's conversion took Northampton out to a 15-point lead but to their credit Sale refused to buckle and their endeavour led to Hodgson's fourth penalty. But they were soon chasing the game again with the Saints' pack underlining their dominance with another impressive lineout drive. The inevitable penalty try came as Sale succeeded in pulling down the maul and Myler added the extras before making way for Shane Geraghty.
It was another replacement who kept the scoreboard ticking over with Reihana crossing, having been on the field for barely 30 seconds. The Kiwi was the beneficiary of another slick backline move from the Saints with Geraghty and Foden stretching a tiring Sale defence to create the opening for Northampton's seventh try.
Sale replacement Rob Miller then denied Stuart Commins a score with a superb last-ditch tackle but Northampton would not be denied a half century, with Dowson crossing for their eighth try after Foden had been hauled down just short.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.