Saints’ first-half blitz sinks shell-shocked Sale

ON THE ATTACK - James Wilson takes on the Sale defence during Saints' win (Pictures: Linda Dawson)
ON THE ATTACK - James Wilson takes on the Sale defence during Saints' win (Pictures: Linda Dawson)

A ruthless first-half showing helped Saints cruise past Sale 28-14 to secure a place in the semi-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup.

Two tries from Ben Nutley, one from Sam Dickinson and a slick move capped by Ben Foden helped Jim Mallinder’s men fly into a 28-7 half-time lead at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140304-210320006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140304-210320006

Sale, who had gone 7-0 up early on through the later sin-binned Henry Thomas, simply had no answer to the power of their opponents as they bowed out meekly.

For Saints it was sweet revenge for an Aviva Premiership defeat at the hands of the same side less than two weeks earlier.

And it sets up a final four clash with either Stade Francais or Harlequins - who play their quarter-final in Paris on Friday night - at Franklin’s Gardens on April 25.

Saints had made a host of changes for the journey into the Salford smog, with only three of the side that lost to Leicester last weekend retained in the first 15.

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140304-210247006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140304-210247006

Sale, too, opted to rest and rotate, with their sights also set on Premiership glory, but Steve Diamond’s men didn’t suffer the consequences immediately.

Instead, they were ahead inside five minutes as a lineout deep in Saints territory led to Thomas making the most his size to storm over Lee Dickson to the line.

Nick Macleod landed the conversion from out wide and the green, black and gold had some early work to do as the Sale supporters started to bang the drum.

But, aside from the try, it had been all Saints, who were bossing possession and territory, and they soon had their rewards as Nutley peeled off the back of a lineout drive to score.

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140304-210309006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140304-210309006

Will Hooley, who was to end the night with eight points to his name, sent the conversion through the posts with aplomb and the scores were level.

It was the least Saints had deserved from an utterly dominant opening quarter.

Sale simply couldn’t get out, with Northampton looking an inexorable force as they once more surged towards the line from a lineout drive, giving Dickinson the chance to score, and he took it.

Hooley again added the extras and the healthy contingent of Saints fans had good reason to be in full voice as a third score followed soon after.

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140304-210259006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140304-210259006

The backs got in on the attacking act as some slick build-up play from Dickson and Ken Pisi down the right was followed by a clever Hooley grubber kick which Foden latched on to to score.

Hooley converted and the first-half woe wasn’t over for Sale yet as after Thomas was sent to the bin, Saints stepped on the accelerator up front again and Nutley grabbed his second.

Sale needed an early response in the second half, but, with Thomas in the bin for the first few minutes of it, they struggled to muster any sort of attack.

Instead, Saints continued to hold on to possession well, preventing any chance of a sucker punch.

There was some injury disappointment for the away side as Tom Stephenson and his replacement, Dom Waldouck, were forced off.

But it wasn’t to change the outcome of the game with Saints keeping Sale at arm’s length.

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140304-210224006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140304-210224006

When the home side did finally get their chance to attack, a fluffed lineout cost them dear with the line beckoning.

But when they managed to get one right eight minutes from time, the platform was laid for a Viliami Fihaki score on the back of a maul.

Replacement Joe Ford added the extras and lock James Craig was sin-binned before the end, but it was too far back for Sale as Saints secured the win and a semi-final spot.

Match facts

Sale Sharks: Arscott; Brady (Mackenzie 54), Forsyth, Jennings, Miller; Macleod (Ford 60), Cliff (Fowles 50); Harrison (Croall 70), Taylor, Thomas (Buckley 60); Ostrikov, Kulemin; Gaskell (c), Easter, Fihaki.

Replacements not used: Jones, Mills, Paterson.

Saints: Foden; K Pisi, Wilson (Fotuali’i 71), Stephenson (Waldouck 43 (Elliott 48)), Autagavaia; Hooley, L Dickson; E Waller (Hobbs-Awoyemi 65), McMillan (Williams 65), Mercey (Denman 43); Dickinson, Craig; Dowson (c), Nutley (Harrison 58), van Velze.

Referee: Romain Poite (France)

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140304-210055006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140304-210055006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140304-210116006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140304-210116006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140304-210336006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140304-210336006