Sale Sharks 20 Northampton Saints 13: Tom Vickers’ review and player ratings

Jamie Gibson almost scored for Saints, but they were beaten by Sale (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

Jamie Gibson almost scored for Saints, but they were beaten by Sale (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

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If watching the World Cup has provided a buzz for the rugby public, observing Saints’ defeat at Sale on Sunday was like seeing a bee fly into a car windscreen.

Because while the international showpiece has provided some illuminating rugby, with eventual winners New Zealand leading the way, some of the Aviva Premiership stuff has so far fallen flat.

Sam Dickinson tried to power past Sale

Sam Dickinson tried to power past Sale

Or at least it has for Saints, who slipped to their second defeat in as many away matches this season at the AJ Bell Stadium on Sunday.

It was another below-par performance from Jim Mallinder’s men, whose two displays on the road - they also lost at Worcester - have so far been as dull as their grey attire.

Aside from Stephen Myler’s try, which was the culmination of a fine move, there was little spark or imagination on show.

And that was the same for both sides in an encounter that was something of a damp squib.

Sale had to be on their toes to stop Ken Pisi

Sale had to be on their toes to stop Ken Pisi

In fact, the whole game stank as much as the sewage works that sent wafts of unkind smells across the sparsely-populated ground.

This was very far from the intense atmosphere of Twickenham, with the crowd a nearly 77,000 short of sold-out matches at the national stadium.

The 5,000 fans in attendance were hardly living every moment, but the majority were able to take comfort from another Sale win against Saints.

Steve Diamond’s side continued their good recent record against Northampton, who have still not won at the AJ Bell Stadium since November, 2012.

Ken Pisi tried to elude the Sharks defence

Ken Pisi tried to elude the Sharks defence

This performance was at least marginally better than the two previous defeats to the Sharks, with Saints still in range in the final moments.

But had Danny Cipriani or Nick Macleod landed late penalties, the away side would have been sent packing without a point.

It is worrying for Saints, especially with so many tough away games to come this season.

But, as Mallinder pointed out, there is plenty of time to put things right.

Kieran Brookes tried to help turn the tide for Saints

Kieran Brookes tried to help turn the tide for Saints

Two proper home games now beckon with Franklin’s Gardens set to open for business when Saracens visit on Saturday.

Saints will be so desperate to put a spanner in their rivals’ works, but, more importantly, kick-start their own campaign ahead of the start of Champions Cup action a week later.

Games against Scarlets and Glasgow preceed the final match of November, which is a league game against Gloucester.

Four successive wins would do nicely, but Saints must rediscover their belief and prowess if they are to get anywhere close to that.

Again at Sale, they kicked the ball away on numerous occasions, and the Sharks showed they could bite by claiming two opportunistic scores.

The Saints forward pack started strongly, winning two early scrum penalties, and it finished well, too, pushing Sale back to give Myler the platform to score.

But sides are relishing the scrap with Saints these days. They are no longer scared and they simply refuse to be pushed around.

Saints will work on that in the bid to reassert their authority on the league.

And what better time to do it than this weekend, to christen the new Barwell Stand with a win against the side who crushed their title dreams in last season’s play-off semi-final.

It is far too early to say that a defeat this weekend will have the same devastating effect on this campaign.

But Saints know they must really get going soon or face getting left behind in the race for their annual aim of a securing a top-two spot.

How they rated...

BEN FODEN

Cut Newcastle apart on the previous weekend, but wasn’t able to have the same impact here... 5

KEN PISI

Couldn’t make the tackle to prevent Sam James scoring Sale’s first try and wasn’t able to get much joy in attack, either... 4

GEORGE PISI

Was beaten in the air by Will Addison for the Sale wing’s try and was replaced with 20 minutes to go... 4

LUTHER BURRELL

Has been one of Saints’ best players in the opening three games and when he is given the chance to run, he always looks dangerous... 6

JAMIE ELLIOTT

Unable to get in the game as Sale shut down the wide channels well, refusing to let Saints run rings around them... 5

STEPHEN MYLER

Scored all of Saints’ points in an impressive kicking display that also included a second-half score... 7

KAHN FOTUALI’I

Tried his best to create things for Saints and kicked for territory well on one occasion, but even the clever Samoan couldn’t crack the Sharks code... 5

ALEX WALLER

Got a good shove on in the scrum on a couple of occasions, but Sale eventually fronted up to Saints... 5

MIKE HAYWOOD

Didn’t have the best of days in the lineout, but his commitment to the cause can never be underestimated... 5

KIERAN BROOKES

Was guilty of a handling error on a tricky afternoon, but did do some decent work in the scrum and carried well on a couple of occasions... 5

COURTNEY LAWES

Limped off during the second half and it will be a worry for Saints as he was showing signs of causing problems for Sale... 6

MICHAEL PATERSON

An unhappy first return to his former club as he was unable to help Saints get on top and was replaced 10 minutes into the second half... 5

JAMIE GIBSON

Came agonisingly close to a try as he powered towards the line, only to be denied by the TMO, who deemed the flanker’s foot to be in touch... 6

TOM WOOD

Gave it all for the cause, but it wasn’t to be enough as his drive and determination couldn’t stop Sale prevailing... 6

SAM DICKINSON

Cut a frustrated figure at the end after trying his best to help Saints break through a determined Sale defence... 5

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

DYLAN HARTLEY (for Haywood 50)

Added some extra fire and desire to the Saints cause as they started to put the squeeze on Sale up front... 6

CHRISTIAN DAY (for Paterson 50)

Saints turned to their experienced lock in the bid to steady the ship in the second half and he did that to some extent... 6

ETHAN WALLER (for A Waller 59)

Came on at a time when Saints were starting to dominate possession and he didn’t do too much wrong... 6

LEE DICKSON (for Fotuali’i 59)

Tried to up the tempo for Saints, frantically getting to the breakdown and making quick passes in a bid to bamboozle Sale... 6

JJ HANRAHAN (for G Pisi 59)

Added real energy to the Saints cause and caused Sale problems with his clever running and speed... 6