Tom Vickers’ Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints ratings and review

SLICK MOVE - Ken Pisi's chip ahead was part of a stunning Saints try against Sale (Pictures: Linda Dawson/Steven Eaton)
SLICK MOVE - Ken Pisi's chip ahead was part of a stunning Saints try against Sale (Pictures: Linda Dawson/Steven Eaton)

It might have been a tie that had all the glitz and glamour of dinner at a greasy spoon, but Saints didn’t waste the chance to fill their bellies at Sale.

Their young guns were hungry and their experienced players oozed class as the Sharks were dismissed in ruthless fashion.

And though the Amlin Challenge Cup will continue to be the season’s secondary aim with Aviva Premiership glory the priority, there is no doubt this felt good for the men in green, black and gold.

With both sides having made a host of changes – Saints changed 12 from the defeat to Leicester last weekend – it was Northampton’s squad depth that once again shone through.

Time and time again, Jim Mallinder’s men have flashed their blade in cup action this season, with the LV= Cup campaign – the final defeat to Exeter aside – illustrating their power in reserve.

And this was a night when Mallinder once again concocted a potent blend.

From the forwards through to the backs, Saints had exactly the right balance. And Sale simply had no answer.

Apart from one early foray that resulted in a try, the Sharks were under the cosh from minute one, drowning in a sea of Saints bodies.

The platform, as ever, was laid by the forwards, with Ethan Waller making mincemeat of England tighthead Henry Thomas, who paid the price in the form of a yellow card.

Ben Nutley, as he has done whenever he has been given an opportunity for Saints, also shone, picking up two tries for his considerable efforts, which saw him dominate at the breakdown.

And the backs made sure their contribution wouldn’t be forgotten as four of them teamed up to score one of the best tries you’ll see this season.

Lee Dickson’s pass to Ken Pisi was sublime, Pisi’s chip and gather was impressive and Will Hooley’s grubber kick through for Ben Foden was a masterclass in fly-half play.

It lit up the AJ Bell Stadium encounter, with the hardy bunch of Saints fans celebrating loudly as they won the battle in the stands as comprehensively as their team had done on the pitch.

The club now has another semi-final to look forward, meaning they will have made the final four in three separate competitions this season, presuming they finish in the Premiership top four.

They have got that far because of the abundance of quality they possess through their squad, while Sale, as admitted by Steve Diamond, do not have anywhere as much heavy artillery to call on.

It would be criminal if this Saints squad don’t get at least some reward in the form of silverware for their efforts during this campaign.

They must still prove they can cut the mustard in finals, but they must get there first.

And they went exactly the right way about it as they emerged from the Salford smog with the sweet taste of success in their mouths on Thursday night.

How they rated...

BEN FODEN

Got his name on the scoresheet, putting the finishing touches to a superb team try, and enjoyed the freedom given to him by some loose Sale kicking... 7

KEN PISI

Played his part in Foden’s try, with a neat chip and gather, and was always lively, giving the Sharks problems down the right... 7

JAMES WILSON

Made a couple of nice breaks and showed his desire with some big hits in the midfield, paying the price with a blow to the ribs... 7

TOM STEPHENSON

Another impressive display from the youngster, who was full of beans before being forced off with concussion early in the second half... 7

FA’ATOINA AUTAGAVAIA

Didn’t get involved quite as much as Pisi on the other wing, but still made a couple of powerful surges into enemy territory... 6

WILL HOOLEY

Cut a disappointed figure after missing a few kicks against Leicester last weekend, but bounced back in style by landing all four of his attempts and creating plenty of chances... 8

LEE DICKSON

Such a sharp display from the scrum-half, who was a man on a mission. A sublime pass to Pisi helped set up Foden’s try and that was the icing on the cake... 8

ETHAN WALLER

Looks such a great prospect and was impressive once again as Saints made mincemeat of the Sale pack. Forced Henry Thomas into infringing, costing the Sharks prop a yellow card... 8

ROSS MCMILLAN

A very good man to have as your third-choice hooker. Always gives everything, provides power and is a reliable lineout throw... 7

TOM MERCEY

Saw his game cut short by injury, but can be pleased with his work up to that point as Sale had no asnwer to the Saints power game... 7

SAM DICKINSON

Returned from injury and was a massive plus for Saints as he smashed Sale back and grabbed himself a try, too... 8

JAMES CRAIG

Picked up a late yellow card, but that was the only blot on an impressive copybook. Did well in the lineout and played his part in Nutley’s scores... 7

PHIL DOWSON

The skipper drove his team to victory with a performance full of muscle and mindpower. A real positive influence... 7

BEN NUTLEY - CHRON STAR MAN

Grabbed himself a couple of tries and put in a superb all-round performance, doing some good work at the breakdown to keep Saints on the front foot... 8

GJ VAN VELZE

Made some big carries into Sale territory to gain his team ground and was part of a massive forward effort... 7

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

GARETH DENMAN (for Mercey 43)

Came on at a time when Saints already had the game won but played his part in ensuring Sale couldn’t strike back to any real effect... 6

JAMIE ELLIOTT (for Waldouck (for Stephenson 44) 48)

Did a job to help shut down Sale, but with Saints having already done the business, there was little the wing could do in attack... 6

TEIMANA HARRISON (for Nutley 58)

Showed plenty of tenacity to keep his team in opposition territory and put his body where it hurt to stop Sale getting any late momentum... 6