Tom Vickers’ Sale view and player ratings: Hartley return will drive Saints on

WELCOME RETURN - Dylan Hartley (left) was inspirational for Saints at Sale on Friday night
WELCOME RETURN - Dylan Hartley (left) was inspirational for Saints at Sale on Friday night
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Following Friday night’s game at Sale, there were a few glum faces in the Saints camp.

There was no big celebration of a fine 27-16 triumph, instead the focus was on what might have been.

Saints surged into a 27-3 half-time lead thanks to three tries, from Jamie Elliott, Soane Tonga’uiha and Tom May.

It looked only a matter of time before the got the fourth try and sailed away with the maximum five points.

But it wasn’t to be as the struggling Sharks, who have won just once in the league this season, bit back to win the second half 13-0.

Credit had to to be given to Sale for showing their resilience, but they really had nothing to lose after falling so far behind.

Saints were out of sight at the fog-ridden Salford City Stadium.

They just didn’t hammer home their advantage.

Cue the expressions of unhappiness from those of a Northampton persuasion.

But that is simply a sign of how high Saints’ standards are.

They are no longer content with just winning, they are hungry for maximum hauls.

They want to put their top-four rivals under as much pressure as possible and it’s a big positive that they didn’t just smile and move on.

Skipper Dylan Hartley, who led from the front on his return, expressed his disappointment at the second-half showing.

His message after the game was that a similar lapse against Ulster will result in a heavy defeat in the big Heineken Cup game at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night.

And somehow, with Hartley driving standards, you feel the foot will be placed firmly on the gas from start to finish in that one.

The alternative is unthinkable.

Match ratings. How they fared...

BEN FODEN

Showed just why Saints have missed him so much as he was solid in defence and sparky in attack. A very good return... 8

KEN PISI

Was bamboozled by the conditions on a couple of occasions and Saints’ attacks tended to miss him out as Jamie Elliott saw far more action on the left wing... 6

GEORGE PISI

Provides the edge in the midfield and is an extremely clever player. A big boost to have the Samoa star back in the side... 7

DOM WALDOUCK

Forced off early on looking dazed. Throws himself into the firing line time after time and was unable to escape unscathed on this occasion... 6

JAMIE ELLIOTT

Grabbed himself another try, his second in three games, giving Saints the early impetus they needed to go on and put the struggling Sharks to the sword... 7

RYAN LAMB

Controlled the game well in torrid conditions. Looked sharp when in possession and kicked brillianty, except for one fluffed crossfield kick attempt... 8

MARTIN ROBERTS

Again stepped in at No.9 ahead of Lee Dickson and did his case for a regular starting spot no harm with another accomplished display... 7

SOANE TONGA’UIHA

Plenty of rumours surrounding this man’s future, but he put thoughts of a move to France aside to produce a fine display, crowned with a first-half try... 7

DYLAN HARTLEY - MAN OF THE MATCH

The captain was back with a bang as he steered his side through the gloom to a big victory. Added assurance in the lineout and his influence remains immense... 8

BRIAN MUJATI

Like Tonga’uiha, has been linked with a move away from Franklin’s Gardens next summer, but proved once again what a fine player he is for the club... 7

SAMU MANOA

Put in some trademark monstrous hits to push Sale back and get Saints on the front foot during a fine first-half showing... 8

MARK SORENSON

Experienced campaigner was solid as he stepped in for England man Courtney Lawes. Never lets the team down... 6

CALUM CLARK

Another cracking display from the flanker, who continues to get better and better since his return from suspension... 7

PHIL DOWSON

Mr Consistent provided another assured showing to help his side take command in the first half and hold out in the second... 7

GERRIT-JAN VAN VELZE

Is learning week by week and continued his development in the English game with a confident display in bizarre conditions... 7

Replacements who played more than 20 minutes

TOM MAY (for Waldouck 26)

A great man to bring off the bench and he illustrated his prowess with a first-half score which saw him turn on the turbos to leave the Sale defence trailing... 7