Jim Mallinder admits Saints simply weren’t good enough as they slipped to defeat at Sale on Saturday afternoon.
The Sharks claimed an impressive 20-7 Aviva Premiership against the below-par champions.
Tries from Eifion Lewis-Roberts and Dan Braid, allied with 10 points from the boot of Danny Cipriani, got the job done for Steve Diamond’s men.
And Saints, who struggled throughout, could only respond through a consolation score from replacement flanker Teimana Harrison, along with a conversion from Stephen Myler.
“We look at our game and it wasn’t good enough,” said Mallinder. “Particularly in the first half, we were pretty poor.
“A lot of that comes from Sale’s good play. They got on top in the forwards, the half-backs played well and put us under a lot of pressure.
“We’re top of the league, which is good, but there’s still parts of our game we need to work on, as always.”
Saints remain top of the Premiership standings, but saw their seven-match winning streak end in sobering fashion.
They were blighted by the absence of four locks, with Courtney Lawes, Christian Day, Samu Manoa and James Craig all missing.
That forced Mallinder to use No.8 Sam Dickinson and flanker Calum Clark in the second row, and both men were sin-binned on a difficult afternoon.
“The beauty of rugby is that you need players in specialist positions and one of those is big, tall, heavy men in the second row and unfortunately we ran out of them today, “ said Mallinder, who expects Lawes, Day and Craig to return from injury this week, with Manoa coming back from compassionate leave in America on Monday.
“It’s one of those things and the two lads who stepped in worked their socks off. It was great effort from them, but on the day we just weren’t good enough.”