Northampton Saints 24 Sale Sharks 5: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings
After reaching their nadir in Dublin six days earlier, Saints took an important first step in the bid to get back to where they feel they belong.
Jim Mallinder’s men finally gave their supporters something to shout about - and shout they did - with a largely convincing victory against a stale Sale side.
For the majority of the match, the visitors, who have now lost seven matches in succession, played like Saints have on so many occasions this season.
They huffed and puffed, lacking the necessary invention to find a way through the home defence, until Denny Solomona’s impressive individual effort.
And in the end, Saints scored a third try to put the icing on the Christmas cake.
It was not a flawless performance by any means, but it is a start.
It is a welcome boost at the end of a tough 2016, which has seen Saints win 19 of their 36 matches.
And it is a platform to build on ahead of the New Year’s Day trip to Gloucester.
Saints, boosted by the return of their international stars, who were rested for the 60-13 drubbing in Dublin, looked like they had rediscovered some of the swagger of old.
Ben Foden, Tom Wood and Luther Burrell all scored for the first time this season.
And while that tells a tale in itself, monkeys have been removed from the backs of the players for the festive period.
Scrum-half Nic Groom spoke of the ‘desperation’ he and his team-mates showed.
They were desperate to produce a performance they felt they had always been capable of.
They were desperate to send their supporters home happy.
And they were desperate to begin scaling the Aviva Premiership table.
They did all of that as the Sharks were sunk.
And now Saints must go to Gloucester and do it all again.
If they can do that, they will be in great shape for the battle with Bristol.
And that could see them claim the three wins they were looking for when naming the team to take on Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.
If Gloucester and Bristol go the same way as Sale, Mallinder’s decision to keep players fresh will have paid the desired dividends.
And things will look a lot rosier in the Gardens.
But Saints players, coaches and supporters won’t get too ahead of themselves.
For now, they will just savour the scent of victory after what has been a tough year.
And they will look ahead to the new one with far more optimism than they possessed a week ago.
How they rated...
Showed desire to score his first try of the season and was solid throughout as Sale struggled to penetrate the Saints defence... 7
Celebrated a try in Dublin six days earlier, but is still not quite at his sharpest and he wasn’t able to make too many inroads... 6
Real determination displayed by the centre, who made a couple of eye-catching tackles and ploughed on to score for the first time during this campaign... 7
Was defensively sound and in attack he showed that he is developing a decent understanding with Stephen Myler... 7
JUAN PABLO ESTELLES
A steady Premiership debut from the Argentina winger, who built on his two-try display for the Wanderers with a confident first start for Saints... 7
Showed true grit to overcome a nasty facial injury and get back on the field to help steer Saints to a vital victory... 7
Struggled a bit in Dublin, but looked so much sharper here, and on another day, he may have had a couple of tries as he saw two ruled out... 7
Was a pillar of strength for Saints as he celebrated his 200th appearance for the club with a welcome victory... 7
As dynamic as ever, the hooker carried well and also did his share of defensive work in another energetic display... 7
Didn’t do anything wrong as he put in a decent shift before being replaced during the second half... 6
Carried really well, taking the fight to Sale time and time again, and he had a big influence on this victory... 8
His importance to the team should never be underestimated and his return was a welcome one as he impressed in a typically assured showing... 7
TOM WOOD - CHRON STAR MAN
In an inconsistent campaign, this man has been a picture of consistency, and he led from the front here, even getting his first score of the season... 8
Put himself about as much as was humanly possible and Saints will hope it is the start of a run of good form from last season’s stand-out star... 8
Just an immense rugby player, who appeared to be everywhere, especially during the formative stages of the match... 8