Harrison and Coles score but Saints start with defeat at Sale
Saints got their defence of the Premiership Rugby Cup off to a losing start as a strong Sale Sharks side won 39-18 at the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Tries from Teimana Harrison and Alex Coles did at least give the largely youthful away side something to shout about, but they were well beaten by a strong Sharks team.
The hosts had opted to name close to their most powerful available side in the season opener, and they were to prove to good for Chris Boyd's young guns.
But there was no shortage of character as Saints kept going until the end, with a tidy try from Coles at least ensuring the afternoon ended on a high note.
Sale had imposed themselves on the game from the off, going ahead early as Simon Hammersley finished off a move that went from right to left in the blink of an eye.
Rob du Preez hit the post with the conversion, but he was on target soon after, landing a penalty after young full-back Tommy Freeman had got isolated following a good run to the edge of his own 22.
Saints finally got some possession in the Sale half soon after, winning a penalty which James Grayson easily slotted.
Sale were bossing proceedings but Ollie Sleightholme was doing his best, making a couple of big hits after hunting down the opposition and forcing them into mistakes.
However, it wasn't long before Sale secured more points as, after Saints threw away possession in their own half, the hosts turned the screw from a scrum, earning a penalty try.
Grayson missed a penalty soon after, but Saints refused to go quietly and they scored just before the break.
Sleightholme did some strong work in the build-up and the move eventually finished with Grayson sending skipper Harrison over for the score.
Grayson was unable to convert, leaving the deficit at seven points at the break, but Saints opened the door for Sale just a couple of minutes into the second period as Rohan Janse van Rensburg intercepted on halfway and sprinted away to score.
Du Preez failed to add the extras in windy conditions and Saints tried to respond, but Grayson's ambitious pass to the left went straight out of play.
Saints continued to knock on the door, but they were met with real resistance as Sale turned the ball over under pressure.
And the home side then turned their attentions to attack as van Rensburg again galloped into space before releasing Chris Ashton for the score.
Du Preez converted to make it 27-8 and both teams continued to ring the changes in what increasingly resembled a pre-season encounter, with a little added defensive intensity.
Saints continued to try to play their own way, but the ball wasn't sticking for them close to the opposition line.
Grayson did manage to turn some possession into points with a penalty, but that only served to sting Sale into life as they scored twice in quick success.
Akker van der Merwe's easy effort was followed by an equally simple finish from Hammersley, taking Sale into a 39-11 lead.
But Saints were to have the final say as a slick move resulted in Devante Onojaife providing a nice assist for Coles, who finished things off.
Tommy Mathews, on for Grayson at fly-half, converted to at least ensure his side have finished the game on a high note.
Sale Sharks: Hammersley; Solomona (McGuigan 48), S James, Van Rensburg (L James 56), Ashton; R du Preez, Warr (Papier 59); Harrison (Rodd 59), Webber (van der Merwe 50), Cooper-Woolley (John 43); Beaumont (c), Phillips (Evans 50); Jean-Luc du Preez, B Curry, D du Preez.
Saints: Freeman; Sleightholme, Dingwall (Strachan 60), Bird-Tulloch, Olowofela (Taylor 48); Grayson (Mathews 68), Tupai; B Franks (Davis 59), van Vuuren (Fish 45), Hill (Painter 40); Coles, Bean (Uru 68); Wood (Onojaife 58), Harrison (c), Eadie.
Referee: Andrew Jackson