Sale Sharks 39 Northampton Saints 18: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings
On a sunny day in Costa del Salford, the game between Sale Sharks and Saints was something of a damp squib.
Yes, there were plenty of points, predominantly for the home side, but the result never really looked in doubt.
When Saints did manage to put some scoreboard pressure on their more experienced hosts, they were let down by passing inaccuracies.
The most costly came just after the break as Saints, who had scored just before half-time to reduce the deficit to 15-8, handed Rohan Janse van Rensburg an intercept try.
It was a fine finish from the barrel-chested centre, who showed impressive speed to sprint in from halfway.
But it inspired plenty of regret for Saints at a time in the match when they really needed to build on the momentum given to them by Teimana Harrison's 37th minute try.
Saints often got up a head of steam only to let the ball slip from their grasp to give the home side a way out or, worse, a chance to score.
But it was understandable given that this was an extremely new combination of players for the black, green and gold.
And with ambition always the name of the game at Saints these days, players were going to push the boundaries in the bid to break down a solid Sale defence.
This was a hugely valuable lesson for the away side, but, almost as importantly, it was a chance to get tough minutes into as many men as possible.
Because although Saints would love to retain their Premiership Rugby Cup crown, it is far from the be-all and end-all this season.
They have bigger fish to fry at home and abroad, having returned to the Champions Cup and also been buoyed by the belief of their top-four finish in the Premiership last season.
They will expect to push the likes of Wasps and Saracens closer in the cup in the coming weeks as the squad continues to be shuffled around to give game time to everyone.
But even if the results do not come, what matters most is that Saints are in the right shape, mentally and physically, for that Premiership opener at Saracens on October 18.
They would savour a couple of cup successes to help with that process, but not qualifying from the pool stages may just be a blessing without the disguise.
Because this season promises to be one of the most brutal and relentless in recent memory and they would not be averse to taking a couple of weeks off later in the campaign when the semi-finals and finals take place in this competition.
Of course, the players won't be thinking like that - they want to, and expect to, win every game. And so they should.
But the point is that losing games at this point is not the end of the world.
These weeks are learning curves for a squad that is developing quickly under the current management.
Trips to Sale are notoriously tough, and even more so this year with the firepower the home team have added over the summer.
They will be aiming to compete for a top-four spot with the likes of Saints this season.
And while they have landed the first blow, Saints are far from down, and even further from out.
How they rated...
Really impressed against Leinster nine days earlier and though he got caught isolated here a couple of times, he showed some promising signs again... 5
Was one of the better Saints backs as he made a couple of huge hits in defence, showing how he has added extra power during the summer, and he also played a key role in setting up Harrison's try... 7
Wasn't able to have the kind of influence on the game that he often does and cut a frustrated figure when leaving the field... 5
Clearly has plenty to offer Saints this season and though a couple of passes didn't quite stick, he did reasonably well... 6
Looked so sharp against Leinster and tried to use his pace again here, but Sale shut down the space out wide well... 5
Missed a couple of kicks he would have expected to make and an ambitious pass or two went astray, but he never gave up... 5
Has already shown flashes of class for Saints this year and it was the same again here as he looked to start counter-attacks... 6
Has taken on the loosehead role this season and he did his best to give Saints some cut and thrust against a powerful Sale pack, but it was a difficult day for all... 5
MICHAEL VAN VUUREN
Made his Saints debut and didn't do too much wrong as he looks to stake an early claim for more starts in a competitive area of the team... 5
Always gives everything for the cause and that was the same here, but Sale were able to get the upper hand to earn a key penalty try... 5
Not the result he wanted on his birthday, but the lofty lock enhanced his reputation with a strong showing that was capped with a try... 7
Will certainly be an asset for Saints this season and his raw physicality was there for all to see at the AJ Bell Stadium... 7
Relished the scrap with a strong Sale pack and never took a backward step as he tried to wrestle some control for Saints... 6
Etched his name on the scoresheet in yet another tireless display for his team, leading from the front as he promised... 7
Will have relished the chance to get some first-team minutes under his belt but couldn't get the result he wanted... 6
Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)
EHREN PAINTER (for Hill 40)
His presence was useful in the contact area, particularly as Saints tried to knock loudly on the door in attack, but Sale kept their foot on the gas... 5
JAMES FISH (for van Vuuren 45)
Will hope for another big season at Saints, but this was not an easy game to come into and have a real impact... 5
HENRY TAYLOR (for Olowofela 48)
Looked sharp, just as he had against Leinster, and the signs are good from the former Saracens scrum-half... 6
DEVANTE ONOJAIFE (for Wood 58)
Did some tidy work to set up the try for Coles, showing real composure under pressure, and this was a decent cameo... 6
WILL DAVIS (for Franks 59)
Didn't have too much time to have an impact on the game as it was already drifting away when he came on... 5