Saints left to rue missed opportunity as Sale grind out win in Premiership opener

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Saints were left to rue missed chances as their Gallagher Premiership campaign started with an agonising 20-15 defeat at Sale Sharks on Sunday afternoon.

Tommy Freeman had put the black, green and gold ahead inside just three minutes with a flying finish in the corner.

But despite their dominance, Saints only added five more points to their tally before the break.

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Phil Dowson's men then piled the pressure on during the second period, and James Ramm's breakaway effort pulled them back to five points behind.

James Ramm's try had given Saints a chance of victory (photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)James Ramm's try had given Saints a chance of victory (photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
James Ramm's try had given Saints a chance of victory (photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Saints kept coming and had chance after chance in the closing stages as Sale continued to give away penalties, losing fly-half Rob du Preez to the sin bin.

But the Sharks showed the kind of defensive spirit that took them to the Premiership grand final last season as they somehow managed to hold out, leaving Saints to ponder what might have been.

The black, green and gold's winless run at the Salford Community Stadium continues as they have not been victorious there since 2017. But this was undoubtedly their best performance at Sale since that success more than six years ago.

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Hopes had been high that run could come to an end when Saints made a quick start to the match. Freeman pouched the kick-off, allowing the away side to set up camp in the home half.

After winning a penalty, Tom James took it quickly before some rapid ball movement resulted in Ramm setting Freeman free down the right, and the wing delivered a superb, acrobatic finish in the corner.

Fin Smith slotted the conversion from the touchline and it was 7-0 to Saints with just three minutes gone.

But Sale issued an almost immediate riposte, tearing forward before a fantastic long pass from Rob du Preez out to the left found Tom Roebuck, who just managed to ground the ball before Freeman bundled him into touch.

Du Preez converted and the scores were level.

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Saints soon had to do some strong defensive work from a Sale lineout deep inside the away 22, with the away pack making a statement by pushing the hosts into touch.

The black green and gold continued to hold up well at maul time but after they got sucked in, Sale gave the ball to the backs who badly exposed their opposition out wide, allowing Tom O'Flaherty to score.

Du Preez sent the conversion wide, but the Sharks were now very much on top in terms of territory and possession.

Saints tried to respond and Tom Pearson caused panic in the home defence, leading to a penalty concession, but Smith was unable to take the chance as he sent it wide.

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Smith made amends with another penalty soon after as Saints continued to push and probe against the powerful home defence.

Saints were suddenly making all the running and they came agonisingly close to scoring as Ethan Waller was stopped just short.

Sale soaked up the pressure on their own line and were able to get out when an errant pass allowed them to push Saints back.

The Sharks were then able to extract a penalty from the Saints defence, allowing du Preez to extend their lead to five points with five minutes to go to half-time.

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Another penalty arrived soon after as Ramm got turned and was forced to make a high grab on O'Flaherty.

Sale were able to set up a lineout chance, and they took it, powering forward to allow replacement hooker Ethan Caine to score.

Du Preez missed the conversion to leave the gap at 10 points at the break.

Saints had to take skipper Fraser Dingwall off second into the second half as he couldn't shake off an injury, bringing Tom Seabrook into the action.

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The black, green and gold soaked up some Sale pressure well, creating a counter-attack chance, but James overran the ball and forced Smith into a forward pass.

Opportunities were starting to flow for Saints, but nothing was sticking.

The away side were bossing the scrum battle but they chose not to go for goal and failed to make their ambition pay.

Saints' forwards stepped up again soon after, winning a penalty at a scrum five metres from their own line to relieve some pressure.

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Ramm then delivered some heroics at both ends, stopping O'Flaherty from scoring in the corner before registering a five-pointer of his own as he linked up superbly with Alex Coles, whose composed pass sent the Australian star away down the right.

Smith missed the conversion to leave the gap at five points as the clock ticked into the final 10 minutes.

Both sides were tiring badly, but Saints still managed to find ways to apply pressure.

And there were more big chances to come at the end as Saints cranked up the heat on the home side.

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Sale gave away penalty after penalty, leading to a yellow card for fly-half du Preez.

But Saints could not find the power to penetrate the Sharks, and the home side won a breakdown penalty to make sure of a gritty success, leaving Saints so frustrated.

Sale Sharks: Carpenter; Roebuck, S James, Bedlow, O'Flaherty, R du Preez (c), Quirke (Warr 53; McIntyre, Taylor (Caine 23), Schonert; van Rhyn, Hill; JL du Preez (Wiese 23 (Beaumont 71)), Dugdale, D du Preez.

Saints: Hendy; Freeman, Dingwall (c) (Seabrook 41), Hutchinson, Ramm; F Smith, James (McParland 77); E Waller (A Waller 55), Langdon (R Smith 67), Davidson (Millar-Mills 55); Moon (Munga 77), Coles; Scott-Young, Pearson, Graham (Lockett 71).

Referee: Adam Leal

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