FOR JANUARY and Sale read a pair of bargains snapped up by Northampton. Last week it was Premiership points that the Saints went away with, yesterday it was a gift-wrapped ticket into the fifth round of the Tetley's Bitter Cup.
Northampton's coach Ian McGeechan declared beforehand that his team would forget the midweek misery of a home defeat by London Irish, just as they refused to dwell on their victories. Any doubts that might have surfaced when Sale scored an opening try by Chris Yates did not last long.
Complaints of fatigue stick in the craw of some in this professional age but, if it is accepted as a factor after three hard games in a week, then the place to look for it is during extended passages of play. Sale's debit column was full up with extra yards taken to put in cover tackles or too many seconds spent weighing up their opponents' options.
McGeechan's men replied quickly to Yates' score when they earned a penalty try after Sale's forwards wilfully broke up a menacing scrum.
Shane Howarth, enjoying a fruitful season spiced by his baptism for Wales, twinkled prettily with ball in hand but his Sale team-mates conceded too much ground to Northampton's hard-nosed runners. It would be wrong to describe some of Sale's tackling as powder-puff - at least a powder-puff leaves a mark.
Typical of Northampton's seven tries was the one by Grant Seely after 21 minutes, the first of a fine hat-trick by the No 8. A clearance by Howarth was returned with interest by Nick Beal, before a twist and turn from Ben Cohen through ineffectual defence sent Seely charging over.
Beal was allowed the freedom of Heywood Road on an arcing 45-metre run for Northampton's third try before half-time and they were at it again within 30 seconds of the second period when Yates' telegraphed pass to Howarth was intercepted by Craig Moir, who tore away from Jim Mallinder's lunging tackle.
All the while Paul Grayson, in metronomic vein with the boot, popped over the conversions - his only miss being at the last attempt. Sale responded to Moir's score with an immediate try from Alex Sanderson, the England Under-21 captain, but if that suggested a comeback it proved illusory.
Northampton's sheer muscle brought them two more tries in quick order with Matt Allen setting up Seely, before the Argentine Federico Mendez was allowed to gallop free on the Sale pampas. That was the cue for a trio of Sale replacements but in the face of a 28-point deficit defeat had become no less predictable than that of their neighbours Sedgley Park.
Howarth does not readily throw in the towel, however, and he was the link man for tries by Simon Raiwalui, always a dangerous customer in loose play, and Yates which kept the home support interested as the chill descended. But Seely's hat-trick try, coming before a last ditch effort by Howarth himself, ensured the Saints went marching on.
Sale: S Howarth; M Moore, B-J Mather, C Yates, J Mallinder (capt); J Baxendell, R Smith (K Ellis, 50); P Smith (D Williamson, 23), P Greening, D Bell, C Murphy, S Raiwalui, P Anglesea, A Sanderson (P Sanderson, 50), J Machacek (D O'Cuinneagain, 50).
Northampton: N Beal; C Moir, A Blyth, M Allen, B Cohen; P Grayson, M Dawson; G Pagel, F Mendez, M Stewart, R Metcalfe (J Chandler, 74), J Phillips, T Rodber (capt; S Hepher, 74), C Allan, G Seely.
Referee: D Davies (WRU).