Geraghty puts cautious case for place at the top table

Northampton 21 Sale 16: Saints fly-half withdrawn with match still in balance while Lawes and Foden give Johnson timely nudge

Two eyeballs-out Heineken Cup ties, against Munster and Perpignan, in the past fortnight appeared to have taken some of the oomph out of Northampton and there were few dissenting voices from the home supporters when Shane Geraghty, the hot tip to receive an England call-up tomorrow, was taken off with more than a quarter of this match to go. There had, indeed, been plenty of groans when Geraghty, possessor of gifts most can only dream of when the ball is in his hands, was kicking high and often. You pays your money...

Sale's pragmatic approach to Europe had been to rest their first-choice team in Toulouse two weeks ago and they pushed their highly-placed hosts all the way here to grab a bonus point with Charlie Hodgson's penalty in the final act. Had their centre Andy Tuilagi not made an idiotic trip to the sin-bin for the 10 minutes before half-time – Northampton scored 12 points in the Samoan's absence – the Franklin's Gardens regulars might have been fuming over a more damaging result.

Saints began with up-the-jumper rugby which forced Sale back and allowed Geraghty to open a 3-0 lead. Hodgson levelled the scores, then Geraghty settled into booting the ball into a sky turning clear-blue after early rain or popping it to the heavy brigade: Phil Dowson, Soane Tonga'uiha, Courtney Lawes and the like. Lawes, incidentally, had an outstanding match in the line-out and the loose and the 20-year-old must be an England player of the future, near or far. He, like Geraghty and Saints' full-back, Ben Foden, is currently a Saxon but could be promoted tomorrow when Martin Johnson names a revised 32-man senior squad for the autumn Tests. Leicester's Richard Blaze and Nick Kennedy of London Irish are Lawes' rivals to stand in for Simon Shaw.

Geraghty's unique selling point is his inventiveness at close quarters, hard against the gain line. He started the season at inside centre – and is widely believed to be inked in there for the match against Australia on 7 November, alongside Jonny Wilkinson – but due to an opening-day injury to Stephen Myler he has been at fly-half for seven straight matches. Only when Tuilagi saw a yellow card for a petulant jab at Chris Ashton after the whistle did the game break up a little, and Geraghty helped make things happen. Tonga'uiha wrested a turnover from Sale's No 8, Sisaro Koyamibole and Foden sprinted into the line, and though the full-back's pass to Ashton was a little high the wing held it and Foden mauled it over the line despite a tug on his jersey by a Sale defender.

Geraghty's conversion made it 10-3 and two minutes later, with the countdown clock on zero, Northampton were in again. Tonga'uiha drove close to the line, Geraghty and Ashton slung it out wide and Bruce Reihana beat Mark Cueto at the corner.

Sale were back to the full complement for the second half and after a Geraghty penalty made it 18-3, the elephant in the room revealed itself. Northampton were lacking three tightheads, including Brian Mujati who, along with the suspended lock Juandre Kruger, came back from the trip to Perpignan with a citing hanging over him. Tonga'uiha shifted across to cover. Unfortunately for Sale, there were hardly any scrums. At one of them, though, on a Saints put-in deep in their own 22, the ball squirted clear and Sale's promising beanpole of a blindside, James Gaskell, pounced for a try converted by Hodgson: 18-10.

It was an uncomfortable moment for Saints' England hooker, Dylan Hartley, whose rival, Lee Mears of Bath, could be back within a couple of weeks after a relatively favourable scan on his medial ligament injury. While Sale's Wales prop prospect, Eifion Roberts, prayed for more scrums, Myler came on for Geraghty after 59 minutes.

"Shane's a realist, he knows there are parts of his game he can still improve," said Jim Mallinder, the Northampton coach. "We told Stephen to control the game and kick to the corners. To kill the game, really."

The new man missed a penalty, as did Hodgson from fairly short range. Then there were yellow cards for killing the ball after the tackle – to Mark Easter for Saints and Sale's Brent Cockbain – and penalties by Hodgson and Myler had Sale trailing 21-13.

When Cueto and Chris Bell freed Sean Cox on the right there was a defensive test for Foden, who is hoping England will plump for him at No 15, rather than switching Harlequins' Ugo Monye from the wing. Although Cox would not be the most nimble opponent Foden has faced, the tackle was a good one. But the position eventually yielded a penalty which Hodgson kicked with no little relief.

Northampton Saints B Foden; C Ashton, C Mayor (J Ansbro, 54), J Downey, B Reihana; S Geraghty (S Myler, 59), L Dickson (A Dickens, 71); R Dreyer, D Hartley (capt), S Tonga'uiha, I Fernandez Lobbe (C Day, 59), C Lawes, P Dowson, R Wilson, N Best (M Easter, 51).

Sale Sharks N Macleod; M Cueto, M Tait (C Bell, 75), A Tuilagi, B Cohen; C Hodgson, R Wigglesworth (D Peel, 71); G Kerr (J Forster, 56), M Jones, E Roberts, D Schofield (capt; R O'Donnell, 75), S Cox, J Gaskell (B Cockbain, 51), S Koyamibole (D Tait, 54), D Seymour.

Referee: P Fitzgibbon (Ireland).

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific