Saints outgun Sharks as Geraghty presses claim

Northampton 21 Sale 16
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The Independent Online

There is an elephant in the room with all the talk of England picking Shane Geraghty at inside centre against Australia on Saturday week: the Northampton Saint who joined from London Irish in the summer has played all but one of his club matches this season at fly-half.

It is a point of discussion which Bruce Reihana, whose try just before half-time helped ease Northampton to only their second win over Sale in nine meetings, did not gloss over. "Shane has added tremendously to our team and he's on fire at 10," said Reihana, the Saints' former All Black. "It would be hard for England not to play him in that position because he's the form fly-half in the country at the moment. But it looks as though Jonny Wilkinson will be playing and Shane gives England an option at 12."

Geraghty has bags of experience at centre, but if he does get the nod against the Wallabies it will be the 23-year-old's first Test start and he might have appreciated a preparatory run-up. The tasks Geraghty performed against Sale – before he was substituted by Stephen Myler for the final quarter – were all those of a traditional fly-half: kicking from first phase, standing at first receiver and so on.

Geraghty did at least come through unscathed, along with the England elite squad members Mark Cueto, Mathew Tait and Dylan Hartley, and those like Geraghty who have hopes of promotion from the Saxons squad: Ben Foden, Richard Wigglesworth and Courtney Lawes. The latter is a strong-armed, multi-skilled forward with oodles of promise.

"The boys who are being talked about for England have definitely shown their worthiness," said Reihana. "Dylan is the form hooker and has to start, while Ben Foden at the back is getting better and better every week and his positioning is becoming top-class. They certainly have the X-factor that England needs."

Sale's director of rugby Kingsley Jones joked that a club needed a squad of 50, split into three groups, to cope with today's Premiership, Heineken and Anglo-Welsh Cup commitments.

More seriously, he bemoaned the loss of temper by Andy Tuilagi which put the Samoan in the sin bin after 30 minutes. Tuilagi's brother, Henry, marmalised Northampton in the colours of Perpignan the previous week, so it was a kind of payback. While the Sale centre was off, Foden scored a well-worked try in one corner, and Reihana beat a couple of weak tackles for a try in the other.

That made it 15-3 at half-time. Northampton's depleted scrum conceded a soft try to Lawes's England Under-20 colleague James Gaskell and Sale eked out a consolation bonus point thanks to Charlie Hodgson's last-gasp penalty.

Northampton: Tries Foden, Reihana; Conversion Geraghty; Penalties Geraghty 2, Myler.

Sale: Try Gaskell; Conversion Hodgson; Penalties Hodgson 3.

Northampton: 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, N Best (M Easter, 51), R Wilson.

Sale: 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), D Seymour, S Koyamibole (D Tait, 54).

Referee: P Fitzgibbon (Ireland).