Sale vs Northampton match report: Danny Cipriani calls shots while Saints stutter

Sale Sharks 20 Northampton Saints 7

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The Independent Online

Danny Cipriani staked his claim for an England place in front of national coach Stuart Lancaster as he helped guide Sale to a convincing triumph over the Aviva Premiership leaders.

With one eye on crucial upcoming European fixtures, the Saints looked slightly underpowered for a side that began yesterday with a six-point cushion at the top of the table and seeking an eighth successive win in all competitions. The absence of Samu Manoa, in particular, played into Sale’s hands and the Cheshire side needed no second invitation to deploy the powerful driving play that underpins their game.

Eager to atone for their recent drubbing at Wasps, Sale were quick to take control, Will Addison and Magnus Lund coming within inches of touching down in the early stages.

The Saints lacked their usual composure, a mix-up between Ben Foden and George North that allowed Sale to set up another attack typifying their looseness.

Fly-half Cipriani had slotted two early penalties when Sam Dickinson, one of two non-specialist locks in Saints’ engine room, was sin-binned on the half-hour for a needless hit on Lund. Sale duly set up their driving maul and Eifion Lewis-Roberts plunged over for the opening try, Cipriani converting.

Such was their control that the home side may have felt aggrieved to take only a 13-0 lead into the interval. But the Saints were unable to raise their intensity after the break and the Sharks’ physical superiority remained unchecked.

Sale camped inside the Northampton 22 once more but Steve Diamond’s men could not break through as the Saints’ last-ditch defence remained resilient. But the visitors were still conceding penalties and eventually referee Matt Carley lost patience.

Flanker Calum Clark, playing in his less familiar position of lock, was yellow-carded after competing illegally for a loose ball at a ruck.

Sale did not have to wait long to exploit the one-man advantage. They kicked to the corner once more and set up the inevitable drive, skipper Dan Braid crossing the whitewash for a try that Cipriani converted.

Adrift 20-0, Saints rallied and they hit back when replacement flanker Teimana Harrison went over for a try on 65 minutes, Stephen Myler adding the extras.

Yet this was a rare chastening afternoon for the visitors as they suffered their first setback since losing to Exeter in November.

Afterwards Diamond backed Cipriani’s case for an England recall, saying: “Danny’s been playing well all year. If he doesn’t get an opportunity that’s up to the England selectors. On the basis of the past three months in the European Cup and the league, he deserves a shot.”

Sale: M Haley; W Addison, J Leota, S Tuitupou (T Arscott 76), M Cueto; D Cipriani (N Macleod 71), C Cusiter (W Cliff 76); E Lewis-Roberts (A de Marchi 76), M Jones, V Cobilas (R Harrison 5-9, 68), J Mills (TJ Ioane 70), N Hines, D Braid (capt), M Lund (D Seymour 52), J Beaumont.

Tries: Lewis-Roberts, Braid

Cons: Cipriani 2

Pens: Cipriani 2

Northampton: B Foden (J Wilson 66); J Elliott (K Pisi 66), G Pisi, L Burrell, G North; S Myler, L Dickson (J Hodgson 72); A Corbisiero (A Waller 58), M Haywood (M Williams 72), S Ma’afu (G Denman 58), S Dickinson, C Clark (J Onojaife 73), T Wood (capt), B Nutley (T Harrison 58), P Dowson.

Try: Harrison

Con: Myler

Att: 8,311

Referee: M Carley (RFU)