Hanley helps himself

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The Independent Online

Having been tipped to finish the season one place off bottom in the Zurich Premiership, Sale Sharks seemed determined to stay one spot behind leaders Leicester.

Having been tipped to finish the season one place off bottom in the Zurich Premiership, Sale Sharks seemed determined to stay one spot behind leaders Leicester.

They demonstrated their fighting spirit by battling back from a 13-point deficit to take advantage of a Northampton side still struggling without four of their usual tight five and with backs Matt Dawson and Nick Beal out of the equation through injury.

In fairness to the European champions, they also scrapped their way to a fighting finish, earning a penalty try when Sale pulled down a maul, and spent the last few minutes camped on the home side's line in search of a losing bonus point if nothing else.

The player who emerged with the biggest grin was Sale wing Steve Hanley who raced in for a brace of tries when pitted against Ben Cohen, the Northampton wing who effectively took his England berth last season.

The first half-hour had belonged to Northampton. They dominated possession and when Sale did have the ball, the Manchester outfit demonstrated a frustrating tendency to give it away.

After Paul Grayson had eased Saints ahead with a 14th-minute penalty, Sale set up a ruck on their own 10-metre line but the ball came out on the wrong side and there was little the home defence could do to prevent the fly-half scampering over. Grayson converted his own score and added a penalty moments later to put Northampton in control.

Sale had never threatened their line but that all changed in the dying minutes of the half. Nicki Little kicked a penalty but skipper Alex Sanderson spurned further opportunities in the Northampton 22, preferring to scrummage or run the ball. That philosophy paid off when Guy Manson-Bishop was driven over for a try.

Sale then burst out of defence near their own line when Bryan Redpath sent Steve Davidson through a gap, accompanied by Peter Anglesea. The pair allowed Manson-Bishop to release Hanley for his first.

In the second period Craig Moir, at full-back for the Saints, failed to deal with a Redpath kick-and-chase. The outcome was a five-metre scrum from which Sanderson shot over.

Hanley then raced half the length of the field, shelling tacklers like peas, to put the game in the bag. Preconceptions of Sale's chances this season will have to be quickly reassessed.

Sale: J Mallinder; S Davidson (Shaw 55), M Deane, D Harris, S Hanley; N Little, B Redpath; A Black (Winstanley 58), J Clark (Jackman 48), J Thiel, G Manson-Bishop, A Whittle (Lines 70), P Anglesea, A Sanderson (capt), A Morris (R Appleyard 55).

Northampton: C Moir; B Cohen, A Bateman, M Allen (Martin 40), J Sleightholme; P Grayson, D Malone (Bramhall 63); K Todd, S Brotherstone, M Volland, A Newman (Phillips 52), O Brouzet, G Seely, P Lam (capt), B Pountney.

Referee: C White (Cheltenham).

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