Hodgson survives injury scare as Sale outrun dogged Saints

Sale 37 - Northampton 24
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The wall outside the Edgeley Park changing rooms had been scrubbed clean and space prepared for the medical bulletins to be posted at the speed the tries went in.

The wall outside the Edgeley Park changing rooms had been scrubbed clean and space prepared for the medical bulletins to be posted at the speed the tries went in.

The collective intake of breath from the 7,887 spectators when Charlie Hodgson fell to earth after a knock on the knee could be heard the other side of Manchester. The stretcher-bearers were not needed but Hodgson was replaced by Mike Hercus. The good news is that no lasting damage was done and the England outside-half will be fit to take his place against Wales on Saturday.

He will hope to make a better start in Cardiff then he did against a feisty, though ultimately outplayed Northampton. In the second minute, with the referee allowing Sale advantage, Hodgson dropped for goal and missed. The resultant penalty flew well wide. He missed with two more penalty attempts, though he did convert all four of Sale's tries and add three penalties for 17 points. Elsewhere, he was operating at near maximum efficiency. The long cut-out pass to bring Steve Hanley his second try was a gem. Hodgson also had a hand in Hanley's first, which gave Sale the lead they never surrendered.

The news on the rest of the England contingent will be greeted with relief by England's head coach, Andy Robinson. His namesake and captain, Jason, has made a full recovery from a bruised hamstring while Mark Cueto, Ben Cohen and Steve Thompson came through unscathed. Thompson was delighted to be awarded the first Northampton try, though Andrew Blowers also had grasp of the ball as the Saints forwards ploughed over the Sale line.

Saints must have thought they were in with a shout when they turned round only 20-17 down. Paul Grayson had kicked three penalties and a drop goal, and they hardly missed three of their most influential players in Shane Drahm, Marc Stcherbina and Bruce Reihana, who all failed late fitness tests. But from there it was mostly downhill. As the Saints' coach, Budge Pountney, said afterwards: "We played well up to the break, but I was disappointed in our second-half performance."

Northampton were rash enough to allow Sale the freedom of the pitch and paid a hefty price, as the Sharks upped the momentum with a try each for Stuart Turner and Hanley, with two conversions and another penalty from Hodgson. Although Northampton's Grant Seely scored in the fifth minute of stoppage time, it was in a cause long lost.

Sale: Tries Hanley 2, Lund, Turner; Conversions Hodgson 4; Penalties Hodgson 3. Northampton: Tries Thompson, Seely; Conversion Grayson; Penalties Grayson 3; Drop goal Grayson.

Sale: J Robinson (capt); M Cueto, J Baxendell, R Todd (C Mayor, 78), S Hanley; C Hodgson (M Hercus, 78), B Redpath (R Wigglesworth, 80); A Sheridan, A Titterrell (S Bruno, 48), B Stewart (S Turner, 58), C Jones (C Day, 73), D Schofield, J White, S Chabal, M Lund (J Carter, 71).

Northampton: P Diggin; W Human, C Hyndman, M Tucker (B Jones, 80), B Cohen; P Grayson, J Howard (A Vilk, 80); T Smith, S Thompson (capt), R Morris (B Sturgess, 68), S Boome (D Browne, 40), M Lord, A Blowers (G Seely, 57), R Beattie (M Soden, 49), D Fox.

Referee: S Davey (Surrey).