Humdrum Saints are fresh out of miracles

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The Independent Online

It is hard not to feel sorry for Sale at the moment. The ownership of their club is under discussion, they have numerous injuries and the players are emotionally strained by the continued hospitalisation of Andy Blyth with serious spinal injuries.

They managed to overcome their problems in a spirited first half, in which they withstood the attacks of a weakened Northampton, but uncertainty surrounds the club. It could not be more different at Northampton as they press for honours and can leave out international players. Of these, not surprisingly, it was the jack in the box Matt Dawson, suffering from a sore shoulder, that they missed most. Without him there was little urgency behind the scrum as Dom Malone and Ali Hepher failed to drive the runners forward. Time after time the backs would run across the pitch, intricate moves wasted because they were not attacking the gain line and making progress.

This made defending a lot easier for Sale, a point fully proved in the 48th minute when Jon Sleightholme and then Nick Beal straightened the point of attack. Beal had space on the right but it was still a magnificent solo effort as he put in three sidesteps in quick succession to wrong-foot the covering defenders and score under the posts. Hepher successfully added the conversion but was immediately substituted along with Malone, both paying the price for their insipid performances to that point.

Eleven points adrift, Sale were ruing two missed penalties by Nicky Little, their Fijian fly half. But the real problem with the Sharks is that they are not an 80-minute side. Game, resilient and threatening in attack in the first period, they just run out of steam as the clock winds on and this allows better sides - even when playing poorly - to secure victory.

Sale had taken the lead and silenced the 7,460 strong crowd in the 10th minute with a simple but well executed try from a line-out. Mark Tinnock caught the ball yards from the try line and was rolled over to score. He soon turned sinner, however, as he deliberately killed the ball after Malone had broken through. He duly received a yellow card and 10 minutes in the sin bin for a professional foul, and the Saints pressed home their numerical advantage with Pat Lam going over on the right.

The match was effectively sealed by Paul Grayson in the 76th minute with a long-range penalty and Colin Allan widened the winning margin with a score in the sixth minute of injury time. But the performance was less than memorable for a side with championship ambitions. For Sale, as they are, the bad run continues. They have not won a league match since their Boxing Day victory over fellow strugglers Bedford. Not encouraging news for the new owners, whoever they turn out to be.

Northampton: N Beal; C Moir, A Bateman, M Allen, J Sleightholme; A Hepher (P Grayson, 48), D Malone (J Bramhall, 48); G Pagel, S Walter (F Mendez, 48), M Scelzo, J Phillips, R Metcalfe (A Metcalfe, 60), C Allan, P Lam, S Holmes.

Sale: J Mallinder; M Moore, J Baxendell, P Devlin, S Davidson; N Little, C Turvey; P Smith (P Winstanley, 55), J Clark, D Therom (D Bell, 55), N Fletcher, M Tinnock (G Manson-Bishop, 66), A Sanderson, P Anglesea, R Appleyard (A Morris, 69).

Referee: J Barnard (RFU)

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