Sale 32 Northampton 20: Hodgson, the perfect No10, dismantles Saints

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The Independent Online

Charlie Hodgson and Frankie Dettori have much in common. When Dettori finishes a race you can count on him to say complimentary things about his fellow riders, yet he is also an assassin, as he displayed in the St Leger at York on Saturday.

Hodgson, when asked about Jonny Wilkinson the same day, was overflowing with praise for his nearest competitor. "Jonny and I are old friends and I do hope that he gets over the problems he posted on Friday evening," he said. "If the selectors felt Jonny was better than me I would have coped with it. He has so much talent and has had so much trouble over the past three years, we feel for him and hope he soon gets better.''

On the field Hodgson could hardly have done better - except for one incident, when he was clattered by his opposite number, Carlos Spencer, he never put a foot wrong. He outplayed the New Zealander, scoring 22 points in the process. It was a devastating performance that did much to put Sale in front when they were struggling against the Saints pack, who did everything to the Sale eight while setting up three tries to two. Nobody is perfect in the English game but Hodgson comes pretty close.

Hodgson opened Sale's account with two penalties before Bruce Reihana got one back. Mark Cueto then bagged a splendid try, which Hodgson converted. Two Hodgson drop goals and a penalty made it 22-3 to Sale, but in the fifth minute of first-half stoppage time Sean Lamont grabbed a try which Reihana converted to make it 22-10.

Within five minutes of the restart Paul Tupai got a try which was not converted, but at 22-15 his side were getting closer.

The Saints pack were relishing the remainder of the contest, with Tupai, Darren Fox, Tom Smith and Pat Barnard all making life very hard for the Sale forwards. The home backs were not having an easy time either, with Reihana, David Quinlan and Paul Diggin scrapping for every ball. But within 10 minutes the Sale flanker Magnus Lund had crossed for a try which Hodgson converted to take the score to 29-15.

Hodgson kicked another penalty goal, his fourth, and Northampton were facing an unenviable task if they were to get even the consolation of a hat-trick of tries. But up stepped Lamont for his second and his team's third. They never got a fourth, which would have earned them a bonus point, though it was a close-run thing.

Sale: Tries Cueto, Lund; Conversions Hodgson 2; Penalties Hodgson 4; Drop goals Hodgson 2. Northampton: Tries Lamont 2, Tupai; Conversion Reihana; Penalty Reihana.

Sale: J Robinson (capt); M Cueto, C Mayor (M Taylor, 59), C Bell, O Ripol; C Hodgson, R Wigglesworth (B Foden, 71); A Sheridan (B Stewart, 40-51), S Bruno (P Gaona, 68), B Evans (Stewart, 51) C Jones (D Tait, 72), J White, J-M Fernandez Lobbe, M Lund, S Chabal (C Day, 60).

Northampton: R Kydd; S Lamont, B Reihana, D Quinlan, P Diggin; C Spencer M Robinson (I Vass, 72); T Smith, S Thompson (D Richmond, 28) P Barnard (C Budgen, 73), Damien Brown (M Lord, 57) C Short, P Tupai, D Fox (B Lewitt, 70) Daniel Browne (M Easter, 70).

Referee: D Rose (Warwickshire).

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