Sale 34 Northampton 14: Bruno adds to breach as Sale's peerless pack rolls over Saints

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Sale rarely put on the style for another capacity crowd at Edgeley Park yesterday to stay top of the Premiership, but let their forwards do the walking and talking against a Northampton side who defended resolutely and denied Sale a four-try bonus point.

While the size of defeat was difficult to take, there could be more bad news for Saints this afternoon. If Leeds beat Newcastle at Headingley, Saints will be propping up the table. "We know it's going to be tough," said Saints director of rugby, Budge Pountney. "But some of our academy players put their hands up today, and never took a backward step."

Even at full strength, Northampton would have been hard pressed to get a result here, but they were without a handful of their best players. Ben Cohen is out of action with a fractured cheekbone and will miss the next four weeks. His fellow international wing Sean Lamont failed to recover from an ankle injury, while the influential Carlos Spencer is still out with a hand injury, and the England hooker Steve Thompson was absent with a heavily bruised leg.

Philippe Saint-André, the Sale coach, had no such problems and was able to select from a near full-strength squad, the only notable absentee being the centre Elvis Sevealai'i, who has a calf injury, which brought Robert Todd his fourth Premiership start of the campaign. Not that everything is rosy in the Sale garden. The club's owner, Brian Kennedy, launched a broadside at the Rugby Football Union last week, claiming that it does not serve the game as it should, and wastes too much money on bureaucracy.

On the field, Sale are playing rugby at temperatures that only the well-insulated can handle. They were soon running hot, scoring at a point a minute, and it looked as if Northampton would have to call out the brigade. Charlie Hodgson began with a warm-up penalty, before delivering an inch-perfect cross-kick, which Chris Mayor took at full tilt for a terrific try. Hodgson banged over two more penalties to make it 14-0. Bruce Reihana cut that by six points with two penalties and added another before the break, as did Hodgson, to reach the interval at 17-9.

By then, Sale had lost Robert Todd to the sin-bin for persistent infringing at the breakdown, although while he was in the cooler, Northampton had only Reihana's third penalty to show for their advantage. When Damien Browne was shown a yellow card for a similar offence, the Sale forwards drove Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe across for a try which Hodgson converted. Luke Myring then scrambled over the whitewash, but Reihana's conversion attempt came back off an upright.

Sébastien Bruno claimed Sale's third touchdown, with a conversion and a fifth penalty by Hodgson rounding off an emphatic victory.

Sale: Tries Mayor, Fernandez Lobbe, Bruno; Conversions Hodgson 2; Penalties Hodgson 5. Northampton: Try Myring; Penalties Reihana 3

Sale: J Robinson (capt); M Cueto, M Taylor (B Foden, 70), R Todd, C Mayor; C Hodgson, V Courrent (R Wigglesworth, h-t); A Sheridan, A Titterrell (S Bruno, 62), B Stewart (S Turner, 53), I Fernandez Lobbe, C Jones (C Day, 62), J White, M Lund, S Chabal (N Bonner Evans, 62)

Northampton: B Reihana (capt); J Rudd, J Clarke, R Davies ( Vilk, 79), P Diggin; L Myring, J Howard (M Robinson, 62); T Smith, D Richmond (D Hartley, 56), P Barnard (C Budgen, 3), M Lord (A Rae, 75), D Browne, B Lewitt, D Fox (S Harding, 61), D Browne (M Easter, 75).

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).