Northampton Saints 26 Sale Sharks 11: Tom Vickers’ review and player ratings

Former Saints favourite Brian Mujati (left) was back at the Gardens, while Kahn Fotuali'i got his first game time since New Year's Day (pictures: Sharon Lucey)
Former Saints favourite Brian Mujati (left) was back at the Gardens, while Kahn Fotuali'i got his first game time since New Year's Day (pictures: Sharon Lucey)

In a season when the margins are so fine and the tough fixtures are unrelenting, every point is precious.

So the importance of Saints managing to claim a maximum haul against Sale Sharks on Saturday could not be underestimated.

Tom Collins glided in for a try against Sale

Tom Collins glided in for a try against Sale

And it won’t have escaped the attentions of the Franklin’s Gardens faithful that JJ Hanrahan’s bonus-point score two minutes from time helped knock a certain team from Welford Road down to fifth in the Aviva Premiership pecking order.

Saints are now back where they want to be: in the top four.

But they will know they face a real fight to stay there with six games remaining, especially with an exceptionally onerous set of fixtures to come.

Sunday’s game at Exeter Chiefs is followed by clashes with Harlequins, Wasps, Leicester Tigers, Bath and Gloucester, with the small matter of a Champions Cup quarter-final at Saracens to come on April 9.

Stephen Myler was in good form with the boot

Stephen Myler was in good form with the boot

But when the going gets tough, the tough get going - and, on Saturday, Saints showed the resilience they will need in bucketloads in the coming weeks and months.

At 11-0 down and with every blow of JP Doyle’s whistle going against them, Jim Mallinder’s men could have been forgiven for fearing the worst.

They seemed unable to wake from a slumber that wasn’t too dissimilar to the one they were in when they conceded three tries inside 30 minutes during a sobering home defeat to Wasps in January.

But a big of magic from Harry Mallinder, whose break forced Sale lock and try scorer Bryn Evans into a deliberate knock-on, proved the catalyst.

Ken Pisi evaded the Sale defence to grab a score

Ken Pisi evaded the Sale defence to grab a score

Saints went on to score twice while Evans was off the field, showing a necessary ruthless streak.

And from then on it was just about how many more tries they could score, with Hanrahan’s weaving run and outstretched arm grabbing that vital fourth effort and fifth point.

The Gardens faithful may not have appreciated the 11-0 deficit, but they will have appreciated the fight and clinical finishing their side produced to come back from it.

Top-four hopefuls are walking a tightrope in every game, with Saints knowing they can’t afford to slip up at home.

And that they didn’t is testament to their character and composure.

Now they must do it all again in the run-in, but they can go into it having won five of their past six.

And how welcome that sort of record would be in the final six matches that remain in the Premiership regular season.

How they rated...

BEN FODEN

The full-back provided plenty of cut and thrust as Saints started to turn the screw during the second half... 7

KEN PISI

Got his name on the scoresheet again and the Samoan star is playing a key part in Saints’ good run of form... 7

GEORGE PISI

Was perhaps unfortunate to find himself in the sin bin, but his all-round display was good enough... 7

HARRY MALLINDER

Came in at late notice after Luther Burrell was ruled out and the young centre was impressive once again, with his break causing Bryn Evans to earn a yellow card... 8

TOM COLLINS

The speedy wing was lively once again and he did well to support Dickson to earn a try his display merited... 7

STEPHEN MYLER

Showed Danny Cipriani how to kick from the tee with another good display, which also included the fly-half pulling the strings in the second-half surge... 7

LEE DICKSON

Didn’t have the best of starts to the game, but really came to life as Saints improved and his assist for Tom Collins’ try was a superb display of awareness... 7

ETHAN WALLER

Came in for a rare start ahead of his brother and could be happy with the performance he produced... 7

MIKE HAYWOOD - CHRON STAR MAN

The hooker seemed to be everywhere during his time on the field and he capped a fine display with a try... 8

PAUL HILL

Saints may have lost Kieran Brookes to England duty, but this youngster showed himself to be a more than able replacement once again... 7

JAMES CRAIG

Never one to hog the headlines, but the lock’s contribution to this win shouldn’t be underestimated as he was a key figure in the comeback... 8

CHRISTIAN DAY

This man is so important to Saints and as well as helping to earn set-piece dominance, he also delivered an assist for Ken Pisi’s try... 8

JAMIE GIBSON

Just such a consistent performer, the flanker once again put himself about in a showing packed with energy... 7

TOM WOOD

What more can you say about this man? Every week he produces a big performance, and this was no different as he put in an indefatigable display to power his side to the win... 8

TEIMANA HARRISON

A revelation this season, the Kiwi forward was so impressive again here, adding real drive to the Saints display... 8

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

ALEX WALLER (for E Waller 52)

Got a breather on the bench, but still managed to come on and make a decent enough impact... 6

KAHN FOTUALI’I (for Dickson 55)

Was playing his first first-team game since sustaining a hamstring injury in the win against Exeter on New Year’s Day and Saints will be delighted to have him back... 6