Northampton Saints 21 Sale Sharks 22: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Alex Sanderson was apologetic as Chris Boyd passed him in the press room.

By Tom Vickers
Sunday, 20th February 2022, 12:17 pm
Matt Proctor was heavily involved for Saints
Matt Proctor was heavily involved for Saints

The Sale boss was in the middle of conducting a post-match interview, which had started with him admitting that his side probably deserved to lose the match that had concluded around 20 minutes earlier.

And after Boyd had given his own assessment of a game that got away, he shook hands with Sanderson on his way out of door.

One man knew his side should have won, the other knew his side shouldn’t have.

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But as Sanderson later pointed out, the old cliché of good teams winning while playing badly rang true.

As for Saints, they were left to rue so many key moments that meant they failed to win for the second successive week.

They were better and had far more control of the game than when they were beaten by Leicester Tigers eight days earlier.

But errors came back to haunt them as George Furbank’s tricky late penalty attempt drifted just wide of the right post.

That sparked questions of its own, with many wondering why Saints didn’t kick to the corner rather than going for goal in gusty conditions.

But the lineout was hardly a profitable source for Saints a little earlier in the half when they threw a good attacking position away and quickly found Sale at their door.

Still, a lineout seemed a better option because as long as Saints could secure the ball, they could have either probed for a gap or tried to set up a lesser-spotted drop goal to win the game.

As it was, Furbank showed his bravery by taking the kick on, but sadly for Saints, and gladly for Sale, it did not pay dividends.

It meant the men in white could celebrate while the ones on black, green and gold searched their souls.

And what a blow this felt like for Saints as Sale did the double over them and, in the process, leapfrogged them in the Gallagher Premiership table.

Saints have slipped down the standings and are now six points adrift of fourth-placed Gloucester, who they travel to face in less than two weeks’ time.

Next is a game against Exeter Chiefs, who are also ensconced in one of the closest play-off races in Premiership history.

And even though they still have nine league matches to play this season, Saints are already approaching must-win territory.

In truth, they really should be at least three points better off as the Sale game slipped through their grasp just as the ball did on so many occasions during the game.

Time after time, Saints lost the ball in the opposition half.

And, as has been the case far too often this season, the opposition didn’t have to work nearly as hard for their tries as Saints did for theirs.

As Boyd acknowledged, they dropped two high balls that cost them 14 points, prompting questions as to why centre Rory Hutchinson was thrown in at full-back.

Yes, it allowed Matt Proctor to come in at 13 and produce a hugely impressive performance, but it also opened the door for Sale to use their kicking game to expose Saints.

It meant they were able to gain maximum reward from minimum effort, while the same could not be said for Saints.

Hutchinson showed his class when he was able to run with the ball, and he remains in fine form in that regard.

But you feel for him when it comes to having to do the bread and butter full-back duties, and you feel there has to be a better solution, even with Tommy Freeman out injured.

That question will remain this week, and Saints have to find the right solution against Exeter.

Because if they don’t, their season will be soon be in real peril of petering out.

How they rated...

RORY HUTCHINSON

It feels harsh to judge him when he's playing out of position. Sale exploited him with the high ball, scoring twice after the makeshift full-back was put under pressure in the air... 5

OLLIE SLEIGHTHOLME

Tried to get into the game and was involved in Alex Mitchell's score, but chances were few and far between for the wing as much of the action came on the other side of the field... 6

MATT PROCTOR

Was Saints' most influential back on the day as he continually fought fire with fire, playing a key role in Alex Mitchell's score... 7.5

FRASER DINGWALL

Has had such an influence on this team this season, but Sale nullified him fairly well and he wasn't really able to stand out... 6

COURTNALL SKOSAN

Showed great awareness to find Alex Mitchell for a superb Saints score and he looked hungry to have a say in the game... 6.5

GEORGE FURBANK

Showed bravery to take on the potential match-winning penalty with the final kick of the game, and largely did well... 6.5

ALEX MITCHELL

Etched his name on the scoresheet once again but some of his kicking didn't really pay off for the team in attacking positions... 6

MANNY IYOGUN

The young prop stood up well to the challenges the Sale forwards threw at him and he got the upper hand at scrum time... 7

SAM MATAVESI

Delivered a fantastic pass off the floor for Alex Coles' try and put in a big shift that culminated with him playing in the back row after Karl Wilkins went off... 7

EHREN PAINTER

Conceded a couple of penalties but largely did okay as he helped Saints combat the power of the Sale pack... 6.5

DAVID RIBBANS

Got through plenty of work in attack and defence, making more tackles than any other player by a fair distance... 7

BRANDON NANSEN

Showcased his power with a couple of trademark bulldozing carries that left Sale dazed, but he wasn't able to blast too many holes in a stubborn defence... 6

KARL WILKINS

Made plenty of tackles without missing any and his work rate was good before he eventually had to come off... 6.5

TEIMANA HARRISON

Saints will hope his injury is not serious as he has already had to spend too much time on the sidelines this season. Didn't get a real chance to make an impact here... 6

JUARNO AUGUSTUS - CHRON STAR MAN

Seemed to be at the heart of most Saints attacks, using his sizeable frame to put Sale under pressure. He scored a try and earned the penalty that could have won Saints the game... 7.5

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

ALEX COLES (for Harrison 31)

Showed real determination as he grabbed what looked to be a crucial score for his team just before half-time, and he displayed a desire to get his hands on the ball... 7

API RATUNIYARAWA (for Nansen 51)

Gained some ground with his carries as he used his power to apply some pressure, and this was a largely positive impact from the lock... 7

PAUL HILL (for Painter 53)

Didn't do much wrong after coming into the game with Saints looking strong during the second half... 6