Sale Sharks 18 Saints 13: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Andrew Kellaway impressed once again
Andrew Kellaway impressed once again

Saturday afternoon's game at Sale Sharks was like the morning after the night before.

It was like a Sunday after spending the previous evening visiting every pub on the Wellingborough Road.

The Franklin's Gardens fizz of seven days earlier faded and it was a sobering experience at the AJ Bell Stadium.

After a lively start, things fell flat for Saints as the Sharks eventually grabbed the win they desperately wanted.

Steve Diamond's men were sitting bottom of the Gallagher Premiership standings before Saints came calling.

And eventually the Sharks secured the perfect tonic of a third home league success of the season.

That's not to say they were convincing.

Saints largely stifled the home side's star-studded back line, with Faf de Klerk and James O'Connor among the men struggling to create an opening.

Eventually, Denny Solomona found two as he registered a crucial try double.

And Sale could have had more had they moved the ball quicker in promising positions.

But Saints, to their credit, stuck to their task manfully.

And they were in the game right up to the final whistle, which blew after Taqele Naiyaravoro, who had a real off day, lost possession.

Though Sale were the stronger side on the day, Saints had every right to feel they could have pinched more points than the single one they claimed.

James Grayson did land one penalty, but he was unable to slot another three efforts from the tee, most of which were far from easy.

However, in games of fine margins, you need your fly-half to deliver with pressure kicks.

Rob Du Preez did manage one from a touchline conversion and he was to finish the day with three successful efforts to his name.

That was eventually vital and Saints were left to reflect on a difficult day at the office.

If you want to be in the top four, these are the kind of games you need to steal on the road.

Saints are a little way from doing that as they are in their infancy under new boss Chris Boyd.

It will take time to achieve consistency and become a winning machine.

With so many young players in the side, it is only right to expect plenty of ups and downs.

But spirit is a pre-requisite, and Saints certainly showed that.

They also showed glimpses of their class once again, but they often couldn't keep hold of the ball long enough to turn those flashes of brilliance into persistent attacks.

As with so many league games this season, there was little between the teams.

Saints have come out on the wrong side of fine margins in matches at the likes of Gloucester, Bath and now Sale.

They did prevail in a narrow win at Bristol back in September and they will need more of those narrow successes if they are to achieve the kind of league position they desire.

Either way, this typically stodgy away day at Sale won't be making it into any highlights reels at the end of the season.

And Saints will have to get over their hangover quickly with another crucial clash coming next Saturday, when Newcastle Falcons will be flying into Franklin's Gardens.

How they rated...

GEORGE FURBANK

Was forced off after just 36 minutes with what was described as a 'shoulder niggle' and up to then he hadn't been hugely involved in the game... 5

ANDREW KELLAWAY
Did blot his copy book with a high tackle that conceded a penalty late on, but that came under pressure and prior to that he played a key role in a try and made some good hits... 7

FRASER DINGWALL
Made one key tackle during the first half, showing his defensive desire, but, like all of his team-mates, he wasn't able to have the kind of influence he had against Wasps... 6

LUTHER BURRELL
Used his physicality well to force Sale into errors and though there were a few tackles he was unable to make, his 150th appearance for Saints was steady enough... 6

TAQELE NAIYARAVORO
Was so impressive against Wasps a week earlier, but this display was the antithesis of that showing. He did get a try assist and make one important last-ditch tackle, but the fact Sale scored both of their tries on his wing told a tale as he was slightly rash defensively and he lost possession regularly... 4

JAMES GRAYSON
Didn't do much wrong in open play but top-level kickers can't afford to miss three of their four efforts from the tee and it was to cost Saints dear... 5

COBUS REINACH
Did fail to get much distance on a couple of box kicks, putting Saints under pressure, but he was lively in attack, picking up one try and setting up another... 7

ALEX WALLER
Conceded three penalties on the day, including one that presented Sale with a key three points, but did well enough in the scrum as Saints more than matched the home pack... 5

JAMES FISH
Another steady showing from the hooker, who has done a commendable job for the team during the past few months... 6

PAUL HILL
Had a good day in the scrum, putting real pressure on Sale loosehead prop Ross Harrison and helping to give Saints a platform on which they weren't fully able to build... 7

API RATUNIYARAWA
Wasn't able to have the kind of influence he often has, but did make 10 tackles on the day... 5

ALEX MOON
Made one big lineout steal during the first half and got through plenty of work again, making 12 tackles in another useful showing... 7

TOM WOOD
Battled on after taking a knock during the first half and did everything he could to help his team get some momentum, but it wasn't to be... 6

LEWIS LUDLAM
Once again, the flanker brought plenty of passion to the Saints cause, racking up plenty of tackles and doing his best to make metres in attack... 7

TEIMANA HARRISON
Did everything he could to disrupt Sale, putting in plenty of hard graft and looking disappointed to be replaced late on... 7

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

OLLIE SLEIGHTHOLME (for Furbank 36)

Caught the eye once again, scoring his second try in as many Premiership appearances and winning a key penalty on his own line... 7

CHRON STAR MAN - Denny Solomona (Sale Sharks)