Sale Sharks 20 Northampton Saints 24: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Ken Pisi's score sparked Saints into life at the AJ Bell Stadium (pictures: Sharon Lucey)
Ken Pisi's score sparked Saints into life at the AJ Bell Stadium (pictures: Sharon Lucey)
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Saints fans may have feared the balloon of belief blown up during the opening two matches of 2018 would be punctured by the horrow show against Saracens at Allianz Park.

But those worries were allayed at the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday as the black, green and gold produced a characterful display to sink Sale Sharks.

Saints were 8-0 down at the break, having offered very little.

In fact, the Sharks could have set up an aquarium in their own 22 and the creatures living in it would barely have been troubled.

That is not to say Sale were totally the better side.

They, like Saints, struggled with ball retention during the first period.

Ben Nutley was a key man in an all-action display

Ben Nutley was a key man in an all-action display

A steady stream of handling errors stemmed the flow for both teams, with only Sale No.8 Sam Moore able to locate the try line.

Saints were hit by a Tom Stephenson yellow card late in the half, but they ended up winning the sin-bin period 7-3.

That was thanks to a flying start in the second period, orchestrated by Ken Pisi and Cobus Reinach.

The pair linked up to produce one of the counter-attacking tries of the campaign so far, with the Samoan starting and finishing the move.

Michael Paterson was stopped in his tracks late on

Michael Paterson was stopped in his tracks late on

Reinach again showed just how rapid he is during that score, and he did so again to begin a move that finished with Nafi Tuitavake superbly setting up the onrushing Ben Nutley.

Both of those slick scores showcased the determination in the away team.

Pisi, Reinach, Tuitavake and Nutley each had the drive to play their part.

And it paid dividends in grand style for Saints.

Ken Pisi got the scoring started for Saiints

Ken Pisi got the scoring started for Saiints

Sale refused to go quietly and showed their own spirit by battling back from 14-8 and 17-13 down to lead late on.

But Saints retained the belief the arrival of new coaching consultant Alan Gaffney has given them.

And their patient build-up play resulted in a dramatic score for Tuitavake, who has now registered a try in each of his past three appearances.

For Saints supporters, it is great to see some steel back in the side.

All they can ask is that their team give it everything until the final whistle.

And that was what they did on Saturday afternoon.

Nafi Tuitavake's try gave Saints the victory

Nafi Tuitavake's try gave Saints the victory

The Anglo-Welsh Cup might not be the stuff dreams are made of.

But it remains a first-team competition, and one Saints would dearly love to win at Kingsholm in March.

They are certainly putting themselves in a strong position and a success against Harlequins at home on Friday night would seal a semi-final spot.

In a season saturated with struggle, that would be a welcome boost for Saints.

They have shown they can fight to the conclusion in this competition - and that is what they must continue to do for the remainder of the campaign as a whole.

How they rated...

AHSEE TUALA

A steady enough showing from the full-back, who took the fight to Sale but never really had much space to work with in attacking areas... 6

KEN PISI

Sparked Saints into life with a scintillating break from his own half before getting the ball back from Reinach and scoring... 7

NAFI TUITAVAKE

Has now scored three tries in as many appearances after grabbing the winner here, and he also played a vital part in Nutley's try, offloading brilliantly from the floor... 8

TOM STEPHENSON

Put himself about, showing his increased physicality, but he was forced to spend 10 minutes in the sin bin... 6

TOM COLLINS

The wing was making his first appearance since November and he did little wrong, providing a useful counter-attacking option... 7

STEPHEN MYLER

Has had no luck with injuries this season and a hamstring problem forced him off at the break with Saints 8-0 down... 5

COBUS REINACH - CHRON STAR MAN

An electric display from the scrum-half whose pace made the Sale players look like they were running in glue at times... 8

FRANCOIS VAN WYK

Got some welcome game time and didn't let his team down, looking steady enough before being withdrawn 15 minutes into the second half... 6

REECE MARSHALL

Plenty of tenacity from the hooker as he showed an abundance of energy in a strong performance... 7

KIERAN BROOKES

Used his power to push Sale back on a couple of occasions and also held his own in the scrum... 7

API RATUNIYARAWA

Got more into the game during the second half, putting pressure on the Sale defence with his raw power... 7

CHRISTIAN DAY

Helped his team to keep their heads after going behind and his presence is always important... 7

DAVID RIBBANS

Was an influential figure, carrying really well to keep Sale on their toes, as well as showing good aggression in defence... 7

LEWIS LUDLAM

Stood tall defensively for Saints, causing Sale problems at the breakdown and throwing himself into tackles... 7

BEN NUTLEY

An all-action display from a man who rarely fails to impress. He showed brilliant desire to grab a try and to stop Sale winger Paolo Odogwu scoring one earlier in the game... 8

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

JAMES GRAYSON (for Myler 40)

A controlled showing from the young fly-half, who made a really positive impression and produced a blemish-free kicking display... 7

CAMPESE MA'AFU (for van Wyk 54)

Always adds some extra physicality around the park for Saints and he made sure they were able to battle until the end... 6