Sale began putting the frustration of last season’s controversial ending behind them as they held on to beat Northampton 32-23 in their Gallagher Premiership opener.

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The Sharks were denied a tilt at the play-offs last term when a coronavirus outbreak within their club forced them to forfeit their final regular-season fixture.

They have been backed to make a strong title push this term and they started brightly enough with a four-try win.

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AJ MacGinty led the way by scoring 14 points, including a try, while Akker Van Der Merwe, Dan Du Preez and Simon Hammersley also touched down.

Sale, with their strong contingent of South Africans and most of their back division available, certainly began as if they meant business and opened up a 17-0 lead within 20 minutes.

Van Der Merwe drove over for an early try by the posts and Du Preez also crossed after Denny Solomona was stopped just short.

United States international MacGinty, who had opened the scoring with a long-range penalty in the third minute, converted both to put the Sharks in a healthy position.

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Saints, who lost full-back George Furbank to injury in the opening minutes, needed to respond and they finally got moving as James Grayson took them downfield from a penalty. A maul formed from the resulting possession and Tom Collins was forced over.

Grayson’s conversion and a penalty early in the second half cut the deficit to 17-10, but Sale hit back again as Hammersley crashed over out wide.

Another Grayson penalty kept the visitors interested, but Sale threatened to stretch away as MacGinty broke through the defence for a try with a clever dummy and run.

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Northampton, who also had to forfeit last season’s final game, were not quite done and Piers Francis went over from a scrum to keep their hopes alive.

Grayson again converted and Harry Mallinder added a penalty to bring them back within six points but, despite a yellow card for Jono Ross, Sale survived a potentially nervy finish.

Rob du Preez wrapped up the scoring with a penalty five minutes from time.

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