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Sale off to winning start as they withstand Northampton fightback

By PA
Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints – Gallagher Premiership – AJ Bell Stadium

Sale survived a Northampton fightback to get their Gallagher Premiership campaign off to a winning start.

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After a well-contested opening period in which the hosts scored the only try, the Saints were blown away by three quickfire Sale scores mid-way through the second half to trail 29-3.

Phil Dowson’s men hit back with three tries of their own late on, but it was not enough as they fell to a 29-22 defeat.

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There was a rather subdued atmosphere inside and outside the AJ Bell Stadium ahead of kick-off before the players lined up for an impeccably-observed minute’s silence in memory of the Queen, followed by an emotional rendition of the new national anthem.

Once the action started, a tackle off the ball handed Saints’ James Grayson an early chance to kick a routine penalty.

Just as the game was threatening to match the mood, Sale scored a cracking opening try to get the home supporters off their seats.

The dynamic Gus Warr dived over following a smart burst after he had played a neat one-two with Springbok Dan du Preez, and Rob du Preez added the extras to make it 7-3 to the hosts.

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Alex Sanderson’s men were beginning to stamp their authority on proceedings and Manu Tuilagi was becoming more and more influential in the middle after 16 weeks out of action.

But some gutsy Sale defending was also keeping Northampton at bay, despite the efforts of lively scrum-half Alex Mitchell.

Both sides sought to boss possession and it remained that way until three minutes before the break.

At that point Rob du Preez kicked another three-pointer after the hosts dominated another scrum to leave Sale with a 10-3 interval lead.

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The closely-contested theme continued in the early stages of the second period, although Sale were pressing hard on the Saints’ 22.

The visitors were under mounting pressure just in front of their own line and they finally succumbed in the 54th minute.

Luke James eventually cruised over the line on the right after a hard-fought scrum win on the opposite side of the pitch, with Rob du Preez again converting to stretch Sale’s lead to 17-3.

Within minutes Sam James was perfectly teed up by Tom Roebuck to go over and all of a sudden another precise Rob du Preez conversion had Sale 24-3 to the good.

When Tom O’Flaherty dived over for a debut try after James’ precise kick through Sale were 29-3 ahead and on the road to a big victory.

The Saints came roaring back, though, and two tries from Tom Collins and an Ollie Sleightholme score, two converted superbly by Grayson, brought the score back to 29-22 and earned a losing bonus point.

But the damage had already been done and Sale managed to cling on for the opening-round win.

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints - Gallagher Premiership - AJ Bell Stadium

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