Sale Sharks 12 Northampton Saints 32: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Saints secured a superb win at Sale on Friday night (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
Saints secured a superb win at Sale on Friday night (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

The AJ Bell Stadium has been an unhappy hunting ground in recent seasons.

But Saints exited the Salford venue with broad smiles on their faces on Friday night.

Because not only did they win, smashing a league hoodoo that stretches back to November, 2012 - they won in style.

Ethan Waller's try put the icing on the cake of an impressive away performance.

Saints took their chances when they came and ensured the Sharks never really got a sniff.

The home side did manage to score two tries, but neither affected the flow of the game.

Jamie Gibson and Stephen Myler got stuck in

Jamie Gibson and Stephen Myler got stuck in

Saints simply held their nerve and responded on both occasions, ensuring they sailed serenely to a timely bonus-point success.

Needless to say, this was by far their best display at Sale for some years.

And it was also by far their best display of the season as a whole.

Jim Mallinder's men have failed to get the balance right between attack and defence during this campaign.

Stephen Myler was hugely influential for Saints

Stephen Myler was hugely influential for Saints

Too many times, when one department of the game has functioned, the other has proved their undoing.

But not here.

Saints got both areas of the game right for long periods.

And consequently, they picked up a maximum haul that leaves them just four points off the top four with five games of the regular-season to go.

Alex Waller was a safe pair of hands

Alex Waller was a safe pair of hands

They remain outsiders for a play-off spot, simply because of the fixtures that remain.

After the home clash with local rivals Leicester Tigers later this month, they go to Wasps and Exeter, with those games sandwiching a Stadium MK showdown with Saracens.

And the season concludes with a game against Harlequins at Franklin's Gardens.

So it's fair to say there have been easier run-ins.

But Saints can now at least take confidence into those encounters.

Because at Sale, they really showed up.

Saints were delighted to claim an overdue success at the AJ Bell Stadium

Saints were delighted to claim an overdue success at the AJ Bell Stadium

Their forwards functioned how they wanted, with the Sharks submerged under big pack pressure.

The away side's lineout drive looked a big weapon again and the scrum showing was the strongest in recent times.

Sale had no answer, they could not lay any foundations.

And Saints whipped the rug from under them on four occasions, with Ken Pisi's finish from a quick move added to by a couple of big shoves and eventually Waller's score.

You never felt Saints would lose this.

There was to be no Newcastle-style collapse after half-time.

Instead, they rolled up their sleeves and secured the win they desperately wanted.

In a tough season, this was a stand-out showing.

A beacon of light.

And the only frustration from a Saints perspective is that they can't go out next week and back it up.

They have to wait three weeks before taking on Leicester Tigers at the Gardens.

And another complete showing of this kind will be needed if they are to end another bad run.

Saints have not tamed the Tigers since December, 2014, losing the past six meetings between the sides.

But if they can banish their AJ Bell Stadium demons, they can defeat a Leicester team who were well beaten at home by Exeter Chiefs on Friday night.

And that is now the immediate target, with hopes of the top four just starting to appear on the horizon once again.

How they rated...

AHSEE TUALA

Had a slippery start, but regained his balance and helped Saints to produce a strong attacking display... 7

KEN PISI

Has been back among the tries of late, scoring three in his past five matches, and he seems to have renewed belief... 7

NAFI TUITAVAKE

Has impressed since making his way into the team and his attacking skill-set, which is his clear strength, was on show again here... 7

HARRY MALLINDER

A really impressive display from the centre as his ability to find space and shrewd kicking proved key in this victory... 8

BEN FODEN

The skipper has looked useful on the wing and he helped to ensure Sale didn't get a sniff on his side of the field... 7

STEPHEN MYLER - CHRON STAR MAN

Controlled the game superbly, kicking brilliantly from hand and from the tee before playing a clever pass to set up the bonus-point try for Ethan Waller... 8

NIC GROOM

Like Myler, he pulled the strings well and his ability to spot an opening kept Sale on their toes... 7

ALEX WALLER

A powerful performance from the prop, who continues to be ultra-reliable and who enjoyed himself in the set piece... 7

MIKE HAYWOOD

You just can't keep this man away from the try line. He bagged his eighth effort of the season in yet another impressive showing... 8

KIERAN BROOKES

His best display in recent times as he looked strong around the park and also took Sale to task in the scrum... 7

MICHAEL PATERSON

The experienced lock enjoyed the return to his former club, scoring once and helping to push Haywood over the line for another effort... 8

JAMES CRAIG

Made sure Saints didn't miss the influential Christian Day as he provided an assured presence in the second row... 7

JAMIE GIBSON

Has been one of the stars of a tricky season for Saints and he worked so hard again here, putting Sale under pressure at every opportunity... 7

CALUM CLARK

Like Gibson, he got through plenty of graft and looked frustrated to be replaced as he appeared to be enjoying his evening... 7

TEIMANA HARRISON

England's loss has been Saints' gain, with the flanker making the most of game time for his club with another good display in a position he seems to relish playing... 7