No Christmas No.1 for Saints after disappointing defeat at Sale
Saints were unable to bounce back from their difficult Champions Cup double-header as Sale piled on the pain at the AJ Bell Stadium.
The Sharks showed real bite as they bagged a gritty win, scoring twice after the break to make sure of a 22-10 success.
Saints, who have now suffered three successive defeats in all competitions, having been beaten by Leinster on the previous two weekends, had gone in level at half-time.
Lewis Ludlam's try and Dan Biggar's boot pulled them back from 10-0 down to 10-10, and they had three chances to score further tries to head in at half-time in front.
But they failed to take them, and Sale made them pay after the interval. The only frustration for the home side was that they squandered several chances to bag the bonus point.
Saints will not be the Christmas No.1 in the Gallagher Premiership as they were overtaken by Exeter Chiefs, and Chris Boyd's side will now be desperate to get the winning feeling back when they host Gloucester next Saturday.
The black, green and gold knew what to expect as they travelled north to a ground they had only won two of their seven Premiership games at.
And Sale were up and at 'em from the off, immediately winning the ball back from their own kick-off and putting the pressure on, earning a penalty that they kicked to the corner.
Saints stood tall against the waves of pressure but eventually conceded another penalty, which Rob du Preez kicked to make it 3-0.
There wasn't much Christmas cheer in the early stages, with a few little scraps breaking out and Sale getting right in the faces of Saints.
George Furbank was dragged down in his own in-goal area as he scrambled to snuff out the danger following a stray Mike Haywood pass on halfway.
But it was only a temporary reprieve, with Saints completely penned in, and Cobus Reinach's pass was picked off by Chris Ashton, who cruised in for the score.
Du Preez kicked and it was 10-0 after 12 minutes, with Saints having not been in Sale's half at all.
But they did manage to finally mount an attack soon after, earning a couple of penalties as they put the squeeze on, with Biggar slotting the second to cut the gap to seven points.
Saints and Reinach escaped soon after as the scrum-half saw his box kick charged down and Sale sent it wide, but Simon Hammersley knocked on.
Saints desperately needed a spark and they got it when Rory Hutchinson delivered a scything run that allowed his team to win a penalty deep in the Sale half.
The lineout worked well and the ball eventually went wide for flanker Ludlam to power over.
Biggar converted to level the scores at 10-10 and Sale were straight back at Saints, winning a penalty for a high tackle from Matt Proctor, but du Preez missed the target.
Saints were growing into the game and their backs were starting to cause real problems.
Proctor's brilliance released Taqele Naiyaravoro, who found himself one on one, but Sale scrambled and cleared.
Reinach was also on the charge into the Sale 22 soon after, with the hosts again having to get back quickly to prevent a try.
Saints had another big chance just before the break as Biggar found a brilliant touch with a penalty, but the lineout went astray as Sale kept the scores level.
The hosts were forced into more defending at the start of the second half as Tom Collins claimed Biggar's kick-off, but Saints couldn't find a way through.
And Sale made them pay as centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg spotted space and sped through the gap before celebrating with his side's replacements behind the posts.
Du Preez easily added the extras to make it 17-10 and, as in the first half, Saints had to come back from behind.
But Sale had their tails up and after Saints gave away yet another penalty in defence, Sale cranked up the heat from the lineout drive, sending Akker van der Merwe over.
Du Preez missed as Saints changed their props in the bid to stem the flow.
But the away side just couldn't get anything going and the only good thing for them was that du Preez was missing from the tee.
The Sale fly-half sent a long-range penalty wide after his team had won a penalty at the scrum, leaving the score at 22-10 with 20 minutes remaining.
Saints had to salvage something at the last soon after as three players combined to stop Byron McGuigan scoring in the corner.
More defending had to be done when Piers Francis saw his pass intercepted inside the Saints 22 and Sale knocked loudly on the door.
The Sharks were submerging Saints, who simply couldn't get out of their own half during a second period that was all going one way.
The black, green and gold eventually got some territory and possession, but every time they looked like gaining momentum, the ball was lost and a penalty was conceded.
Sale eventually got the ball back where they wanted it, frantically searching for the bonus-point score.
But Saints again held out, infuriating the home supporters who were unable to celebrate their side putting the icing on the Christmas cake.
Sale Sharks: Hammersley (Solomona 30); Ashton, S James, van Rensburg, McGuigan; R du Preez (MacGinty 68), de Klerk (Cliff 73); Oosthuizen (Harrison 58), van der Merwe (Langdon 77), John (Cooper-Woolley 53); Evans, Phillips (Postlethwaite 68); Ross (c), T Curry (B Curry 62), D du Preez.
Saints: Furbank; Collins (Tuala 60), Proctor (Francis 46), Hutchinson, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Reinach (Tupai 68); Waller (cc) (van Wyk 51), Haywood (Matavesi 62), Painter (O Franks 51); Moon, Ratuniyarawa (Bean 64); Lawes (Eadie 73), Ludlam, Harrison (cc).
Referee: JP Doyle