Northampton Saints 17 Sale Sharks 14: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

When you sit back and think of all the players who Saints didn't field on Saturday, it makes the victory against play-off chasing Sale Sharks all the sweeter.

Sunday, 14th March 2021, 1:04 pm
James Grayson shone at fly-half (pictures: Peter Short)
James Grayson shone at fly-half (pictures: Peter Short)

A sizeable chunk of the black, green and gold budget was absent, with the likes of Owen Franks, Courtney Lawes and Dan Biggar, to name but a few, not involved.

There was also no David Ribbans, no Nick Isiekwe, no Alex Mitchell, no Taqele Naiyaravoro and no Tom Collins.

And Rory Hutchinson and Harry Mallinder weren't even utilised from the bench.

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But this wasn't about those who didn't play - it was about those who did.

It was about the likes of Teimana Harrison and James Grayson, who delivered huge displays despite having not played for weeks and, in Harrison's case, months.

They both got through the full 80 minutes in fine fashion, as did youngsters like Tommy Freeman and Fraser Dingwall.

Saints had far less experience on the field than a Sale side who called upon the likes of Lood de Jager and Faf de Klerk.

Piers Francis put the work in

But it didn't matter.

Because in the crunch moments, Saints showed their steel, denying Sale what would have been a valuable away victory in the race for the top four.

Instead, it was a valuable home victory.

Saints had to overcome myriad difficulties, most notably when they went down to 14 men during a Sale siege in the first period.

Tommy Freeman impressed once again

But the hosts actually won that 10-minute period with Ollie Sleightholme off the field 5-0 thanks to a Harrison try.

Chris Boyd's side were a picture of desire, and that was the case right until the end as they defended for their lives with the clock in the red.

All-action hero Tom Wood pouched a loose pass and charged forward in pursuit of a score that would have robbed Sale of a losing bonus point.

His attitude even after all the work he had put in was a microcosm of this Saints showing.

One saturated with resilience and resolve.

Sale stopped Wood from delivering a final flourish, but Saints kept possession and booted the ball out to put the seal on a vital victory.

It was only their second at home in the Premiership since December 2019.

And how important it was as they continue to cling on to the coat-tails of the top four ahead of another big battle, against Bristol Bears, at the Gardens next Sunday.

Saints have shown an ability to not only mix it with but to beat members of the top four this season.

And they will need to do it all over again when the Bears come calling next weekend.

They may have some key players back, they may not.

But what was shown on Saturday is that every member of this squad is ready to step in and step up when it matters most.

And that can only be a good thing as they continue their bid to book their place in the play-offs and the latter stages of the Challenge Cup in the weeks and months to come.

How they rated...

GEORGE FURBANK

Switched back to full-back from fly-half and didn't do too much wrong in windy conditions... 6.5

TOMMY FREEMAN

Looks better and better with every passing game, showing just what a huge prospect he is as he remains unfazed by life in the Premiership... 7.5

FRASER DINGWALL

Seemed to be everywhere at times in the first half, making big hits and pouncing on loose Sale passes... 7.5

PIERS FRANCIS

A really strong centre showing as he defended with real desire and attacked with vigour, again displaying his importance to the team and a largely youthful backline... 7.5

OLLIE SLEIGHTHOLME

Was unfortunate to be the one who paid the price for persistent Saints offending as he headed to the sin sin during the first period, but got stuck in during the second half... 6.5

JAMES GRAYSON

Hadn't featured since starting at Wasps in early February but there were no signs of rust as the fly-half delivered a superb showing, especially from the tee... 8

TOM JAMES

Continues to look like a fantastic acquisition for Saints as he shows sharpness at scrum-half, fizzing the ball around and pulling the strings well... 7.5

ALEX WALLER

The co-captain was a picture of determination and he helped to lead the team well against a big Sale side... 7

REECE MARSHALL

Not an easy day for lineout operators as the wind caused problems, but the hooker did okay in open play and was part of a strong Saints scrum... 6.5

EHREN PAINTER

A really big performance from the prop, who is now making himself at home in the first-team front row... 7.5

ALEX MOON

Led the team out on his 50th Saints appearance and put in plenty of work to aid the cause at Franklin's Gardens... 7

ALEX COLES

Another valuable experience against some seasoned Sale performers and he could be pleased with his efforts... 7

TOM WOOD

A towering performance from the experienced star as he put so much into this, working so hard until the end, when he pouched the ball that put the seal on Saints' victory... 8

LEWIS LUDLAM

Was hit by a nasty-looking injury in the second period and it was a sign of his desire as he continually put his body on the line for the cause... 7

TEIMANA HARRISON - CHRON STAR MAN

Hadn't played since Boxing Day due to injury but you'd never have known as he soldiered on in relentless fashion, even adding a try to his hugely impressive showing... 8

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

JJ TONKS (for Ludlam 50)

Took a while to settle into the game, giving away a couple of early penalties, but grew into it and eventually delivered an important contribution... 6.5

NICK AUTERAC (for Waller 51)

Helped to win a scrum penalty soon after coming on and this was another strong cameo from the prop... 6.5

MIKE HAYWOOD (for Marshall 51)

Threw himself into proceedings with real desire but found himself on the wrong side of the referee once or twice... 6

PAUL HILL (for Painter 51)

Carried with real force to try to help Saints keep Sale on the back foot and didn't do anything wrong here... 6