Sale Sharks 30 Northampton Saints 6: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

For those who only saw the scoreline and not the action at the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday evening, it would appear Saints suffered a standard beating at the hands of Sale Sharks.

Sunday, 7th November 2021, 10:34 pm
Updated Sunday, 7th November 2021, 10:36 pm
Alex Waller in action at the AJ Bell Stadium

After all, they have a horrible record there, having won just four of their 13 matches at the ground since it opened.

But there was more detail to this story than the 30-6 conclusion suggests.

Saints had the territory, possession and penalties to secure far more than the two James Grayson kicks at goal that they completed.

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Grayson missed a couple of penalties in tough conditions, and that was amplified by a brilliant kicking display from his opposite number, AJ MacGinty.

Then there were the penalties that Saints kicked to the corner.

Time and again they had chances to close the gap on their hosts, but time and again they were repelled.

They couldn’t find the power and precision they needed to sink the Sharks.

And they were bitten by more than one try concession.

It wasn't so much that they were overpowered as many expected them to be, especially with a massive 23 players missing.

It was just that they lacked the power to do the overpowering themselves.

And in a game that they were well in touch in at half-time - Sale only led 13-6 at the break - it was all about who blinked first.

As it happened, it was Saints, at the start of both halves.

The black, green and gold felt aggrieved about Akker van der Merwe's effort from a splintered lineout, and they left far too much space for Marland Yarde to score early in the second period.

MacGinty masterminded that effort, and the kicker just kept twisting the knife with successful kick after successful kick.

Grayson, who has been in good form from the tee this season, couldn't enjoy as much success.

But this was about far more than a couple of missed penalties.

It was about the chances that weren't taken in open play.

Saints huffed and puffed but they rarely looked like truly troubling the Sharks, who defended with real resilience in the driving rain.

Sale refused to allow any openings and though they skated on thin ice with the referee, conceding a string of penalties that could easily have reduced them to 14 men, there was still no way through.

In contrast, the Sharks found their way over the line three times at the other end of the field.

And it was that ruthlessness in the red zone that proved decisive.

For Saints, it is another tough fixture chalked off.

Even the title-winning team of 2013/14 found life tough at the AJ Bell Stadium so there is no shame in that, especially when you consider how many players were missing here.

But Saints will still have left a few regrets on the field as they will have felt they could have at least been a lot closer to their hosts on this occasion.

They now have two welcome weeks of respite from the serious stuff as they bid to recharge the batteries and get players back for the trip to Bristol at the end of the month.

And how they could do with a win there as they look to get their league campaign back on track after a couple of frustrating defeats.

How they rated...

TOMMY FREEMAN

Back from England duty and straight into the thick of it on a tough night for full-backs, but he did okay here... 5

TOM COLLINS

Managed to get across and cover to stop Sale in dangerous positions during the first half but there was little action for him in attacking areas... 5

PIERS FRANCIS

Came into the starting 15 at late notice and looked hungry to carry the fight to Sale, but he was met with fierce resistance... 5

RORY HUTCHINSON

Found himself a little isolated in attack on a couple of occasions and wasn't able to play his stylish natural game in such torrid conditions... 5

COURTNALL SKOSAN

Had scored five tries in two Saints appearances prior to this but there were no real chances for the flying winger here... 5

JAMES GRAYSON

Missed a couple of penalties and conceded a couple also, but got stuck in for his team, making nine tackles, missing none... 5

TOM JAMES

Admitted after the game that he wasn't totally happy with his display, but there was one lovely kick which showed the class he possesses... 5

ALEX WALLER

Looked fired up here, with one chargedown and chase evidence of that, while he also held his own at scrum time... 5.5

JAMES FISH

Was left to rue one moment when he couldn't gather the slippery ball from an overthrown Sale lineout in the home side's 22, but was largely secure aside from that... 5.5

PAUL HILL

Wasn't really able to get in the game as he would have liked as Sale stopped Saints getting any meaningful space... 5

DAVID RIBBANS

Thundered into the opposition on a few occasions as he tried to show his physicality, but Sale were a tough nut to crack... 5.5

ALEX MOON

Did what he could to get involved in the action and got his tackles in, but the opposition held firm... 5

ALEX COLES

Came in at late notice after Juarno Augustus was forced to withdraw from the team due to injury, but couldn't have a real say in this one... 5

LEWIS LUDLAM

Came back from England duty and put everything he had into this for his club, carrying and making tackles at will... 6.5

KARL WILKINS

Made his debut and took a bang on the head that needed treatment as he got stuck in for his new side... 6

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

MIKE HAYWOOD (for Fish 57)

Didn't do much wrong here as he made his tackles and helped Saints to keep hold of the ball at lineout time... 5

EHREN PAINTER (for Hill 57)

Saints remained steady at the scrum when he came on but he wasn't able to use his physicality too often in open play... 5

CHRON STAR MAN - AJ MacGinty (Sale Sharks)