Amlin Challenge Cup 2014: Talking points as Saints topple Sale
Amlin Challenge Cup 2014: Three talking points as Northampton Saints beat Sale Sharks
Kick, catch, drive, repeat
That was the exit strategy for the Saints and it worked to perfection with three of their tries coming from the power of their forwards – not even their first-choice forwards, which makes it all the more impressive. Their final drive also had a hint of the training ground about it as stand-in outside-half Will Hooley kicked through on the angle for England international Ben Foden to run on to, his closest competition for the ball coming from a team-mate. It was a first-half performance that they had been lacking of late after three successive defeats in all competitions and a first win with Hooley at 10 in the absence of the injured Stephen Myler. Once they had worked the catch and drive for the third try, the game was comfortable for their defence. Both sides have eyes on securing a top four place in the Aviva Premiership and the respective squads showed that, despite it being a European quarter-final. It was a disappointment to see both sides rest key personnel, but Saints proved on Thursday night they can go far deeper than Sale when their star names are out of the equation and came up with a performance that showcases their emerging talent and shows they can right the wrongs from last month’s LV=Cup final defeat to Exeter and last week’s East Midlands derby defeat. They’ve won the tournament twice already and, with a home tie at Franklin’s Gardens in three weeks’ time, they will be fancied to reach the final at the Arms Park in May regardless of who they play in the semi-finals. The likes of George North, Luther Burrell and Courtney Lawes may even return.
Poor Sharks outclassed
Surprise wins over the Saints and Bath in the Premiership have given Sale Sharks an eye on a lucrative top four place and time will tell if the decision to leave out players of the ability of Danny Cipriani comes back to haunt them. Both sides may have been markedly different from their Premiership clash two weeks earlier, but both sides made a comparable number of changes and the Sharks were outgunned and, at times, guilty of their own downfall with indiscipline and inaccuracies allowing the Saints to cruise to victory. Steve Diamond was understandably disappointed – the Sharks supremo concluded that none of his players had a good game, whereas the Saints fringe players stepped up and showed their class. England prop Henry Thomas was notably at fault despite opening the scoring in the first six minutes – ignoring the referee Romain Poite’s warnings and ending up in the sin bin with three minutes of the first half remaining. Ruthless Saints duly scored their fourth try a minute later. Saints changes arguably made no difference, whereas there was a clear drop off in performance from Sale compared to recent weeks. The only upshot is they can focus on getting into the top four. With Saracens, Leicester Tigers, Bath and Harlequins all in European action this weekend, it may turn out to be a masterstroke if those sides have to play an extra game at the end of the month.