Sale 34 - Northampton 14
By Whaley Shark
December 27 2005
Boxing day at Edgeley Park. From the packed crowd rises the miasma of yesterday's brussels sprouts and brandy butter. 10,641 souls with terminal Christmas pudding poisoning ease themselves gingerly into their seats and await the show. Whaley Shark pops another mince pie and brings us this...
Santa has been generous to the Sale fans so far this year- top of the Premiership, top of Heineken Cup Pool 1, and a flurry of key players renewing contracts. Would an under-strength Northampton Saints provide a gift-wrapped 4-try bonus on Boxing Day? The Whaley Shark ventures into sports journalism………
Twenty-four hours ago, I was sitting by a roaring fire with my sense of smell overpowered by roasting turkey and steaming Christmas pudding; now, it’s a grey, drizzly day in Stockport and all I can smell is liniment wafting from the changing rooms. Nevertheless, the excitement mounts as the ground fills up and an hour of soaking up the atmosphere and chatting to my neighbours passes quickly by. All the talk before the game is of Northampton’s injury problems and the contrast with a Sale side chosen from a near-full strength squad. We settle down, Sharky’s romantic overtures to Independance are ineffective, as usual, and then it’s kick-off.
The opening exchanges are inconclusive, although Saints lose a prop to an ankle injury within the first 5 minutes. Northampton have a long-range penalty attempt, which goes wide, and Sale open the scoring with a Charlie Hodgson penalty after 7 minutes. Play goes to and fro, with neither side gaining a clear advantage until a Northampton knock on, which gives a scrum on the half way line. From a quick ball, Charlie fires a cross kick, perfectly coordinated with Chris Mayor who is flying down the left wing at full pace and the Saints defence, caught flat-footed, has no chance. The conversion goes wide, for 8-0 after 10 minutes. Shortly after the restart, the defender’s nightmare emerges- Andrew Sheridan at pace. When he’s stopped, Jason White carries on, Northampton infringe and Charlie hits the penalty from half way. Another penalty a couple of minutes later, and it looks like Santa André is delivering the present the fans want- 14-0 up with 15 minutes gone.
Saints start to get into the game a bit more now- they run a loose kick back at the Sale defence and are only stopped by a solid Jason Robinson tackle. Sale give away a penalty for 14-3. Northampton raise the pressure, with a penalty kick coming back off the post, and then push hard for a try, gaining an advantage. In spite of a couple of big tackles from Magnus Lund, they cross the line but, with help from the TV replay, the referee rules the ball was held up. The referee goes back for a penalty in front of the posts which Reihana kicks comfortably- 14-6 after 24 minutes.
After a scrappy passage of play, Mark Cueto finds touch 10 metres out from the Northampton line. Jiggery-pokery in the line out gives Northampton a free kick which finds Quates, not touch, and he puts Saints back exactly where they came from- try again, boys! Sale win possession, Charlie Hodgson makes a break and sets Chris Mayor free. Northampton infringe and Charlie kicks the penalty. A Sale clearance from the restart allows Saints a quick throw and, going through a couple of phases, they win a penalty near half way, but it’s too far for Reihana. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, Sale win a lineout on the Northampton 22 and the Sale forwards get a good shove on in the resulting maul. Andy Titterell, the Mighty Atom, charges in and the whole mass starts to roll towards the Northampton line. In the event, Sale concede a penalty and the pressure is off. Saints push down the field in phase after phase. Robert Todd is sin-binned for some naughtiness in the ruck, and Northampton kick the penalty- 17-9 just before half time. Northampton press again, but learn a hard lesson- unless you want to end up smeared across the field, you shouldn’t try and go round Seabass on the outside, and that’s it for the first half..
At half time, Wiggy comes on for Courrent, but there is no immediate change in the pattern of the game. A Northampton breakway is smothered, with a hefty Charlie Hodgson tackle a key part of the defence. Eventually, Sale win a line-out and after several phases, Magnus Lund breaks clear just for a second. He is caught but Saints are penalised. Robert Todd comes back on, Charlie goes for the corner and this one’s for the forwards. After a series of rucks and mauls, Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe drives over in the right corner. Charlie converts for 24-9 after 49 minutes.
From the restart, Quates makes a run and is barged into touch. The crowd don’t like it but the referee lets it go. Northampton kick to a shaken Quates after the lineout and he juggles the ball before it bounces off his head, hits his hands and goes forward. Knock-on. At the scrum, Sale win a free kick, though. Charlie kicks long and Northampton clear to half way. For the lineout, Sale replace Barry Stewart, who seems to be hurt, with Stu Turner. Wiggy’s quick service to the backs seems to be helping now, with Sale running through multiple phases although, in the end, Northampton clear to touch on the Sale 22. The struggle continues until Northampton’s backs make a good break down the right. They retain possession and Luke Myring crosses. Reihana misses the conversion- 24-14 after 58 minutes.
Northampton clear from the restart to give Sale a lineout on half way. Charlie tries his cross kick again, but the defender is ready for Quates and, in the collision, Quates knocks on. On the hour, Sale make changes en masse- Sebastien Bruno, Nathan Bonner-Evans and Christian Day come on for Andy Titterell, Sebastien Chabal and Chris Jones. Freshened up, the Sale pack give Northampton a hard time in the scrum and Charlie kicks the resulting penalty- 27-14 with 17 minutes to go. After the restart, Sale kick long, Magnus Lund puts in a superb tackle and Northampton scramble to get the ball away, finally throwing it into touch. Sale have sustained possession from the lineout but knock on just as they seem finally to have broken through. The Sale forwards have the upper hand, win the scrum against the head and, after a couple of phases, Northampton concede a penalty. Charlie kicks for the corner and after a period of desperate Northampton defending, Sébastien Bruno crosses. Charlie converts- 34-14 with 11 minutes to go.
After the restart, Sale are penalised and Northampton go for the corner. Their forwards fool not only the Sale defence, but most of their colleagues as well. Then, from a ruck, they quickly move the ball left and must surely score but for a last ditch tackle from Wiggy, putting his target firmly into touch. From the lineout, Sale clear and the Northampton winger catches the ball cleanly, followed a fraction of a second later by a crunching Cueto tackle. Northampton throw caution to the winds and push hard, before knocking on 5 metres out. Chris Mayor is sent to cool off in the sin bin and Northampton attack again. Sale hold out, with one attack stopped dead by a stunning Nathan Bonner-Evans tackle. Eventually, Northampton lose possession and, from the scrum, Quates makes a 30 metre break, desperately looking for the fourth try. Northampton concede a penalty, Charlie kicks long, Northampton knock on and the game is over.
All in all, a rather scrappy game- the weakened Northampton side wasn’t so weak after all and, while Sale were always comfortable, the Saints fought hard and fought to the end. A four try bonus would have been unfair on them. Man of the match- well, it’s Magnus for me, but I may just be biased.