A tense and tense first 40 minutes followed by an exciting and blistering second half as Northampton Saints beat Sale 21-17 to go top of the Gallagher Premiership rugby table.
Sale looked to have taken control of the tie when Luke Cowan put Dickey's free to go 14-0, but some quick thinking from George Furbank and Alex Mitchell and their resolutely tough defending gave the hosts their sixth win. On the bounce.
Northampton Saints moved themselves to the top of the Gallagher Premiership table after a stirring second-half comeback to secure four points against Sale Sharks at Franklin Gardens.
The first 40 minutes were an arm-wrestling affair with both sides focusing on defensive solidity and territorial control. Naturally, the tight affair was little for the fans to enjoy, but a second half full of energy and determination lifted the energy on a cold and windy day in Northampton.
Captain George Furbank was a major catalyst in a stunning comeback, scoring his own try and forcing referee Matthew Carle to award the hosts a penalty try after a quick-thinking knock-on penalty.
Before that, however, much of the competition suggested it would firmly control sales. Josh Carpenter's try at half-time was where the visitors made their mark. The back scored the only points in a tumultuous first half through a rare hole in the defence.
Alex Sanderson made sure they carried that momentum into the next phase of the game, taking just over seven minutes to double their lead to 14. Hooker Luke Cowan-Dickey made his first start this month and crossed the line. After a series of penalties and grids in favor of the visitors. Sam James and Rob du Preez led the back line defensively, the latter making a crucial try-saving tackle on Ollie Sleightholme who appeared to be aiming for a corner.
Just as it looked like Sale were finally making their mark and taking control, Saints captain George Furbank finally fired up the home supporters. The fullback flew through Sale's defense in the 53rd minute as his side managed to build Sale's solid blue wall in the center of the pitch.
The match began to turn into the exciting clash that everyone was expecting. George Ford added three points to Sale's lead in the 65th minute with a pinpoint drop goal for Alex Mitchell to snipe from the base of the ruck. The comeback happened with three points separating the two.
As Northampton rose to the occasion, Sale retreated. They missed 39 tackles in 80 minutes. But Asher Oboku-Fordjour made a tackle they didn't miss, tackling Fourbank offside, the fullback heading for the line, a penalty try and a four-point lead for the hosts.
The dying moments were tense as Saints had a chance to steal a throw and Alex Mitchell comfortably booted the ball minutes later to seal victory for Northampton with a late lineout.
Man of the Match: George Furbank (Northampton Saints)
The captain made nine of his nine wins as captain, providing two key moments in Northampton's comeback.
While his second-half performances won plaudits, the fullback enjoyed a kick-ass first half. Sale predictably takes the ball into the air and returns it to the backfield, keeping his side's territory strong.
It is no coincidence that his side has improved as much as he has, proving yet again that this northerner's positive play revolves around him.
Northampton Saints: George Furbank 9, Tommy Freeman 6, Burger Odendaal 7, Rory Hutchinson 7, Ollie Sleightholme 8, Finn Smith 7, Alex Mitchell 8
Alex Waller 7, Sam Madesi 6, Trevor Davison 6, Sunya Munga 7, Alex Coles 7, Angus Scott-Young 7, Tom Pearson 8, Juarno Augustus 7
Sale Sharks: Joe Carpenter 7, Tom Roebuck 6, Sam James 7, Rob du Preece 7, Aaron Reid 5, George Ford 6, Gus Warr 5
Ross Harrison 5, Luke Cowan-Dickey 7, Nick Schoenaert 5, Kobus Wise 5, Jonny Hill 7, Ernst van Rijn 6, Ben Curry 7, Jean-Luc Du Preez 7
Try the 38' for sale! Fullback Joe Carpenter slices through a hole in the Saints 22 to score the first try of the afternoon.
Try the 48' for sale! Hooker Luke Cowan-Dickey crashed out after hitting the hosts' try-line after a few phases from the visitors.
53' Try for Northampton! George Furbank finally got his team on the scoreboard by diving in the corner unopposed.
58' Ford make it three George Ford scores a pinpoint drop goal to extend Sale's lead to three.
66' Try for Northampton Alex Mitchell scores his fifth try in eight games for Northampton, sniping over the line after Sleatholm's break.
70' penalty attempt! Farbank takes a quick penalty inside Sale's 22 when Asher Obogie-Fordjour tackles the Saints captain offside.
- The win marks Northampton's sixth on the bounce.
- Sale missed an incredible 39 tackles during the game, something Alex Sanderson had to fix early in the new year.
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