Rugby - Northampton Saints 24 Sale Sharks 17

IT’S a sign of the times when Sale Sharks visit a venue like Franklins Gardens, gain a losing bonus point and are disappointed that they didn’t come away with more.

The remedy is in their own hands. Defensively superb, Sharks conceded too many penalties and were punished by in-form kicker Stephen Myler. To make matters worse, they played twenty minutes of the game a man short, with Andrew Sheridan and Sam Tuitupou shown yellow cards.

Not for the first time this season, Sharks’ own kicker Nick Macleod again stepped up to the plate, slotting over a final-minute penalty to restore the seven-point margin on the scoreboard for a ‘losing bonus’ point. Sharks are one of a chasing pack in mid table, and may well find that this point proves vital at the season’s end on May 5th.

On a greasy pitch and a chilly day, the sides played most of the game between the 22 metre lines. Saints led 12-3 at half time, all the scoring coming from penalties from Myler (4) and Macleod. Sheridan’s yellow card came on the stroke of half time for not rolling away – a harsh verdict, awarded with alacrity.

Macleod and Myler added another penalty apiece before the game’s only try, which came from Sharks’ Mark Cueto after 50 minutes. Captain Tuitupou started the surge, which was followed by Miller and Leota, who supplied the pass for a classic winger’s try out wide.

Myler had eased the score to 18-11 before the 59th minute, when a high challenge by Tuitupou saw referee Garner brandish a yellow card after consultation with a touch judge, a delayed decision seemingly endorsed by pictures on a big screen in their view.

Sharks kept chipping away. Macleod making the score 18-14 five minutes later. Myler’s seventh penalty took the score to 21-14 – still a bonus point for the Sharks. With two minutes to go, they inexplicably overshot a defensive lineout. Saints found replacement fly half Lamb ‘in the pocket’ to send over a drop goal and that precious point looked lost. But no – one last Sharks’ charge and, for the second week running, a late Macleod penalty, his fourth of the match, went unerringly between the sticks from wide right to re-create that seven point margin of defeat. It was Sharks’ sixth losing bonus point of the season.

Apart from the ever reliable Macleod, there were good performances from Marc Jones, Andrei Ostrikov and Richie Vernon. In the front row, Andrew Sheridan was very effective and Vadim Cobilas presented compact opposition to the powerful Soane Tonga’uiha when he came on as a replacement for Tony Buckley. The Sharks are an attractive, developing side, but still have work to do on their attacking ploys and at the breakdown.

"This was a really good benchmark for us," said Tony Hanks, Sharks Head Coach. "Not many teams come here and get a losing bonus point. We've come a long way since the start of the season."

Messenger Man of the Match – Russian lock Andrei Ostrikov.

Sharks have a vital home game against London Wasps on Friday (7.45pm) Tickets 08444 994 994.

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