Director of rugby Alex Sanderson was upset Manu Tuilagi did not get to show what he can do to England head coach Steve Borthwick after a red card in Sale Sharks’ defeat at Northampton Saints.

Tuilagi saw red just 14 minutes in, as hosts Northampton struggled to deal with Sale’s physicality up front and Sharks built a lead thanks to tries from Arron Reed, Tom Curry, Rob Du Preez and Ewan Ashman.

Sale were 24-7 up at half time but it proved to be a game of two halves as Saints impressively came roaring back into the game thanks to tries from Tommy Freeman and Matt Proctor, reducing the gap to 27-19.

Sam Dugdale’s try looked to put the match out of reach, but when Ashman was sent to the sin-bin and Sharks went down to 13 men, Saints scored unanswered through a penalty try and further scores from Callum Braley and Fraser Dingwall to claim a memorable win.

Sanderson said: “He (Tuilagi) is gutted. He’s apologised and said he owes us. He fully owns what happened out there and that’s the kind of man he is.

“I know he will pay us back but all of that is tough to take when you’re still reeling from a game that we could have won and we probably should have won.

“This was a game where he wanted to show how good he still is to England and those guys who are watching.

“I’m gutted for him that he didn’t get to do that, he didn’t get to showcase what he’s about and I want that for him.”

Sanderson is aware that Tuilagi’s red card was not the sole reason for defeat, with his side’s second-half performance worrying him.

He added: “We went in at half time with the focus being on defence but we didn’t get that part of the game right mentally and they scored 31 points in the second half.”

Sale still left Northampton with two bonus points and remain in an excellent position to claim a home semi-final spot.

But home coach Phil Dowson was the happier man on the day after his side’s 38-34 triumph.

He said: “It’s kind of our season in a nutshell really.

“In the first half, we were very poor, gave penalties away, didn’t have the ball in their half, played in the middle of the field and couldn’t deal with the maul so we conceded four tries.

“It was unacceptable, but what you have to congratulate the players on is the heart, the desire and the character to come back.

“We got back on page, played properly, got back in the game and we kept fighting. Those are the most important things from our point of view.”