Northampton Saints book Challenge Cup Semi-final

Northampton Saints booked a place in the Amlin Challenge Cup Semi-finals when they beat Sale Sharks 14-28 in the quarter final at AJ Bell Stadium

The Saints kicked off a wonderful weekend of European action with a convincing
victory over their fellow English outfit at the AJ Bell Stadium to set up a
home semi-final with either Stade Francais or Harlequins.

A dominant first-half display left Sale with far too much to do in the second
40 minutes after the 2009 Amlin Challenge Cup winners crossed for four tries,
with three of those coming direct from driven lineouts.

Openside flanker Ben Nutley scored twice for Jim Mallinder’s men, with Sam
Dickinson and Ben Foden also on the scoresheet as Saints put the disappointment
of three straight defeats well and truly behind them.

The evening promised to be far more positive for 2002 and 2005 tournament winners
Sale when England prop Henry Thomas touched down with just five minutes gone
but it was all downhill from there for the Sharks. Ironically, it was a lineout
that provided the platform for their solitary try, with Thomas stretching over
from a metre out to give his side a dream start.

Nick Macleod sent over the conversion but Saints were level 11 minutes later
after Nutley eased over from a close-range lineout.

Having gone through the phases only to be repelled by a stiff Sale defence
moments earlier, the visitors were rewarded for their adventure after fly half
Will Hooley opted to find touch rather than take a simple shot at goal.

James Craig claimed clean lineout ball five metres out and, when the rest of
the Saints pack drove on, Nutley peeled off to dive over unopposed.

Hooley added the extras to go with the two kicks from two attempts from his
last visit to Salford and Northampton finally had something to shout about having
dominated territory for much of the opening quarter.

It was a similar story 30 seconds before the half hour as Dickinson powered
over after Saints had yet again chosen a five-metre lineout over a simple three
points. It was an even easier score second time around, with the former Rotherham
captain ruddering the ship as the Sale defence splintered yet again.

And things got worse for Sale just three minutes later when Foden latched on
to Hooley’s well-placed grubber kick to put Saints in command. And if the first
two scores were built on brute force, the third was all about speed of thought
and flight of foot, with Lee Dickson’s clever dummy and equally impressive pass
followed by a fine chip and chase from wing Ken Pisi, before Hooley’s class
set up Foden from full back.

And the first-half scoring wasn’t finished there, either, as Sale’s rolling
maul defincies reared their ugly head once more to leave them with a mountain
to climb at the interval.

This time they could at least blame a shortage of numbers after Thomas was
sin binned for a scrum offence just a minute before Nutley dotted down for Northampton’s
fourth try.

The nature of the latest score would have been even more painful for Sale,
though, as Nutley’s second came from close to 15 metres out but looked to the
layman’s eye to have been more straightforward than those that had gone before.

With Hooley slotting three futher conversions, Northampton started the second
half with a 28-7 advantage and, although Sale pressed hard and went close through
Russian lock Andrei Ostrikov just before the hour, the increasingly damp conditions
made a comeback even more unlikely.

They did give themselves hope when yet another driven lineout led to a score
from No8 Viliami Fihaki but with just six minutes left on the clock it would
have taken something truly special to turn things around despite Joe Ford’s
well-struck conversion and Craig

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