Northampton return to winning ways at home to Sale
Northampton claimed a morale-boosting 24-5 win over Sale after a much-improved performance which moved them to sixth place in the Aviva Premiership standings.
After four disappointing defeats, Saints returned to winning ways to maintain their impressive home record over Sale, inflicting a ninth successive defeat on the visitors at Franklin's Gardens.
Ben Foden, Tom Wood and Luther Burrell scored Northampton's tries with Stephen Myler converting all three and adding a penalty.
Denny Solomona scored a late consolation try for Sale, his first for the club since his controversial switch from rugby league.
George North was not included in the Northampton squad after recovering from the head injury he suffered in the game against Leicester on December 3. In light of the furore surrounding that incident, Saints opted not to select him and continued to monitor his condition.
North's place on the left wing was taken by debutant Juan Pablo Estelles, with prop Alex Waller making his 200th appearance for the club as Northampton made a dream start.
After dominating the opening exchanges they took a fourth minute lead when Foden finished off a flowing movement to score a try which Myler converted.
Three minutes later and Saints nearly were over again after Louis Picamoles stole possession to feed Ken Pisi. The wing raced 30 metres but was then hauled down narrowly short of the try-line as he attempted an off-load.
Nic Groom picked up the loose ball and crashed over but on review, the TMO ruled that Pisi's pass had gone forward.
The first quarter was all Northampton as Sale looked short of confidence. They made too many elementary errors enabling Saints to play with a freedom that they have rarely displayed this season.
The hosts' dominance was rewarded when from a line-out 30 metres out, skipper Wood was able to race away for the second try with Myler's conversion giving his side a 14-0 after 32 minutes.
Prospects looked bleak for Sale but they showed some spirit with their recent recruits from rugby league, wings Josh Charnley and Solomona both receiving their first passes of the game as they put the home defence under pressure.
Myler temporarily left the field to have a cut patched up and he was replaced by Premiership debutant Nafi Tuitavake before Sale suffered a further blow when Mike Phillips was sin-binned for a neck roll on Waller.
After the interval, Myler returned with Josh Beaumont coming on for Sale in place of Bryn Evans as the visitors surprisingly continued to dominate despite having only 14 men.
Phillips returned with no addition to the scoreboard but soon afterwards, Myler was off-target with a penalty attempt before Groom had another try ruled by the TMO as the scrum half lost possession as he dived for the line.
A Myler penalty extended the lead to 17-0 at the end of the third quarter before Solomona scored his first try for the club to give Sale some consolation.
Northampton had the final say when with the last movement of the match, Burrell brushed aside a couple of tackles to score his side's third.