Nutley at the double in Saints win
Ben Nutley touched down twice as Northampton eased into the semi-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup following a dominant 28-14 triumph over Sale Sharks.
Sale scored first through Henry Thomas but Northampton gradually took control and Nutley's double, plus tries from Sam Dickinson and Ben Foden, gave them a 28-7 lead at the break.
The Saints remained in control for most of the second half, but it the Sharks who had the final word when Viliami Fihaki went over for a consolation score.
Both teams displayed where their priorities lay before the match by selecting second-string sides for this knockout match.
With Sale fifth and Northampton second in the Aviva Premiership, they are both in contention for the title.
Irrespective of those changes, there was a bright opening to the encounter with the visitors showing impressive continuity with ball in hand before Sale mounted an incisive attack of their own.
Following a probing Nick Macleod kick into opposition territory, the hosts drove towards the line and Thomas touched down from close range. Their stand-off converted to give the Sharks a 7-0 lead.
But back came the Saints. It was reminiscent of the pressure which saw them dominate the second half of their league game two weeks ago.
Although they failed to score after the interval in their 19-6 defeat, this time Jim Mallinder's men managed to get across the whitewash when a dominant maul ended in Nutley going over.
Will Hooley levelled matters from the tee as Northampton began to take control of proceedings.
The driving game in particular was causing a number of problems for Steve Diamond's side and another powerful shove from the forwards resulted in Dickinson scoring.
Sale were struggling to get a foothold into the game as the away team's forwards dictated the match.
They were also showing a touch of dexterity with the ball in hand. Ken Pisi's wonderful 40-metre run and kick led to the Saints' third score as Hooley's grubber kick through saw Foden touch down.
An outstanding half for the visitors then finished with their third catch and drive try of the opening period with Nutley again crossing the line, after Thomas had been sin-binned for the hosts.
It was effectively game over even at that point, although Rob Miller did provide a glimmer of hope when he sparked a brief Sharks' attack.
However, Northampton were in complete command and continued to threaten the opposition gain-line. Fa'atoina Autagavaia, making a rare start, charged through some typically flimsy tackling to again put them on the front foot.
Although that move broke down as Saints eased off the gas, Sale's only significant attack of the half came with five minutes to go when Fihaki touched down for a consolation effort.