North helps Saints to victory
George North scored his first try for Northampton as Saints drew level with Saracens at the top of the Aviva Premiership table following a 33-14 victory over Sale.
The British Lions winger was one of five try-scorers for Northampton as they powered past Sale despite suffering the only yellow card of the game.
Luther Burrell, George Pisi, Lee Dickson and Phil Dowson also touched down and Stephen Myler kicked four conversions for the hosts. Mark Cueto and Marc Jones scored tries for Sale.
Even though Danny Cipriani was short with a 50-metre penalty effort in the opening minutes it was Sale who started the better.
A well-structured move got them into the home 22. Captain and former All Black Dan Braid got in behind the Northampton defence down the right touchline, but chose not to pass to Cueto on his outside and was hauled down eight metres short.
Instead Northampton opened the scoring with their first visit to the 22, with Dylan Hartley softening up the Sharks defence before Burrell scythed through from 10 metres out. Myler, in his 200th game for Northampton, knocked over the conversion.
North scored his first try in his fourth game since signing for Northampton - and it was one of the easiest of his career. Sustained pressure saw Jamie Elliott get within inches of the line before he popped up an offload for the big Welshman to dot down in the left corner.
It was already looking like a routine win for Northampton and their third try came after 30 minutes when Dickson ran round on the loop from a lineout and spotted a big gap before offloading for Pisi to dive between the posts. Myler made it 19-0.
Saints were putting in some big hits in defence, but Cipriani managed to offload while being poleaxed by Burrell and as Sale homed in on the try-line, Calum Clark was forced to kill the ball on the five-metre line. Referee David Rose had no hesitation in showing him the yellow card.
With the clock dead Cueto finally made Sale's extra man and intense pressure tell as he cut back on a hard line, blasting past two tacklers to touch down for Cipriani to convert and make it 19-7 at the break.
Cipriani missed a relatively simple penalty while Clark was still off the pitch and with their full compliment Northampton found the bonus point try.
After 50 minutes Sale brought on four replacements, while Northampton sent on just Samu Manoa and it was the American who made the biggest impact, powering through the white line and offloading to Clark to set the ball rolling.
Northampton smashed their way up to the Sale try-line and Dickson, who was outstanding in front of England coaches Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree, faked a pass to Burrell before squirming over.
Elliott looked to have scored a stunning fifth try as he collected his own kick, but the TMO showed the ball had clipped the touchline before bouncing back into his arms.
Phil Dowson did score Northampton's fifth after a fantastic break from number eight Sam Dickinson, who seared through the white line and sidestepped a tackler before offloading. A couple of passes later and Dowson had squirmed over.
In the final minute Sale had some compensation with a lineout drive handing Jones a try.