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- European Rugby Challenge Cup
- Quarter Final
- 3rd Apr 2014
- KO 20:00
- Ground: The AJ Bell Stadium
- Att: 4,650
Amlin Challenge Cup: Northampton see off Sale Sharks to move into last four
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.
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|European Rugby Challenge Cup|
|Sunday 25th January|
|European Rugby Challenge Cup|
|London Welsh 12 - 17 Lyon Olympique|
|Saturday 24th January|
|Exeter 45 - 3 Bayonne|
|La Rochelle 20 - 30 Connacht|
|Newport Gwent D'gons 30 - 19 Stade Francais|
|Bucuresti 10 - 52 Newcastle|
|Grenoble 3 - 28 Cardiff Blues|
|Rovigo 6 - 34 London Irish|
|Friday 23rd January|
|Edinburgh 38 - 20 Bordeaux-Begles|
|Thursday 22nd January|
|Brive 20 - 31 Gloucester|
|Oyonnax 20 - 3 Zebre|
|Sunday 18th January|
|Connacht 24 - 33 Exeter|
|Saturday 17th January|
|Lyon Olympique 21 - 19 Edinburgh|
|Bayonne 14 - 0 La Rochelle|
|Newcastle 29 - 40 Newport Gwent D'gons|
|London Irish 43 - 41 Grenoble|
|Zebre 23 - 13 Brive|
|Gloucester 33 - 3 Oyonnax|
|Stade Francais 47 - 12 Bucuresti|
|Friday 16th January|
|Bordeaux-Begles 26 - 3 London Welsh|
|Cardiff Blues 104 - 12 Rovigo|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com