Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond believed it was one game too far for his side after a heavy loss against Northampton Saints.
Sale made seven changes to the side which beat Gloucester last week – the result which ensured Aviva Premiership survival after London Welsh lost – and were duly punished 47-7 at Franklin’s Gardens.
But Diamond admitted it was a thumping, he still welcomed the experience it had given some of the younger players.
“We have had a hard season,” he said. “Since Christmas, we have had to psychologically get them up for every game and we have won seven of the ten.
“Today was just one push too far – we just couldn’t keep up with them.
“Our young front row got taught a lesson, which is good for them, they will certainly be better for it.”
Sale were on the back foot from 12 minutes in as fly-half Stephen Myler opened the scoring for the hosts before doubling the lead two minutes later.
And the Saints put distance between themselves and their visitors after Tom Wood crashed through the Sale’s defensive line and went over – Myler added the points.
Northampton continued to apply pressure and went over again with nine minute left in the first half through Lee Dickson’s quick tap-and-run before Myler took another conversion.
Only two minutes later the Saints twisted the knife once more through former Sale centre Luther Burrell, who capitalised on a bouncing ball after farcical scenes, yet Myler failed to convert.
Fifteen minutes after the break Northampton continued to run riot, securing their bonus point through winger Jamie Elliot, who capped off a cross-field move.
Though Myler failed to convert, Elliot was back on the scoresheet five minutes later, getting on the end of substitute Ryan Lamb’s cross-field kick, although Lamb couldn’t add the extras.
Try number six came from Kiwi James Wilson who went over in the corner – un-converted by Lamb – before Tom Holmes and Courtney Lawes were sin-binned on 72 minutes for fighting.
And Wilson took his second try for the Saints with three minutes remaining but Lamb failed to convert.
However, James Gaskell recovered some pride for the Sharks in the final seconds after Nathan Fowles broke through – Danny Cipriani converted.
Sale entertain London Wasps next Saturday at the Salford City Stadium for their final game of the season knowing they could potentially rise to ninth with a bonus-point victory.
Image courtesy of Sale Sharks, via YouTube, with thanks