Saracens survive Sharks scare
Saracens survive Sharks scareSHARE
Saracens overturned a 3-10 half-time deficit to beat Sale Sharks 15-10 in a tense encounter at AJ Bell Stadium on Friday.
The Sharks scored the only try of the match through hooker Marc Jones but Charlie Hodgson, who spent 11 years at Sale, kicked five penalties to sink his old club.
For Saracens, it was a welcome victory after they came unstuck at Allianz Park last weekend and they returned to the top of the table while also avoiding a run of three straight defeats in all competitions for the first time since 2010.
Sale will rue Nick Macleod's missed 75th-minute penalty and a missed chance to steal a march on their play-off chasing rivals.
Saracens threatened the first try of the match after just three minutes thanks to a surprisingly deft kick through from hooker Jamie George.
Scotland centre Duncan Taylor won the foot race with Mark Cueto but the veteran wing prevented the score, albeit illegally in the eyes of referee Greg Garner.
Sarries kicked for the corner and while they couldn't convert that into a try – the story of their first half – they were awarded a penalty when Jones was pinged for not rolling away. Hodgson made no mistake for 3-0 to the visitors.
Back came Sale however and, not to be overawed, they levelled the scores at 3-3 on 15 minutes through Danny Cipriani's penalty.
Sarries were enjoying the better of the possession and the territory and they were creating opportunities – the problem for them was that the ball went to ground at the crucial moment or they were denied by some last-ditch Sale defending.
Never was that more true than on 18 minutes when Taylor burst towards the right-hand corner. The try-line appeared within his reach but, under pressure from Ciprani, he looked for Chris Ashton inside who could not gather the pass.
After weathering the storm it was Sale's turn to attack and whereas Saracens had been wasteful, the Sharks were ruthless.
Michael Paterson made a fine break and offloaded to James Gaskell who marched down the right touchline on 35 minutes. Garner awarded Sale a penalty and they showed their intent by kicking to the corner.
It has been an effective tactic for Sale recently and so it proved again when they won the line-out and drove over – Jones trucking the ball up and dotting down.
Cipriani made no mistake with the conversion while Hodgson was wide with a penalty into the wind just before the break, giving Sale a 10-3 lead at the interval.
Hodgson was on target however on 49 minutes to trim the deficit to just four after some fine work from Steve Borthwick at the breakdown.
And on 55 minutes Sarries were back to within a point after another superb penalty from Hodgson after the Sharks were penalised for not rolling away.
Hodgson continued to turn the screws and after Gaskell was penalised for a high tackle on the hour mark, a fourth penalty from the veteran flyhalf saw Sarries retake the lead.
Sale refused to bow but with Hodgson controlling proceedings, they enjoyed few forays into the Saracens half and even when they were well placed with 10 minutes remaining, scrumhalf Dwayne Peel knocked on.
They did however earn themselves a penalty on 75 minutes thanks to a fine chipped kick from Rob Miller but replacement Macleod saw his effort drift agonisingly wide before Hodgson wrapped things up with his fifth penalty late on.
For Sale Sharks:
Pens: Hodgson 5
Sale Sharks: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Thomas Brady, 13 Johnny Leota, 12 Sammy Tuitupou, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 James Gaskell, 7 David Seymour, 6 Dan Braid (captain), 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Andrei Ostrikov, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Eifion Lewis-Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Johnathan Mills, 20 Mark Easter, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Nick Macleod, 23 Tom Arscott.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 George Kruis, 4 Steve Borthwick (captain), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 James Johnston, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Ernst Joubert, 21 Neil De Kock, 22 Joel Tomkins, 23 Chris Wyles.
Referee: Gregory Garner
Assistant referees: Stuart Terheege, Paul Dix
TMO: David Sainsbury