Saracens halted a run of two straight defeats as they scored three tries in an entertaining contest with Sale despite the detioriating weather conditions, narrowly missing out on the bonus point with the last play of the game. Both sides had their moments of incisive attack, but crucially, Saracens kept the scoreboard ticking over in a game which saw them efficiently make more ground than their opponents with far fewer passes and runs, whilst the visitors paid for their discipline.
After the false start of last week, Duncan Taylor duly made his return at full back, with Chris Ashton and Nathan Earle occupying the wings outside a centre partnership of Marcelo Bosch and Brad Barritt, as the half-back combination continued to be Alex Lozowski and Richard Wigglesworth. Forwards-wise, Titi Lamositele made a rare start at loosehead, alongside Schalk Brits and Juan Figallo, whilst Michael Rhodes and Jim Hamilton teamed up at lock and the back row comprised of Kelly Brown, Premiership debutant Joel Conlon and Jackson Wray. Sale started with Mike Haley at full back, with the former Rugby League duo of Denny Solomona and Josh Charnley on the wings, with Will Addison and Mark Jennings in the centre. Sam James was at fly half with Mike Phillips at scrum half. Onto the pack, and Ross Harrison, Rob Webber and Halani Aulika formed the front row, with Bryn Evans and George Nott in the second row, and a back row of TJ Iaone, Magnus Lund and Josh Beaumont.
Sale made a bright start, taking a first minute lead as Saracens were penalised for laying down in the tackle, and Addison clipped in the three points via the post, and the Sharks continued to do well in the early stages as they pressed their hosts back with an intelligent kicking game until the home side forced a clearing penalty. Addison was an early departure from the match as he was injured when challenging for a high ball and replaced by AJ MacGinty. Sarries' first real attack came moments later as Lozowski and Taylor broke through the middle to slip the ball to Ashton on the right wing, who chipped ahead and forced Jennings to carry the ball over the line. From the consequent five metre scrum, Saracens compressed then stretched the play as long passes from Bosch and Lozowski found Taylor on the left to go over in the corner, but the difficult conversion was missed, and on the quarter hour, the Sharks had trickled ahead again when lengthy deliberations over a clash between Hamilton and Nott saw the decision go the way of the visitors and MacGinty stepped up for a 6-5 lead after 15 minutes.
However, Sale failed to claim the restart, and from the resultant scrum, the hosts forced a penalty to restore their lead through Lozowski, and on 20 minutes, profited again from an error by the visitors as a stolen lineout just inside Sarries' half was charged onto by Conlon and Wigglesworth's kick forward was collected by Ashton ahead of the covering defence, allowing him to advance and go in at the right hand corner, with the extras added on this occasion. Sharks went on the attack again, gaining a penalty at the lineout as the home side infringed, but conceding the penalty themselves from the resultant pressure. They responded with sustained possession in the centre of the pitch but Saracens held their shape and waited for the knock on. Instead, Sarries eased further ahead on 28 minutes when, from an initial scrum penalty, they reached the visitors' 22 and as another Ashton kick caused havoc in their defence, they strayed off their feet and Lozowski made it 18-6. Saracens looked well placed to add a third in the closing moments of the half after Sale were penalised for a high tackle on Taylor, but after the Sharks kept out the ominous rolling maul, Lozowski opted to add another three points.
That third try almost arrived in the first play of the second half as Saracens pressed deep into the visitors' territory but they lost a close range lineout and Sale escaped. They went close to narrowing the deficit after Saracens were pinged for holding on, and Sale went on the attack only to be hauled into touch inches from the line, only for the lineout to go astray to give the Sharks another chance; Aulika barged over but the score was chalked off for obstruction. As the wind and rain increased, Sale continued their attacking intent and were rewarded when a crisp attacking move culminated in Lund scoring from MacGinty's kick through and the fly half's conversion made it 21-13 with 56 minutes played and the visitors much in the ascendency.
However, they found themselves further behind nine minutes later as a high kick was fumbled and an offence from the ensuing scrum gave Lozowski another penalty chance and it was 24-13. Within three minutes, Sarries had effectively sealed the game as a powerful burst by Barritt out of the middle and some assured handling worked the ball out to the left for Earle to score, although the conversion was missed. A sharp turnover from a Sarries' scrum gave Sale a lifeline with six minutes remaining as Neild went over from close range, but, again, the extras were not added. The home side found themselves pounding the line in the closing stages of the match,but despite going tantalisingly close, a knock-on thwarted their efforts for a fourth try.
15 Duncan Taylor - 14 Chris Ashton - 13 Marcelo Bosch (12 Brad Barritt 80) - 12 Brad Barritt (23 Matt Gallagher 73) - 11 Nathan Earle - 10 Alex Lozowski (22 Max Malins 77) - 9 Richard Wigglesworth (21 Ben Spencer 69) - 1 Titi Lamositele (17 Richard Barrington 53) - 2 Schalk Brits (16 Jared Saunders 71) - 3 Juan Figallo (18 Petrus du Plessis 63) - 4 Michael Rhodes - 5 Jim Hamilton (19 Mark Flanagan 76) - 6 Kelly Brown (20 Samu Vunisa 73) - 7 Joel Conlon - 8 Jackson Wray
15 Mike Haley - 14 Denny Solomona - 13 Will Addison (22 AJ MacGinty 10) - 12 Mark Jennings (23 Johnny Leota 69)- 11 Josh Charnley - 10 Sam James - 9 Mike Phillips (21 Peter Stringer 57) - 1 Ross Harrison (17 James Flynn 65) - 2 Rob Webber - 3 Halani Aulika (19 Kieran Longbottom 59)- 4 Bryn Evans - 5 George Nott (20 David Seymour 69) - 6 TJ Ioane (20 Tom Curry 57) - 7 Magnus Lund (16 Cameron Neild 57) - 8 Josh Beaumont
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