Rugby Union: Sale 32 Saracens 24 - Howarth sinks Sarries

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The Independent Online
IT MAY have been red-nose day for the rest of the country, but it was red faces all round for Saracens after this defeat at Heywood Road; at least until the implications of Leicester's win at Northampton had sunk in. By losing on Saturday, Saracens missed the opportunity to move up to second in the Premiership and edge to within seven points of the Tigers, with a game in hand, and the two still to meet, at Welford Road next month.

This looks academic now, and, unless Leicester lose to Saracens while suffering a cataleptic loss of form in their other five league games, the Allied Dunbar silverware will find a home in the Midlands.

That Saracens will have only an outsiders say in the final weeks of the season is largely their own fault. Their chances of lifting the title were seriously undermined by losing to London Scottish at Watford it is true. But having been bundled out of the Tetley's Bitter Cup by Newcastle, it has ben a desperately unforgiving fortnight for the holders. Having begun the season as favourites for both competitions, their cupboard is bare.

It will be no consolation to Francois Pienaar's team that they contributed so forcefully to a marvellous match, or that Pienaar and Richard Hill set the standard with potent contributions.

Meeting a completely revitalised Sale side - with Shane Howarth on the hottest of hot streaks - they were eclipsed in a breathtaking finish by a try from Simon Raiwalui, having been denied by a resolute Sale defence as they pounded away at the home line in the closing quarter.

Saracens had by far the best of the first half, even though Sale went in 18-13 ahead, after Jos Baxendell and Chris Yates had scored long-range tries. Hill had touched down in that period, before Alain Penaud - who was to score Sarries second try - dropped a goal, while Rob Thirlby kicked a penalty and a conversion.

And all the while there was the menace of Howarth. Three times he struck the woodwork but, more importantly, he also struck five penalties. Although Thirlby chipped in with two more penalties, Raiwalui's final strike sealed it.

Sale: Tries Baxendell, Yates, Raiwalui; Conversion Howarth; Penalties Howarth 5. Saracens Tries Penaud, Hill; Conversion Thirlby; Penalties Thirlby 3; Drop Goal Penaud.

Sale; J Mallinder (capt); D Rees, C Yates, J Baxendell, M Moore; S Howarth, K Ellis (R Smith 57); D Bell, P Greening, D Theron, S Raiwalui, C Murphy (D Baldwin 65), P Sanderson, A Sanderson, D O'Cuinneagain.

Saracens; R Thirlby (G Johnson 78); R Constable, J Thomson, K Sorrell, B Daniel; A Penaud, K Bracken; R Grau, G Chuter, P Wallace, P Johns, K Chesney, R Hill, F Pienaar (capt), A Diprose.

Referee; C Rees (Twickenham).