Rugby Union: Saracens go back to top of Premiership

Saracens 42 Sale 20
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The Independent Online
THREE days is a long time in rugby. On Saturday, John Mitchell, England's forward coach, was basking in the annihilation of Wales at Twickenham. Last night, the New Zealander, who also coaches Sale, was throwing up his arms in despair, mainly at the decisions of the referee.

Saracens moved above Newcastle to the top of Allied Dunbar Premiership, although it was one of their less inspired displays at Vicarage Road.

It was not a particularly explosive affair, but Ashley Rowden saw fit to issue four yellow cards. Even Kyran Bracken, Saracens' England scrum- half, got one, for what was supposedly a high tackle. It was one of the highlights of a sporadic first half in which the referee, more prominent than almost anybody else on the field, came down particularly heavily on Sale.

Saracens, beaten only once in the league this season and who have now played two matches more than Newcastle, were never entirely comfortable, although a couple of of tries in the dying minutes put them clear. They led 16-10 at half-time, their midfield defence being exposed when Simon Mannix sent Tom Beim in for a try under the posts.

Another highlight was the performance of the Saracens cheerleaders, the Crown Jewels. They were in mid-routine in the centre of the pitch as both teams, waiting for the restart, watched in amazement.

Saracens went further ahead when Francois Pienaar drove over from a line- out and they appeared to have gained breathing space when they were awarded a penalty try in the 55th minute. Both Duncan Bell and Steve Diamond received yellow cards as Sale were guilty of disrupting a series of scrums on their line.

Even then, Sale were not finished. A splendid break by Pat Sanderson led to another try for Beim and with 10 minutes remaining Sale were only 10 points adrift at 30-20.

However, Saracens finally secured the crucial victory when Ben Sturnham, playing in place of Richard Hill, and the replacement Adrian Olver crossed for tries in the final minutes.

"He's just not up to it," Mitchell said of the referee afterwards. "There were yellow cards flying all over the place and it was totally unnecessary. What we need are inconspicuous referees to control the game."

Saracens: Tries Ravenscroft, Pienaar, penalty try, Sturnham, Olver; Conversions Lynagh 4; Penalties Lynagh 2; Drop goal Johnson. Sale: Tries Beim 2; Conversions Mannix 2; Penalties Mannix 2.

Saracens: G Johnson; M Singer, P Sella, S Ravenscroft, R Constable; M Lynagh, K Bracken; R Grau (A Olver, 71), B Reidy, P Wallace, D Grewcock, T Copsey, B Sturnham, T Diprose (capt), F Pienaar.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); M Moore, J Baxendell, C Yates, T Beim; S Mannix, K Ellis; D Williamson, S Diamond, D Bell, D Baldwin, S Raiwalui, D O'Grady, D O'Cuinneagain, P Sanderson.

Referee: A Rowden (Berkshire).