Castaignede the catalyst

Zurich Premiership: Sale's dream start to the season becomes a nightmare as peroxide bomber weighs in
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The Independent Online

The improbable journey of Sale Sharks from last season's depths to the peaks of the Zurich Premiership took a serious diversion yesterday when they went down hooker, lineout and sinker to Saracens, for whom Thomas Castaignÿde added the French fries.

The improbable journey of Sale Sharks from last season's depths to the peaks of the Zurich Premiership took a serious diversion yesterday when they went down hooker, lineout and sinker to Saracens, for whom Thomas Castaignÿde added the French fries.

Saracens, back on track after defeating Leicester last Sunday, were in inspired form, scoring eight tries to nil to head south with five points, including a bonus for the number of touchdowns.

While this was a hugely impressive performance by the London club, for Sale Sod's law applied. They drew their biggest crowd of the season to Heywood Road - everything is relative and 3,130 people are not going to threaten the turnstiles with metal fatigue - and the anticipation was almost tangible. In the event Sale went from promising to desperate in less time than it takes Castaignÿde to dye his hair blond.

Sale were unfortunate to find themselves trailing 6-12 at half time but thereafter the disintegration was complete. They managed to cross the Saracens line in the sixth minute when the stand-off Niki Little executed a well rehearsed dummy scissors with Dan Harris. But the referee, Robin Goodliffe, penalised Harris for obstruction. It was a dubious call.

They were also poised to breach the Saracens defence following a barnstorming run by Pete Anglesea but as Alex Sanderson was about to score, he fell to an ankle tap. That they managed to mount such an attack was almost a miracle, for Sale contributed to their downfall with the most shambolic line-out display.

It got to the point that Saracens could confidently expect to attack from their opponents throw-ins. The unfortunate hooker Joe Clark, the man who couldn't hit a barn door with a blunderbuss, got a yellow card for pulling down a maul in the 34th minute and never reappeared. However, his replacement, Bernie Jackman, was, if anything, even less accurate.

Saracens had already displayed touches of class, Castaignÿde capitalising on a break by Duncan McCrae and a revelation of a pass from the prop Paul Wallace. That gave Saracens the lead at 5-3 in the 28th minute but a few minutes later McCrae's long pass outflanked the defence and Brett Sparg was on the end of a huge overlap. It all stemmed from Sale losing their own line-out ball.

A second penalty from Little gave Sale hope at the interval when they were only six points down, but a few minutes after the restart the floodgates were given a nudge when Castaignÿde, showing remarkable strength, beat three defenders in a fine run to the posts, where he sent in Scott Murray. The Frenchman's conversion and a penalty put Saracens in clear blue water and they set sail as their opponents became more than more ragged.

When Sale lost yet another line-out on their own ball, a series of pounding drives allowed McCrae to cross and on the hour Castaignÿde, after showing impressive footballing skills, went over at the posts for his second try.

Sale were coming under increasing pressure and nothing went right for them. Even when they managed to gain possession the moves broke down through abject handling. The result was that when they weren't being gifted the ball in the line-out, Saracens had the put-ins at the scrums. They made the most of it against a defence that had been regarded as one of Sale's strongest points.

As the game entered the final quarter Saracens put their foot on the accelerator. And they added tries not just through the pace and skill of their threequarters. The lock Bill Davison crashed over in the 64th minute and Wallace rounded off an extremely satisfying personal performance with try number seven.

The eighth neatly emphasised the difference between the sides, particularly in the 80th minute when the visitors were full of running and Sale were looking for a hole in the ground in which to disguise their shortcomings. Replacement Gerald Arasa picked up and sprinted through a disheartened defence for another try at the posts.

For Sale, who prior to this had been beaten by only Newcastle, the humiliation was total. "I've been as disappointed as anyone by the attendances," Peter Deakin, formerly the marketing manager at Saracens and now the chief executive of Sale, said: "We are limited to just 4,800 and I would like to see that figure achieved on a regular basis, but we may have to look at a whole raft of changes to help develop a bigger fan base. At present the crowd seems fairly static at around 3,000 so Sale rugby must be one of the best kept secrets in the world."

Marketing, as Deakin knows only too well, is easier when you have a successful product. Yesterday Sale was so badly flawed a case could be argued for product recall.

Sale: V Going; M Moore, M Deane (M Shaw, 55), D Harris, S Hanley; N Little, B Redpath (S Hatley, 64); A Black, J Clark (B Jackman, 40), J Thiel, G Manson-Bishop (S LInes, 55), A Whittle, P Anglesea, A Sanderson (capt), R Appleyard (A Morris, 55).

Saracens: T Castaignÿde (D O'Mahoney, 70); B Sparg, B Johnston (G Arasa, 62), K Sorrell, D Luger; D McCrae (N Walshe, 62), K Bracken (capt), P Wallace, M Cairns, J White, B Davison, S Murray, R Hill (B Cole, 40), T Diprose (T Roques, 70), K Chesney.

Referee: R Goodliffe (Yorkshire).

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