Clinical Farrell shows Cipriani why he is England’s No 10

Saracens 32 Sale 12

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The Independent Online

Owen Farrell won the battle of the England fly-halves so convincingly that Danny Cipriani's ambitions in that direction will soon require a microscope to view. Farrell scored 22 points with six penalties and conversions of tries by David Strettle and Charlie Hodgson, whose skills off the bench finally prised open the visiting defence.

Cipriani, last capped in 2008, kicked four penalties but did little else in a Sale side now five points adrift of 11th-placed London Irish at the foot of the Aviva Premiership. Saracens rugby director Mark McCall acknowledged that after 15 years at Vicarage Road, it was satisfying to mark the final Premiership fixture in Watford with a win.

"We've done well here, despite the criticism it sometimes gets. We've won major honours," McCall said. "Of course we should score more tries, but you could not get beyond three phases before a penalty was awarded, so it's important that you kick those."

"It's all about staying up and winning some key games," said Sale rugby director Steve Diamond. "This club has been in the Premiership since it started in 1995, and we don't want that to change. But it won't be decided in January or February."

Cipriani fired Sale 6-0 up, but Saracens' pressure paid off in the 14th minute, when Farrell's penalty put his team on the scoreboard. The fly-half then equalised four minutes later with another goal from another offence at the breakdown as the referee maintained an admirable consistency.

In what could be described as a "burst of pace" by Matt Stevens, the equally well-padded Andy Powell managed to catch the prop by his jersey. The resultant ruck led to yet another penalty for Sale going off their feet, and Farrell delivered just punishment.

Referee Tim Wigglesworth lost patience with Sale on 28 minutes as they again foiled a promising attack by ball-killing, warning captain Sam Tuitupou of yellow cards unless they cleaned up their act. Farrell's fifth penalty from five set the tempo of a game in which Saracens' attempts at playing rugby were being frustrated, so they simply turned to Plan B, Farrell's right boot.

Fortunately, that weapon is a formidable one, guaranteed to be in action for England against Scotland at Twickenham on 2 February.

Sale made a similar start to the second half as they had to the first, Cipriani arrowing home a 51st-minute penalty when Wigglesworth took exception to backchat after awarding a penalty, and moved the ball 10 metres closer to goal.

However, Cipriani was then penalised for holding and Farrell got back in the groove with his sixth goal two minutes later. Cipriani made amends on 62 minutes with a cracking kick from inside his own half, a booming blast that bounced off both posts before dropping over the bar. Saracens lifted the crowd inside 60 seconds. Charlie Hodgson, on for Joel Tomkins, took a pass from Richard Wigglesworth off a lineout, and armed David Strettle.

The England wing's looping run foxed the Sale defence which allowed him a free run to score between their posts, Farrell converting.

Within seven minutes Strettle turned creator. Saracens drove a penalty lineout towards the Sale line before Wigglesworth fired the ball into midfield where Strettle gathered, chipped between two defenders and Hodgson reacted fastest to score.

Scorers: Saracens Tries Strettle, Hodgson; Pens Farrell 6; Cons Farrell 2. Sale Pens Cipriani 4.

Saracens: C Wyles; J Short, J Tomkins (C. Hodgson, 64), B Barritt (D Taylor, 71), D Strettle; O Farrell, N de Kock (R Wigglesworth, 51); M Vunipola (R. Gill, 56), S Brits (J George, 56), M Stevens (P. Du Plessis, 63), S Borthwick (M. Botha, 68) (c), G Kruis, K Brown (N. Fenton-Wells, 71), E Joubert, W Fraser.

Sale: R Miller; T Brady (C. Shepherd, 57), J Leota, S Tuitupou (c), M Cueto; D Cipriani, D Peel (W. Cliff, 68); R Harrison (A. Dickinson, 56), M Jones, T Buckley (E Lewis-Roberts, 56), R Gray (T Holmes, 76), K Myall, J Gaskell, A Powell (D Braid, 22), R Vernon.

Referee: Tim Wigglesworth.