Hodgson shines for Sale as Henson struggles

Sale 28 Saracens 22
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The Independent Online

He was serenaded with "New York, New York" by two crooners in the warm-up, but this was back to grim reality in suburban Stockport for Gavin Henson as Sale rediscovered their nerve to sweep aside their visitors for a first victory of Peter Anglesea's reign.

Making his first start in 21 months, Henson touched the ball three times and was found wanting for sharpness and strength as Mark Cueto crossed for Sale's first try, starting a spell of 28 unanswered points that set up victory. Henson's kit was still whiter than white as he trudged off after 51 minutes and although Sale did not score after half time, their first-half blitz did the job.

"Gavin didn't see a lot of the ball," Saracens first-team coach, Mark McCall, said. "He had a bit of defending to do but it was a difficult day to be outside centre for a team getting beaten 28-3. In the first half we were blown away. We were dominated in every area and it's not often we're out-muscled."

With five straight defeats and Mike Brewer gone amid dark murmurings, there have been serious concerns for Sale, who fell behind to an early penalty from Owen Farrell. But the hosts responded with newly-appointed captain Cueto beating Henson to Paul Williams' grubber kick, to touch down before the irrepressible James Gaskell went over after Saracens lost possession at a ruck in front of their own posts.

After Henson's first chance to run ended with a thumping tackle by Chris Bell that saw the ball dribble out for a line-out, Hodgson extended the lead with three penalties before Sale scored the try of the afternoon. From a loose kick-off from Farrell, they broke down the right through Carl Fearns and Gaskell before Mark Jones sent Bell over in the corner to make it 28-3.

Farrell trimmed the advantage to 28-9 at the interval. Struggling to make an impact, Henson at least managed to grab his former Wales team-mate Dwayne Peel around the throat before stepping into touch as he attempted to make a rare break down the touchline shortly before he was withdrawn.

Saracens, who play their final game under Brendan Venter when they face London Irish next weekend, pulled more ground back when Ernst Joubert's burst tied up defenders and James Short ran in from 25 metres before Farrell's conversion cut the lead to nine points. He put over another penalty with five minutes left.

Anglesea has the job until the end of the season and admits that Sale are desperate to keep hold of Hodgson, whose current contract expires at the end of the season, and believes his team have been quick to grow in stature.

"We looked like boys against Leicester last week but today we looked like men," Anglesea said. "The lads have shown a lot of confidence and expressed themselves. I'm really pleased."

Scorers: Sale - Try: Cueto, Gaskell, Bell Penalty Hodgson (3) Conversion Hodgson (2). Saracens - Try Short Penalty Farrell (5) Conversion Farrell.

Sale: Williams, Crane (Tait 60), Bell, Tonetti, Cueto (Macleod 61), Hodgson, Peel, Sheridan (Imiolek 74), M Jones (Roberts 70), Wihongi (Thomas 68), C Jones, Ormsby, Gaskell, Fearns, Koyamaibole (McMillan 58)

Saracens: Goode, Tagicakibau, Henson (Cato 53), Barritt, Short, Farrell, Wigglesworth (Barrett 70), Carstens (Gill 53), Brits (George 70), Du Plessis, Borthwick, Botha (Brown 53), Burger, Saull (Kruis 53), Joubert.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).