A full house of scoring by Danny Cipriani was the first for Sale since a certain Charlie Hodgson performed the feat – a try, conversion, dropped goal and penalty goal – in 2002. But Hodgson, now a Saracen, still had the drop on his old team as the leaders of the Premiership eked out an eighth win in nine league matches.
It was painful to watch in more than one respect; Saracens were denied much of their usual profit from line-out drives by an obdurate Sale and were obliged instead to hammer through dozens of phases for their two tries by Jack Wilson and George Kruis in the second half. Sarries also suffered the wretched sight of their England Saxons flanker Will Fraser being taken to hospital with a suspected broken foot and knee ligament damage after his leg was trapped during a Sale tackle. The promising Fraser, 24, had returned in October from a six-month absence with a shoulder injury.
A muddle between Hodgson and Alex Goode in the Saracens 22 led to Charlie Ingall feeding Cipriani for the 12th-minute try that helped Sale – winners once away to Saracens in the league since October 1995 – to a 13-6 interval lead that included a 55-metre penalty by Rob Miller. Cipriani, one of three past and present England fly-halves on view, also contributed a deft pick off the floor, a brilliant no-look pass to Miller and a drop on the half-time whistle.
Saracens had pressed their current England No 10, Owen Farrell, into inside-centre service, with muted results and he looked heartily hacked off – with life or himself, it wasn’t clear which – when he was substituted with Saracens trailing 16-11. Wilson, a New Zealander making his Premiership debut after impressing in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, scored from Hodgson’s pass then a possible Sale try by Ingall was chalked off for a knock-on, before Cipriani kicked a 49th minute penalty.
But Sale, began to make mistakes. Tommy Taylor dived round a ruck to give Hodgson a penalty on 58 minutes before a box-kick by Will Cliff that needed to find touch failed to do so, and renewed the impetus in a long Saracens onslaught that culminated in Kruis bundling over wide on the left. Hodgson converted before he and Nick Macleod collected a penalty apiece in the last two minutes.
Saracens’ director of rugby Mark McCall described the Premiership as “unbelievably competitive”. McCall’s Sharks counterpart Steve Diamond, once a Saracens coach himself, merely expressed the hope that “the super-clubs like the one we played today don’t come poaching our young players.”
Whether the two men’s employers speak with same voice regarding the fallout from the latest developments in Europe will be seen at a shareholders’ meeting of Premiership Rugby Ltd on Thursday. The Saracens chief executive, Ed Griffiths, said yesterday of the French clubs’ decision to stick with the existing Heineken Cup organisers European Rugby Cup, who have a TV contract with Sky at odds with PRL’s with BT Sport: “Governance is the outstanding issue and ERC is out from our [PRL’s] point of view. We [PRL] have to stay calm and clear minded. I have spoken to a few other clubs and not heard any dissenting voices. Personally I still think there will be agreement.” Meanwhile another PRL insider told the IoS: “We have alternatives for next season to just play domestically or with an international element.”
Saracens: A Goode; J Wilson (M Bosch, 79), C Wyles, O Farrell (D Taylor, 54), D Strettle; C Hodgson, N de Kock (R Wigglesworth, 51); R Barrington, S Brits (J George, 79), M Stevens (J Johnston, 51), S Borthwick (capt), G Kruis (E Sheriff, 75), J Wray, W Fraser (K Brown, 32), E Joubert.
Sale Sharks: R Miller; C Ingall, M Jennings, J Leota, W Addison (T Brady, 15); D Cipriani (N Macleod, 75), D Peel (W Cliff, 13); R Harrison, T Taylor (M Jones, 62), V Cobilas, A Ostrikov (J Mills, 62), M Paterson, D Braid (capt; M Easter, 62), D Seymour, J Gaskell.
Referee: J P Doyle (London).