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Club Rugby

Sarries shut up shop and afford Sale no change

Saracens 23 Sale 10

When Saracens take on Harlequins at Twickenham in December, be prepared for a lot more fireworks than witnessed this Guy Fawkes weekend. Quins continue to lead the Premiership after their best start since 1996-97. But the champions Saracens are hot on their heels, all of which sets up a big match at HQ in every sense of the word.

Saracens don't worry unduly about chasing bonus points. They much prefer slamming doors in eager faces and taking chances when they arise.

Sale will play worse this season and win. But then, despite derisory attendances, Saracens have made Vicarage Road something of a fortress.

"We have a very good record at Vicarage Road and feel proud of that," said their rugby director, Mark McCall. "When teams attack us as well as Sale did, we have to ensure our defence stands firm, which it did, but people should not underestimate Sale, who are a very fine side.

"We were clinical for an hour, not so in the last 20 minutes. Some suggest making replacements causes disruption, but you simply cannot play players for 80 minutes every week."

The Sale executive director of sport, Steve Diamond, commended his former club and criticised his current charges. "We allowed small errors to become big mistakes so there is a sense of frustration.

"Credit to Saracens, who are street-wise in the way Leicester have been for years. Maybe it's time we became a bit more streetwise. But first we need to improve our line-out and get better at the breakdpown."

Despite a flying start, Sale could not breach one of the game's meanest defences, and also missed an early chance to get on the scoreboard when Nick Macleod fluffed a fourth-minute penalty. The frustration intensified for Sale when Saracens broke out of their shell to take the lead with a belting try.

Neil de Kock whipped the ball from the base of a ruck and picked out Hodgson on his right. Up came the England wing David Strettle, arrowing in at an angle to take the ball and accelerate for the line in silky smoothness.

Owen Farrell added the conversion, and intensified the pain by adding a penalty on 31 minutes after Sale offended at a scrum.

It also did not help the visitors that their hosts worked out their line-out early on, and proceeded to steal three of Tommy Taylor's throws, one a key execution when the referee Martin Fox had penalised Saracens for offside close to their line.

Sale opted for the line-out – and Saracens duly snaffled it with gratitude and made sure they changed ends 10-0 in front.

Farrell's right boot added three points to that tally four minutes after the break, and you sensed that it wasn't going to be Sale's day when Andy Powell infringed as Saracens attacked his 22, gifting Farrell another pot at the posts.

Macleod then missed his second shot at goal, and Sale's last chance of leaving Vicarage Road with anything.

Sam Tuitupou conceded a penalty at the breakdown, Hodgson hoofed it into touch, Steve Borthwick claimed the line-out and the pack drove Matt Stevens over on 59 minutes, Farrell adding the conversion.

Sale finally broke their duck nine minutes from time when Rob Miller scored wide left from a Tasesa Lavea pass. Then Mark Easter wriggled clear of some weak tackling to score a second try five minutes from time.

Saracens: Tries Strettle, Stevens; Conversions Farrell (2);

Penalties Farrell (3). Sale: Tries Miller, Easter.

Saracens A Goode; D Strettle, O Farrell, B Barritt, C Wyles; C Hodgson, N de Kock; D Carstens, S Brits, C Nieto, S Borthwick (capt), M Botha, K Brown, E Joubert, J Burger.

Sale:R Miller; W Addison, J Leota, S Tuitupou (capt), M Cueto; N Macleod, W Cliff; A Dickinson, T Taylor, H Thomas, F McKenzie, J Gaskell, R Vernon, A Powell, D Seymour.

Referee M Fox.