The turn of the year will be doubly pivotal for Saracens, the leaders of the Guinness Premiership, who go to London Irish in their last match of 2009 and host Leicester in Watford in the curtain-raiser for 2010.
If they can sustain their unbeaten record in the league through those two tussles, a place in the end-of-season play-offs will be all-but certain.
There are also some issues of national selection at hand. Andy Saull has carried on his fine form of last season and the 21-year-old flanker has been tipped for England honours by Richard Hill, the eminent former Saracen and World Cup winner. "I'd be lying if I said I hadn't looked at the Leicester date and thought about playing against Lewis Moody for the first time," said Saull, referring to England's incumbent openside. "It would be a massive game and a huge opportunity. But you look at players like Mat Tait, Anthony Allen and even Shane Geraghty, who got slung straight into the England set-up. After two or three games they got chewed out and it's taken them time to get back into it. I'd be happy to get a call for the England Saxons and take it from there."
Derick Hougaard's five penalties did the trick for Sarries and though Sale played the more attractive rugby they had to settle for a losing bonus point. Director of rugby Kingsley Jones gnashed his teeth over today's hearing at Twickenham into the recent postponed match with Wasps but did not grumble at Saracens. "They're the best team in the league because they do the basics so well," Jones said.
Saracens: Penalties Hougaard (5); Sale: Try Koyamaibole; Conversion Hodgson; Penalties Hodgson (2).
Saracens: A Goode (R Penney, 17); N Cato, K Ratuvou, A Powell, C Wyles; D Hougaard, M Rauluni; R Gill, S Brits (E Reynecke, 50), C Nieto (R Skuse, 50), S Borthwick (capt), H Smith (H Vyvyan, 50), W van Heerden, A Saull (D Barrell, 50), E Joubert.
Sale: N Macleod; M Vakacegu, M Tait, D Bishop, B Cohen; C Hodgson, R Wigglesworth; E Roberts, N Briggs, J Forster (M Halsall, 70), D Schofield (capt; J Gaskell, 29), S Cox, C Fearns, D Seymour, S Koyamaibole.
Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).