English failings exposed in Saracens’ battle to win

Saracens managed a tight victory over Premiership opponents

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The Independent Online

Richard Wigglesworth spoke of being “relieved”, Mako Vunipola called it “nerve-wracking” and Saracens collectively were very glad to get away from Sale with the 19-15 win that reinforced their bid to reach the Champions Cup quarter-finals.

For the neutral observer, it was a tough watch: when Mako’s brother Billy was tossed the ball and expected to make hard yards from a standing start it brought one of the most frustrating fallibilities of the English game to the European stage.

Chris Cusiter’s box-kick from a Sale ruck directly into touch that gave Saracens the first of their two tries – made by Charlie Hodgson, finished by Owen Farrell – was among a messy plethora of individual lapses.

It was better to close the eyes to those and dwell instead on the consistently excellent Hodgson’s smooth combination of body and mind that beautifully exposed Sale’s unwise reliance on tight forwards to defend the tail of a five-man line-out.

“The return match next Saturday is massive now,” said Wigglesworth, Hodgson’s Saracens half-back partner and fellow former Sale player. “If we can get another win it puts us into a good place going into the last two pool games in January.”

Those fixtures are Clermont Auvergne away and Munster at home, and both opponents will surely have noted a sometimes creaky Saracens scrum.

Mako Vunipola was making his first start since injuring a knee in last May’s Heineken Cup final. “We showed a lot of fight and hunger and hopefully we can take that into next week,” he said.

It would be no surprise if Sale rest some front-line players in north London this weekend. They may have “worked their backsides off” to reach the Champions Cup, as their director of rugby Steve Diamond put it, but their interest is effectively over after three straight losses. It begs the question of whether England having seven of the 20 teams taking part is an over-representation.