Horan opens unlikely Euro route for Sarries

Saracens 34 Sale 19
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The Independent Online

At approximately 4.17pm yesterday afternoon Saracens' season was saved – and the whole of Watford knew it.

That was the moment, 57 minutes into a thrilling match, when the replacement prop Joe Ross was driven over for a fourth try and the all-important bonus point that meant they stay in the Premiership.

But better than that, their emphatic victory over the high-flying Sale meant that Sarries also qualified for the European Wild Card play-offs. That delays the departure of their veteran internationals Abdel Benazzi and Tim Horan. The first leg of the play-off against Leeds is on Wednesday, the second up at Headingley next Sunday.

And both contributed here, with a try from former France lock Benazzi and a 43-metre drop goal from the former Wallaby centre Horan.

Neither has really set the Premiership alight. Horan's three seasons at Vicarage Road have been dogged by injury. He arrived in 2000 with torn ligaments in his foot, delaying his debut for four months. He broke a wrist last year up at Sale and this season bits of his overworked body have been breaking down at regular intervals.

Benazzi has lasted the course pretty well, although he has still been a member of a struggling side in his two years with the club. This will have made up for a lot of previous disappointment.

The home side began well, Andy Goode landing an early penalty and the outstanding right-wing Richard Haughton, scoring a 20th-minute try.

Sale were quickly back in the home side's faces, but not to any effect. Their chief problem was discipline. Whether in promising attacking positions or desperate defensive ones, Sale were adept at catching the referee Ashley Rowden's eye, and it cost them dear.

But they conceded their second try from a great move. Jos Baxendell was penalised for not releasing 20 metres from the Saracens line with the first half into added time.

Saracens tapped and went, and though Horan's pass was a little wild, Ben Johnston made a brilliant one-handed recovery, burst through and drew the full-back Jason Robinson before releasing Darragh O'Mahony. Sale hit back, powering upfield for the lock Dean Schofield to bulldoze over from close range for a try converted by Saracens old boy Nick Walshe.

A mere 25 seconds after the interval Sale confusion at the kick-off, deep in their 22, saw Johnston dart in and set up a try for Benazzi, who was having a blinding match in the second row. After Ross's effort came Horan's drop-goal. And in between there were a couple of consolation touchdowns for Sale's Robinson.

Saracens: T Horan; R Haughton, B Johnston, K Sorrell, D O'Mahony; A Goode (T Castaignède, 83), K Bracken (capt; M Williams, 81); D Flatman (Storey, 71), M Cairns (R Russell, 72), M Storey (J Ross, 51), A Benazzi (B Russell, 67-78), C Yandell (A Roques, 50), K Chesney, B Skirving, R Hill.

Sale: J Robinson; M Cueto, D Harris (C Rhys-Jones, 58), G Bond, S Hanley; J Baxendell, N Walshe; K Yates (J Thorp, 54), A Titterell (C Marais, 58), B Stewart, D Schofield (M Lund, 63), I Fullarton (C Jones, 67), P Anglesea, C Jones (P Davies, 38-40; 54), S Pinkerton (capt).

Referee: A Rowden (Thatcham).