Little makes huge difference as Saracens state their intent

Saracens 39 Sale 23
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The Independent Online

Saracens are signing players faster than you can say "transfer". After yesterday's magnificent victory, sadly too late to get them a play-off place, the head coach, Rod Kafer, announced the capture of yet another Sale player - the England Under-19 scrum-half Joe Bedford.

That brings to half a dozen the number of players Saracens have now plucked from Sale, but judging by yesterday's performance there is little left to take, and none of those who are leaving for Watford played any part in this game. So the further 10 or so players Kafer is looking to sign to replace the dozen or so who are leaving Saracens at the end of the season will have to come from elsewhere.

With the former Sharks players Nicky Little, who scored 19 of Saracens points yesterday, and captain Simon Raiwalui already ensconced in Watford, the Cheshire club is beginning to resemble something of a Saracens nursery.

That impression was reinforced on the field, where Sale showed a naivety in approach that rendered them ineffectual. It was no surprise they have never won at Vicarage Road. It was a matter of wonder, though, that they were actually leading at the break, thanks chiefly to Charlie Hodgson and Steve Hanley.

Hodgson, at fly-half, made a brilliant break to unleash the wing for the first of his two tries, and then converted it, as well as adding three penalties. But Saracens demonstrated tremendous character. They even overcame the early loss of Thomas Castaignède, who was injured scoring their opening try.

The French international centre had come into the match suffering from sciatica, and the crushing weight of the beaten Sale defence when they landed on him after he gathered Little's chip ahead and lunged over proved too much for his back to bear. He was helped off, to the particular disappointment of his friend Robert Pires, the Arsenal footballer, who was Castaignède's guest at the game.

Saracens rallied and returned after the interval with renewed determination, cancelling out a soft interception try for Hanley by scoring one of their own through wing Richard Haughton.

Then came a wonderful passage of play. The superlative Saracens forwards pressed and pushed and as the Sale defence splintered Kevin Sorrell knifed through on a great angle. Little converted. More of the same from the pack at a series of rib-crushing scrums saw the Sale eight eventually collapsing one set piece too many. The referee, Roy Maybank, awarded a penalty try and Saracens earned themselves their first four-try bonus point of the season.

Saracens: Tries Castaignède, Haughton, Sorrell, penalty try; Conversions Little 2; Penalties Little 5.

Sale: Tries Hanley 2; Conversions Hodgson 2; Penalties Hodgson 3.

Saracens: R Kydd; R Haughton, T Castaignède (D O'Mahony 15), K Sorrell, P Bailey; N Little, M Williams; S Sparks (A Croall, 52-80), J Parkes, C Visagie, S Raiwalui (capt), C Yandell (A Codling 70), K Chesney, R Hill, T Randell.

Sale: J Robinson; M Cueto, C Mayor, C Rhys-Jones, S Hanley, C Hodgson; R Wigglesworth; A Sheridan, A Titterrell, B Stewart (S Turner 59), C Day, D Schofield, J White, H Perrett (J Roddam 9-17), P Anglesea (capt),

Referee: R Maybank (Kent)