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Rugby Union

Sale signal title intent with vintage display


Less than a fifth of the way through a 22-match campaign, it seems premature in the extreme to make such grandiose claims. But an away trip to Saracens is nobody's idea of a picnic, especially in such incestuous circumstances as these, and by emerging with a bonus-point victory that might easily have attained massacre status but for an untimely injury or two and some spirited resistance from the home team, the northerners finally secured their right to be mentioned in the same breath as Wasps and Leicester.

By choosing to put family ahead of career at this precise juncture, within a month and a half of England's first Test outing of the season, Robinson caused one or two ructions, not least among the red-rose back-room staff, who had no clue as to his thinking before the weekend. Andy Robinson, the head coach, will name his 30-man squad for a demanding autumn programme tomorrow and he is not short of options in the back-three department, with the likes of Iain Balshaw, Mark van Gisbergen and Dan Scarbrough available to him. But his namesake is a significant loss, despite his half-baked form of the last year or so - form that came home to roost on the Lions' woeful summer tour of New Zealand.

Now a father of five and an increasingly devout follower of his born-again Christian faith, the Sale full-back made no apologies for calling it quits after scoring 22 tries in 39 international appearances since switching rugby codes in 2000.

"It's been a memorable time, these last five years - unbelieveable, really," he said after yesterday's game. "But my family have made a sacrifice and it's been hard on them. We've just had another baby so it's all hands on deck at the moment. There is a time and a season for everything and it's time for me now to put something back into my family life.

"I've been spoilt in terms of my personal achievement, in both rugby league and union, but there are still challenges ahead with Sale. How long will I continue? I have two years left on my contract and it will be interesting to see how my body reacts now that I've stopped the constant travelling and touring. There are things I want to win with this club."

England's loss is very much Sale's gain. "It's wonderful for us," said their director of rugby, Philippe Saint-André. "Jason is our leader, our captain, our example. Fair play to the man. He has been involved at the top level of rugby for a long time and we need to respect his decision. From my point of view, I very much hope he will continue for another two or three seasons, at least."

Robinson will continue for another three decades if his weekend rides are as easy as yesterday's. He was barely involved in the cut and thrust of a wonderfully entertaining contest, for the very good reason that nothing came down his wing.

Mark Cueto, his fellow England strike-runner, was rather busier, both in defence and in attack, where he distinguished himself with a blinding wrap-up try from distance late in the second half.

The man seldom misses. This was the eighth consecutive try-scoring Premiership match, a record he now shares with one of his distant predecessors in the red-rose team, Chris Oti.

Saracens, armed with a former Sale coach and sundry playing refugees from Edgeley Park, scored four tries of their own, but the visiting pack, with Andrew Sheridan to the fore, ruled the roost from start to finish. A decent bet for the pot of gold next May? Definitely.

Saracens: Tries Sorrell, Chesney, Powell, Scarbrough; Conversions Jackson 3; Penalties Jackson 2. Sale: Tries Seveali'i 2, Chabal, Cueto; Conversions Hodgson 4; Penalties Hodgson 4.

Saracens: D Scarbrough; R Haughton (A Powell, 31), T Castaignede, K Sorrell, P Bailey; G Jackson, A Dickens (M Rauluni, 72); N Lloyd (K Yates, 52), S Byrne (M Cairns, 52), B Broster, I Fullarton (K Chesney, 52), H Vyvyan (capt, S Raiwalui, 67), T Randell, A Sanderson (D Seymour, 40), B Skirving.

Sale: D Larrachea; M Cueto, M Taylor (R Todd, 59), E Seveali'i, J Robinson (capt); C Hodgson, V Courrent (R Wigglesworth, 48); A Sheridan, A Titterrell, S Turner (B Stewart, 47), C Jones (I Fernandez Lobbe, 65), D Schofield, J White, M Lund, S Chabal (C Day, 52).

Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).