Sale succeed despite doubts over European future

Sale 18 Saracens 15
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The Independent Online
One of the truisms of this turbulent season is that when Paul Turner plays well, so do Sale. The other is that the Rugby Football Union has no fixed idea of what next term will look like. If they did, Sale would still be on target for a place in next season's European Cup.

Saracens, meanwhile, would like to know if they are still embroiled in a relegation battle with Gloucester, who they meet at Kingsholm on the last Saturday of the month. If there were any doubts about either issue at Heywood Road - and there were plenty - it was not evident as Sale and Saracens played as if there was still plenty on offer.

Early in the New Year the RFU announced that the top four clubs in the First Division would play in Europe; the remainder in an Anglo-Welsh tournament. Then Sky TV came into the picture with plans for a grandiose competition, featuring all the top English and Welsh clubs.

Since when, the RFU have dithered and prevaricated so that no one knows what will be in place come September.

Confusion reigns just as it did in this disjointed, if exciting, encounter between two teams unsure of their identity, much less their future. "We are assuming there will be relegation," Mark Evans, Saracens' coach said, "And, if we'd won today, after our victory at West last week, we would almost be safe."

Almost was just enough for Sale, as Turner was quick to acknowledge; "Having lost in successive weeks to the other two London sides, we had to scrap it out today," Turner said. "But our fighting spirit did it for us."

Had it not been for Neil Ryan's 90-metre dash after intercepting Steve Ravenscroft's pass - which took Sale 18-12 ahead, just after the break - Saracens might have won. More to the point, if Turner had been on song Sale might still be looking confidently towards Europe.

Sale: Tries Warr, Liley, Ryan; Penalty Liley. Saracens: Tries G Hughes, Chesney; Conversion G Hughes; Penalty G Hughes.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); R Liley, J Baxendell, G Higginbotham, C Yates (N Ryan, 30); P Turner, M Warr; P Smith, S Diamond, A Smith, J Fowler, D Baldwin, D Erskine, N Ashurst, P Hewitt (A Morris, 78).

Saracens: P Hughes; K Chesney, J Buckton, S Ravenscroft, P Harries; G Hughes, B Davies (capt); G Holmes, G Botterman, S Wilson, M Langley, A Copsey, J Green, E Halvey, A Diprose.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).

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