Saracens vs Sale match report: Defending champions brush past Sharks in six-try win

Saracens 50 Sale 3: The hosts were utterly dominant at Allianz Park and already boasted a 23-point lead by half-time

Hugh Godwin
at Allianz Park
Saturday 10 December 2016 21:01
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Saracens have won each of their three matches in the competition and sit on top Pool Three
Saracens have won each of their three matches in the competition and sit on top Pool Three

The challenge for England players returning without a break into pivotal European Cup matches did not noticeably faze Saracens as they hit Sale Sharks with a six-try barrage in a one-sided romp for the defending champions.

Friday night’s sad relapse by Dylan Hartley into his red-mist ways with a red card playing for Northampton Saints is thought likely to bring a lengthy ban for the incumbent England captain and, if so, it may open a couple of doors to some of the hooker’s international team-mates at Saracens.

England’s head coach Eddie Jones was watching at Franklins Gardens when Hartley was dismissed for a swinging-arm strike to the head of Leinster’s flanker Sean O’Brien – and Jones was at this match too, surely pondering the possibility he will need to name a new national skipper in the New Year.

England’s vice-captains of late have been Harlequins full-back Mike Brown, and two Saracens in Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola. The latter has a long-term knee injury whereas Farrell accumulated some experience assuming the captaincy duties during the recent autumn internationals on occasions when Hartley had been substituted.

There may also be a vacancy for a starting hooker, with Sarries’ Jamie George in pole position as impressive bench No.2 for England in recent months.

Of course another man often mentioned as future captaincy material is none of the above, but still from the same club – the young leviathan of a second row, Maro Itoje, who was playing his second match back here after missing the autumn Tests with a broken hand.

Itoje’s line-out steals – three of them – were just one feature of a fine all-round performance as the 22-year-old Londoner reminded Jones of his telescopic reach in the set-piece and breakdown.

Farrell weighed in with a typically all-guns-blazing tackle on his fly-half opposite number AJ MacGinty, and 13 points from kicks, as the cup-holders bolted to a 26-3 lead by half-time.

Bosch went over first for the hosts

If it was a cruise for Saracens then the context should be that of a battle-cruiser, as the men in black devoted a withering commitment to their line speed in defence, while running through a variety of slick training-ground moves in attack.

A poorly-organised Sale defence was ripped apart in the 17th minute when their former scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth sniped from a scrum and Marcelo Bosch followed up for a simple score converted by Farrell.

Nine minutes later Sean Maitland was the try-scorer on the end of a sweet move started by Brad Barritt at first receiver, and continued by Farrell running from a deep position behind his club captain.

Farrell picked off his second conversion to go with three penalties, and Bosch added a penalty, with Sale’s only points going to a penalty by MacGinty.

The steamy stench from the Allianz Park balti stalls mingled in the mist of a softly swirling drizzle in the chill evening air as the Sharks attempted to generate some overdue heat after the interval.

First, though, there was the strange sight of Farrell being withdrawn after only a minute’s play, to be replaced by Alex Lozowski. The initial verdict from Saracens was that it was a tactical move, although director of rugby Mark McCall later confirmed the fly-half had been afflicted by a tight quad muscle.

Then Sale’s lock Jonathan Mills became the second Shark after No.8 Laurence Pearce to go to the sin bin, after burrowing under Mike Rhodes at a line-out.

And the resulting kick to touch brought a try for George after a catch-and-drive from Itoje’s secure take.

Sale have lost three in three in this year's Champions Cup

Having already lost their captain Josh Beaumont to injury early on, Sale were looking bereft of inspiration, and little was seen of their recent rugby league recruit Josh Charnley.

Sale’s back three was the next area to be exposed by Saracens as the home full-back Alex Goode dabbed a kick into space behind Charnley’s fellow wing Paolo Odogwu and the ball bounced nicely for Chris Wyles to claim his 21st European try in 48 appearances.

That was the bonus point bagged for Saracens, but they kept the foot on the pedal with Maitland grabbing his second try with 55 minutes played, before James Flynn’s high tackle on Schalk Brits brought Sale’s third yellow card.

New signing Will Skelton battered forwards to help create Saracens’ sixth try for replacement prop Richard Barrington, converted by Lozowski for the round half-century of points, and the holders already looked nailed on for a quarter-final, even though Pool Three is only halfway over.

Itoje said: “I missed playing and it was my first major injury in my short career so it is nice to be back.

“I’ll concentrate on club rugby before any thoughts about the Six Nations.”

Saracens: A Goode (rep B Spencer, 62nd min); S Maitland (N Earle 57), M Bosch, B Barritt (capt), C Wyles; O Farrell (A Lozowski 42), R Wigglesworth; M Vunipola (R Barrington 57), J George (S Brits 52), P du Plessis (V Koch 57), M Itoje, G Kruis, M Rhodes, K Brown (W Skelton 52), S Burger (J Conlon 67).

Sale Sharks: T Arscott (D Mugford 75); P Odogwu, S James, J Leota (M Jennings 65), J Charnley; AJ MacGinty, J Mitchell (M Phillips 65); R Harrison (J Flynn 60), R Webber (C Neild 57), H Aulika (C Parker 60), J Beaumont (capt; G Nott 21), J Mills, T Curry, D Seymour (B Curry 57), L Pearce (Harrison 71).

Referee: M Raynal (France).

Attendance: 8,746

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