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Sale defend home turf again by edging Saracens in thriller

By PA
Gus Warr with the ball in hand for Sale. Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for Sale Sharks

Premiership leaders Sale showed their title credentials as they edged out fellow high-fliers Saracens 22-20 in a festive thriller.

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It is now 12 home league victories on the spin for the Sharks, who notched three tries in difficult conditions to go clear at the summit.

Ahead of a repeat of last season’s Premiership final, both teams went into this packed-out Salford Stadium clash on the back of a pair of mixed results in the Champions Cup.

There were a number of handling errors early on as both teams sought to get to grips with the swirling wind.

However, Mark McCall’s Sarries, who got the better of Connacht last time out in Europe, were first on the board as Owen Farrell kicked a routine close-range penalty after Sharks lost out at a scrum.

The hosts, beaten 37-28 by Leinster last weekend, responded with some vigour, and in the 18th minute, they bagged themselves a classic pushover try.

Argentinian Agustin Creevy barged over following a successful maul, with George Ford’s conversion making it 7-3.

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By the time the game entered its second quarter Sale were starting to hold sway, though a break from either side always looked on the cards.

Saracens withheld some big pressure from the hosts, but with the final action of the first half they were presented with a gift to send them in at the break ahead.

Ivan van Zyl easily intercepted a shocking Gus Warr pass and darted unopposed to touch down under the posts.

Farrell’s boot handed the visitors a 10-7 interval advantage.

However, Sale needed only four minutes of the second period to re-take the lead.

The backs shifted the ball wide to Tom Roebuck, and he dived over ahead of an unsuccessful, wind-affected extras attempt by Ford.

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This intriguing clash was there for either side to take, and Sale scored again before 50 minutes were up.

Replacement Luke Cowan-Dickie powered over after the hosts won a line-out, with Ford this time successful off a post as his kick stretched the lead to 19-10.

A Sale offside handed Farrell a simple kick to reduce the arrears to six points, but Alex Sanderson’s Sharks stuck at their task and soon got the three points back through Ford.

When Gareth Simpson scored and Farrell converted expertly to bring the score back to 22-20, though, tension among the home support increased again with still 10 minutes left.

Ford saw a late penalty attempt strike a post, but in the end that was inconsequential as the near 10,000-strong home crowd went on to celebrate a truly hard-earned victory.

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