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Sale stun champions Saracens in London to book semi-final at Bath

By Liam Heagney
Rob du Preez is mobbed by his Sale teammates after scoring (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images for Sale Sharks)

What a result for Sale at Saracens, Alex Sanderson’s side emerging deserved 20-10 winners to secure a semi-final at Bath on June 1. This fixture featuring last year’s Twickenham final clubs was the tie of the final Gallagher Premiership round. Second versus fourth with so much on the line in North London.

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Saracens, who were on a two-game winning streak, still needed something to guarantee them a home semi-final in two weeks. Sale, meanwhile, required another result to add to their recent four consecutive victories to ensure they didn’t agonisingly fall out of the play-offs at the last hurdle.

In the end, it was the Manchester side, who hadn’t won away to the Londoners in the league since 2005/06 when Vicarage Road was their home, that were celebrating in the Saturday sun.

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The George Ford-run show and an industrious support cast of numerous heroes left Saracens looking ordinary and leg-weary and now having to go away to the table-topping Northampton in their May 31 semi-final as this bonus-less result left them dropping from second to fourth place.

You would never have imagined it turning out quite like this on the evidence of a tension-filled opening quarter where the high error count equated to a scoreboard stalemate. While early scores were flying in at The Rec, Welford Road, and The Stoop, nerves suffocated the opening exchanges here.

Fixture
Gallagher Premiership
Saracens
10 - 20
Full-time
Sale
All Stats and Data

Sale had the initial yips. Ford kicked off out on the full. A free was conceded at the ensuing scrum, then a penalty at the reset. Elliot Daly, who kicked them from everywhere at Bristol last weekend, was wide to the right.

That was in the third minute and from there, the mistakes spread to Saracens who found themselves also making little or no headway with the game constricted to suffocatingly taking place between the respective 22s.

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The 18th-minute hamstring injury exit of Manu Tuilagi, after Ben Earl mowed him down, was essentially the only thing of note before the opening score breathlessly arrived.

Tom Roebuck was like Fred Astaire in the way he weaved through the Saracens defence, even leaving Ivan van Zyl on his backside with a final step inside.

Ford converted but Owen Farrell, who has now played his final match at the StoneX before his switch to Racing, quickly struck back with a kick following a breakdown infringement, and it was the home out-half who was pivotal in the next big moment.

It at first appeared he had wasted his time intervening but it emerged that he had done enough to cause the separation which denied Luke Cowan-Dickie from keeping the try he was initially awarded on 37 minutes after a Jamie George throw just metres from his line went out the back.

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The danger wasn’t alleviated, though, as a Saracens scrum collapse on their own feed led to Ford ending the half with penalty points for a 10-3 lead.

The visiting out-half was on tee again early in the second half, scoring from much further out, and we now had a riveting closing half-hour in store with the Sharks two scores up and the previously noisy home atmosphere deflated.

Having played sublimely at Bristol, Saracens were clearly out of sorts and the scoreboard then quickly got away from them in the most calamitous of fashion when a panicked Alex Lewington, the late inclusion after the now-retired Sean Maitland pulled up in the warm-up, inexplicably gifted the ball to Rob du Preez on 52 minutes.

Ford added the extras it was now 20-3, an incredible advantage given the zero-zeroness of the fractious opening quarter.

It was around this time at Twickenham 12 months ago, with Sale ahead but by as much, when the Saracens Express clipped through the gears and there was a response here too.

Replacement Marco Riccioni on over via the pick-and-go on 66 minutes, with Farrell’s kick cutting the gap to 10-20. The hits that were already gladiatorial were now even more ferocious but Sale showed they had learned so much from last year’s final, remaining composed coming down the finishing straight to stay defensively tight and seal the deal.

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1 Comment
j
john 35 days ago

We dominated the scrums Ben Curry was all over pitch again .Surely James Harper got to be one of best English tightheads

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