Saracens edge past Sale
February 14, 2014
Charlie Hodgson scored five penalties
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Charlie Hodgson kicked all of Saracens' points as they secured a narrow 15-10 triumph over Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Hodgson's penalty gave Sarries an early 3-0 lead but Danny Cipriani's three-pointer and Marc Jones' try saw Sale go into the interval 10-3 ahead. The Sharks couldn't sustain the pressure in the second period as the 2011 champions dominated the game and their stand-off added four further penalties.
Mark McCall's men were looking to respond to their shock 22-13 defeat to London Irish last weekend - the team's only regular season loss at Allianz Park. They welcomed back Brad Barritt, Mako Vunipola and Alex Goode from England duty to boost the squad, but it was Sale who started the brighter as good hands from Johnny Leota and Rob Miller sent Mark Cueto away on the right-hand side.
However, impressive defence from the visitors earned a penalty and allowed them to set up their first attack of the game. Hooker Jamie George showed excellent dexterity to put a kick in behind the hosts' back three and, after the Sharks had again infringed, Hodgson converted the resulting opportunity to take Sarries in front.
Although Cipriani levelled matters following a mistake from Vunipola, the London-based outfit were in control of the match and should have scored when their stand-off's wonderful pass found Duncan Taylor in space. With the line at his the mercy, the centre's attempt at an off-load to Chris Ashton missed his intended target and Sale managed to clear.
Despite the next 15 minutes proceeding to take place between the 22s, both teams had moments of inspiration as Tom Brady and Goode made surging runs.
The deadlock was eventually broken when another mistake from the visitors allowed the home side to build pressure and a powerful driving maul ended in Jones going over. Cipriani added the conversion as the Sharks went into the break 10-3 in front.
Saracens opened the second period impressively with Vunipola particularly prominent with ball in hand, but an excellent tackle by Brady prevented Taylor from touching down. McCall's team continued to test the Sale rearguard and it paid off when Hodgson kicked a penalty to reduce the deficit.
Sarries' heavy duty pack had struggled to get a grip of their feisty northern opponents but, with the introduction of their strong bench, they began to assert control. Another successful three-point chance from their pivot took them to within one before a high James Gaskell tackle allowed the former England international to edge them ahead.
The weather was also playing its part with the Sharks finding it difficult to exit their half due to the strong wind. Gaskell did briefly threaten when a well-weighted Henry Thomas' pass saw the back-rower break visitors' gainline.
Nick Macleod then had the chance to take Sale ahead late on, but his effort missed the target and Hodgson rubber-stamped victory with a fifth from the tee.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
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