Valentine’s Day had me planning to trek to Allianz Park to spend an agreeable evening meeting fellow fans, eating curry and watching Saracens on the big screen, I was due to take a friend whose husband had made the journey to Manchester, to watch squash rather than rugby. However torrential rain and high winds and an unusually sensible head meant I decided against making the journey; so Friday night was still a curry, but girl talk rather than the rugby. So I’m writing this report as I watch the game on Sunday evening. I wonder just how much the commentators (Austin Healy) are going to annoy me! Saracens travelled to Sale with a poor performance and a loss to London Irish behind them, Sale Sharks had beaten Gloucester at home.
Knowing the result I can’t think that this is going to be a long match report, but you never know it may have been an enthralling battle! Danny Cipriani showed some early magic as the home team went on the attack, passing the ball across the line, Sharks have been successful at home and were clearly hoping to take the points having lead at Allianz Park for an hour in November, Dwayne Peel was penalised for holding on as Matt Stevens found him wanting. As I watch the Saracens lineout, Tom Youngs performance as replacement hooker for England has been causing me some concern; Jamie George of Saracens has been having a great season so far, I can’t see him in the England set up this year, but I do think he’s one for the future. As I type Jamie kicks the ball forward, Duncan Taylor looked good to score, but Mark Cueto tackled him without the ball. A penalty was awarded, but yes, I agree with the commentators, that was despicable and for me a yellow card; a try scoring opportunity stopped by an off the ball tackle? Saracens were awarded a penalty, as they attacked after the initial penalty lineout, as the Sharks hooker Marc Jones failed to roll away. Charlie Hodgson with a kick in front of the posts scored the 3 points.
Sale had a good attacking spell stopped by a tackle on Cipriani by Jacques Burger as he had to delay his pass; I can only begin to imagine what that must feel like, particularly for a Back, a scary prospect! Alex Goode made a great break having caught the ball from a Dwayne Peel box kick, Kelly Brown failed to take the pass and knocked on. On 14 minutes Saracens chose to try and play out from near their own line, Mako Vunipola dropped the ball and Brad Barritt was then penalised in the ruck. Danny Cipriani kicking against a very harsh wind converted the penalty. Another strange refereeing decision happened from the kick off as Sam Tuitopou clearly ran across Chris Ashton’s line to block him, a scrum was awarded rather than a penalty. Duncan Taylor made a very strange decision to try a pass as he was virtually over the line, the pass went astray, Taylor is no small centre, that was a time to back himself! Any of you who follow me om Twitter will know I’ve been pretty vociferous about Chris Ashton and his recent form in the England shirt, he just hasn’t justified his place, however the style of play presented by Saracens is really suiting him this season, allowing him to rove across the pitch at times, he showed several stunning pieces of play in the first half.
The Sale winger, Tom Brady, took a high ball from a kick from Richard Wigglesworth, he chose to run back at Saracens and make a great job of it making virtually half way before he passed.to Michael Paterson; Cipriani misjudged his kick in the resulting attack and the ball rolled over the touch line. As the ball was kicked away Jacques Burger and Andrei Ostrikov decided to become better acquainted in a handbag style way, the referee told them to stop and not do it again! You have to love rugby, sensible officials! Sale Sharks scored the only try of the game on 36 minutes, after Michael Paterson had brilliantly taken the ball after Saracens had won the ball from their own lineout. Saracens were penalised as Burger didn’t roll away. Cipriani kicked to touch and Sharks went onto a strong rolling maul, Saracens offered little resistance and Marc Jones placed the ball down to score a great forwards try. Cipriani added the extras to take the score to Sale 10 Saracens 3. The teams went in with Sale ahead in spite of Saracens efforts they had only the 3 points to show, a 3rd defeat must have looked on the cards.
Saracens went close at with 2 minutes of the second half gone after a good attacking display by their forwards. Taylor went over the line but was quite clearly held up, a decision for the ref surely rather than the TMO, he was standing right there as was the touch judge! Saracens continued to attack form the resulting scrum but couldn’t find a way across the line due to great defending by the Sharks. Charlie Hodgson knocked on handing the momentum back to the home team. Cipriani in trying to kick the ball away, saw the ball blocked by Richard Wigglesworth, he has always had a tendency to take too long when kicking the ball away, maybe a key reason why he forfeited the England shirt. Saracens were awarded a penalty on 49 minutes; Hodgson closed the gap as the ball went over the posts. David Seymour had suffered a horrible looking injury in the run up to the penalty as his elbow was bent back the wrong way; a real shame as he’d had a great game up to that point, amazingly as I look now his elbow was bandaged and he carried on! BT Sport were kind enough to show the incident again, and I do have to be a girl here, oh my word, just awful!
A further penalty came Saracens way as Sale substitute Ross Harrison failed to release Saracens sub Schalk Brits in the tackle. The kick looked a hard one with awful conditions added in, but Charlie Hodgson had his kicking boots on and the kick was successful. James Gaskell made a high tackle on Neil De Kock as he attacked; often likely to happen when a tall man tackles a small man going down; the penalty was from a very similar position to the previous one, and Charlie Hodgson scored to put Saracens back in the lead by 2 points. The hour mark saw Joel Tomkins come on, great to see him back after being injured in the Autumn Internationals; it must be devastating to lose so much time out of what is a limited career. An interesting decision made by the ref after Sale knocked on, a Saracens player did go off his feet but the ball had already gone forward; aren’t touch judges meant to be there to cover the referee’s blind spot? Then lo and behold the touch judge did see a later knock on and call it, only for the ref to ignore his assistant. Sale were given a chance to take the lead with 5 minutes remaining, but replacement fly half Nick McLeod missed the posts from a difficult angle. I think Sale will feel quite hard done by after Jacques Burger knocked the ball back into the scrum on nearly 78 minutes which most probably should have been a penalty for the home team, instead at the next reset the penalty was won by Saracens. Charlie Hodgson took his personal tally to 15 giving the win to his team. Sharks had a last chance attack and again were hard done by as a late tackle by Schalk Brits was ignored by the officials. Either team could have won the game, it has to be said either team deserved to win. 6 Nations time is a tough time for those teams weakened by their players going off on international duty, what was pleasing as a Saracens fan is that their starting 15 had 14 who are or have been 6 Nations qualified. Next week Saracens face the Exeter Chiefs, that will be another very tough test.