Having never been to the North West to watch rugby union it seemed rude not to go when Saracens were drawn against Sale Sharks in the European Rugby Champions Cup – such a mouthful! It was so much easer when it was just the Heineken Cup!
And so it was plans were made to travel to Manchester, with a hotel booked my car knows it’s own way there even if the trips I make are usually to watch rugby league! I managed to arrange an interview on the Friday, with Steve McCormack, Scotland RL coach and now working with Wigan Warriors. Perfect all round! I set off stupidly early, I think maybe I thought I was going to Scotland!
Steve was very interesting to talk to and that interview will follow; I managed to drive myself into the middle of Manchester when we’d finished. My hair is blond (now) and it really seems that at times I can be blond by nature! But no harm done, I met up with my lovely friends Sharon and Alun fellow Saracens fans at the Trafford Centre and they actually introduced me to shopping as a pleasurable experience! Only 4 shops mind you!
We met up with Steve and Clare the following morning and made our way to the AJ Bell Stadium by taxi, a long queue and feeling horribly car sick we arrived at the impressive looking stadium. I’d never been to Sale’s ground before but had watched Salford at home; this is something of a huge improvement! We had great seats in the main stand; at 25 English Pounds they were a real bargain too!
Saracens were fielding a strong team; with several players returning from international duty and Mako Vunipola back from a long term injury; they had travelled looking for a win after defeats against Northampton Saints and Exeter Chiefs and a draw away at Leicester Tigers. They were in great need of a win!
Sale Sharks with 2 losses in the competition behind them were riding high with victories over London Irish, Harlequins and Newcastle behind them. The game would prove to be a very hard fought affair.
The first penalty came from a scrum dominated by Saracens after a promising attack was thwarted by a knock on by Mark Cueto; the scrum hasn’t been happy for Saracens in recent weeks, the sight much have been pleasing for Mark McCall. Charlie Hodgson took full advantage putting 3 points on the board.
Danny Cipriani kicked a great penalty to touch putting the home team in a great attacking position; the rolling maul was stopped by an illegal move by Saracens and Cipriani again kicked to touch. This time the impressive maul resulted in a try for captain Magnus Lund; a very difficult move to counter and a well deserved try scored. Cipriani added the extras with a great kick.
A non rugby comment – it never ceases to amaze me that professional sportsmen can be bothered with long hair! And I’d say Magnus Lund must surely have the longest hair in the Premiership! I imagine he’s always last out of the showers.
There was an awful lot of ‘rugby tennis’ in the game never the best of spectacles; one spell was ended by Alex Goode finding touch much to the relief of the little lad sitting behind us; at 10 years old and in a Liverpool FC jacket he was a young man who really knew his rugby! Always lovely to hear/see.
Charlie Hodgson who’s always been a classy player, never more so than while he’s been at Saracens made a superb break from a line out after Chris Cusiter in effect kicked the ball straight out; he broke through evading tacklers and ran down the wing; passing inside to Owen Farrell who scored the try. Magnus Lund was on Farrell’s back and it could have been argued that Farrell’s movement was more than momentum. But, the try was awarded and 5 points scored; this time the conversion was missed.
After some attritional forwards dominated play Sales Sharks produced a little magic spreading the ball across the pitch after Luke Mclean had kept the ball in touch; a feature of their game were the ‘quick hands’ they displayed. Exciting rugby to watch in spite of the move breaking down. Saracens went their own attack but Sale defence well and were awarded a penalty to clear their lines.
Dany Cipriani showed a spark of brilliance as he chipped a ball over the Saracens defence for Cueto; Goode was lucky not to be penalised as he fell Cueto after going to ground. A penalty was awarded against Saracens later and Cipriani put his team ahead with a great kick from just inside the Saracens half. As he scored Charlie Hodgson left the field seeing Marcelo Bosch enter the fray and Owen Farrell move to fly half.
Farrell’s kicking skills were put into action moments later with a successful penalty kick; good to see him making the Joining Jack sign to raise awareness of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The teams went in at half time with the scores on Sale 10 Saracens 11 after a very entertaining half of rugby.
Watching the rerun; Mark Cueto and Chris Ashton had a bit of a kicking competition early on; not of the ball but each other. That wasn’t seen or policed but a penalty was given to Saracens. Farrell kicked to touch and Saracens went on their own rolling maul; Billy Vunipola coming up as the triumphant try scorer. The kick looked to be successful in the ground but was deemed to have gone the wrong side of the posts.
Sale went straight back on the attack working through 16 phases before the ball was kicked into touch by Cipriani. The young Sale fullback, Michael Haley an unusually slight player, impressed throughout the game, especially during this long attack.
Having had a successful time with a front row of Petrus Du Plessis – a bit of an using hero for Saracens and Mako Vunipola (and of course Jamie George) James Johnston came on to replace Du Plessis and was almost immediately penalised as the scrum collapsed.
Sale were given a great attacking position as Alex Goode allowed a box kick deep into the Saracens half to bounce; the ball was spread across the field and Goode redeemed himself as he took Mclean into touch with the ball.
Sale weren’t to be denied a try however after Magnus Lund made a great run evading several tacklers; Andrei Ostrokov a lock looking like a winger glided through the gaps in the Saracens defence to score a great try. The kick looked and easy one but was hooked by Nick Macleod.
A drop goal by Owen Farrell was to be the last addition to the scoreboard; in spite of a huge attacking effort by Sale Sharks. the statistics show that the home team had 62% possession 61% territory with Saracens making 130 tackles to their 66. The possession didn’t translate into points for Sale and the defensive effort by Saracens saw them come away with the victory with the scores in Sale Sharks 15 Saracens 19 with George Kruis receiving the Man of The Match plaudit a further indicate that defence won the day. A low scoring yet thoroughly entertaining game! I’m looking forward to the rematch!