Having watched a cracking game of rugby I was very much looking forward to the 2nd instalment of the back to back European Rugby Champions Cup. Sale Sharks had the possession but couldn’t capitalise at home; would it be different at Allianz Park. My match day experience was very different for this game as I was kindly given 2 tickets for the very salubrious Tulip Club. My good friend Monica joined me for a superb 3 course meal; I was reassured that the desert had no calories as it was the weekend!
We were treated to some pre match chat between Hugh Vyvyan, Schalk Brits and one Thomas Castagnede, that, I must confess was quite exciting but the hug and the promise of an interview from Schalk was most certainly an early highlight! The company was great, the food sublime and the blankets and plush seats made the whole thing a great experience.
And so to the rugby; well let’s go for the entrance of the teams first. It was spectacular to have red flares and fireworks going off; not so spectacular that there was so much smoke for a moment everything was hidden! The smoke cleared and so after a delay, the game began; in a difficult group containing Munster and Clermont Auvergne a bonus point win would be what the home team were seeking.
Although Saracens show a lot of wins for the season so far I’ve felt that they’ve not been firing on all cylinders; Sale Sharks had run them close in game one. Sale arrived with no Danny Cipriani which was a real shame, he’s one of the reasons I started watching club rugby, such a skilful player when he’s on form. Owen Farrell on the other hand started at 10 for Saracens; after Charlie Hodgson left the pitch with an injury in game one.
Farrell kicked off once the smoke had cleared and we were off; the 1st mistake of the game saw George Kruis drop the ball what should have been a scrum went back for a penalty to Sale as Jacques Burger had been spotted pulling a man out by the neck. The penalty was in the Sale half so gave possession only. Sale showed their strength in the maul early on, making good ground as they drove up the pitch.
Billy Vunipola turned the ball over in the ruck setting off a great attack for the home team as Duncan Taylor evaded the tackle to get the ball away to Chris Ashton; big brother Makp knocked the ball on as play progressed but a penalty had already been awarded against Sale. Farrell kicked to touch in an early show of intent.
Saracens looked certain to score as the ball made its way out to David Strettle on the wing; David Strettle in wonderful form again this season dropped the ball passed to him by Ashton; a tough pill to swallow but he was good enough to smile as he watched on the big screen.
The 1st scrum saw a penalty awarded against Mako Vunipola allowing Sale to clear their lines. A wayward box kick by Richard Wigglesworth gave Sale an even better platform; thwarted however by a very poor throw in. The 2nd try saw the penalty go the way of Saracens as they improved their technique. Saracens drown toward the line form the resulting line out and were awarded a penalty as the ball was handled on the floor. Looking at the replay it would seem Nathan Hines was hard done by. Owen Farrell kicked for the posts this time putting the 1st points on the board.
Mako Vunipola went into a ruck with Nathan Hines and Mark Cueto winning a penalty; just inside the Sale half but duly converted by Farrell. David Strettle saw the send of his game from the kick off as he hit heads with with the on rushing tackler, in spite of pushing the medical staff away he was lead from the field, with an egg appearing non his cheek, not to return.
Nathan Hines scored for Sale after a concerted attack, in spite of being awarded several penalties they kept going with an impressive attack; Hines with several Saracens attached went over the top of the ruck to put the ball down. Non too shoddy from the 38 year old powerhouse! Nick McLeod added the extras to put his team ahead.
Jamie George as a rule a wonder week in week out was having something of a nightmare with his line out throws, one going totally awry another not straight in fairly quick succession. Saracens however went on the attack with Mako Vunipola showing that he’s getting back to match fitness, they went close to the line, but lost the ball as it was turned over in the ruck. The same happened moments later and was then reversed as Saracens won the ball back.
Alex Goode showed he could do what his wingers could as Saracens ran forward with the backs combining; Taylor again made a good run, Goode put in a great dive to score in the corner. Farrell missed what was a hard conversion; he’d shown earlier that he’s afraid of no man as he and the huge Nathan Hines had a small shirt pulling session.
Sale were awarded a penalty on the stroke of half time as Mako Vuniploa was penalised in his over exuberance; the teams went in with the score on Saracens 11 Sale 8.
Saracens had a scrum early in the 2nd half after the ball was knocked on in a Sale line out, it looked a solid scrum with the ball won, but they delayed the ball coming out and lost possession. Sale made no such mistake in the resulting scrum and were the awarded a penalty as Billy Vunipola came into the ruck and went off his feet. I will say at this point that I’m re watching the game as I write this, I am often a critic of the commentators but I have to say I do enjoy listening to Will Greenwood, he talks a lot of sense.
Saracens had a concerted attacking spell and were awarded a penalty as Sale failed to roll away; Farrell scored the 3 points to stretch the lead. The next attack was to yield a try for the home team after Chris Ashton started the move; Billy Vunipola made a great break, passing to Chris Wyles who sent the ball to Ben Ransom, on for David Strettle, Ransom finished what was a great sequence of play. Farrell was successful with the conversion.
Joe Ford made an entrance and started with a great kick to touch to put Sale in a great attacking position; Neil De Kock on for Wigglesworth cleared the Saracens lines however. In a repeat of the previous game Sale attacked through their forwards making great ground; the ball was lost however as a wayward pass by Mike Haley forced Tom Brady into touch.
Jamie George got his throw just right in a high pressure line out, the ball making its way to Chris Wyles who kicked the ball down field. Jim Hamilton won the ball from the Sale line out but the ball was then knocked on. Saracens seemed to concede lots of penalties in the 2nd half it felt that a card might make an appearance at some stage.
I’d been impressed with Sale’s ball handling in the 1st game and so it was in the 2nd meeting; they’re a good team to watch; bodes well if I decide to make that move up to rugby league land! Another penalty awarded against Saracens near their line; disputed by Kelly Brown as captain but given all the same. Joe Ford kicked for touch in a big to take advantage of the strong Sale pack.
George Kruis knocked the ball on in the line out, quite clearly in spite of what the home fans thought; however Sale lost the advantage as they were out powered in the scrum. James Johnson who struggled in the 1st game emerged the victor. George Kruis was clearly enjoying being back home as he was one of the players making a break as Saracens surged forward for their next try. Billy Vunipola powered through to score taking a couple of Sale players with him. Farrell converted but time was running out for Saracens to chase the bonus point try.
Brett Sharman came onto replace Jamie George only to be the one to take the card that had been coming for Saracens, I imagine he barely got a hair out of place. The pack that had shown so much promise for Sale got the try they deserved as they rolled over the line Eifion Lewis Roberts had his name on the scorecard. Joe Ford’s successful conversion was the last play of the game. The game finished on Saracens 28 Sale Sharks 15.
Once again the stats show that Sale had 58% possession and 60% territory, yet Saracens made 447 metres to Sale’s 242.; in fact if you look at the stats overall it would be a surprise to see that Saracens had won the game. Munster’s visit in January should be the decisive match for Saracens in the competition this season; I feel certain they’ll need to be on top stats wise to progress.