Saracens edge out Sale
March 1, 2009
Saracens' Nick Lloyd forces his way over for his side's first try at Vicarage Road
© Getty Images
Saracens notched a narrow 24-23 victory over Sale in their Guinness Premiership clash at Vicarage Road.
After away defeats to lowly Northampton and Newcastle seventh-placed Saracens returned to winning ways with tries from prop Nick Lloyd and wing Noah Cato and 14 points - three penalties, a conversion and a drop goal - from stand-off Glen Jackson. Sale should have snatched a late victory, however. Lock Dean Schofield scored his second try four minutes from the end, but centre Lee Thomas pulled the relatively simple conversion wide.
Saracens hit the headlines in the week by announcing that many of their players - 15 was reported - will not be required next season. Sale director of rugby Kingsley Jones said he has already had agents on to him and there were a number of the home side who did their hopes of a move no harm at all.
Thomas did score a try, a conversion and two penalties, but it was his miss near the end that he was left to reflect on most. Saracens took the lead in the ninth minute with a Jackson penalty awarded when opposite number Charlie Hodgson threw the ball away to prevent a quick line-out.
It became 8-0 soon afterwards with Lloyd barging his way over, but Jackson hit the post with his conversion attempt and back came Sale after 16 minutes with a try of their own from Schofield after a kick had been charged down. Thomas converted that before both teams were forced into changes, Saracens losing prop Cencus Johnston and Sale both scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth and prop Eifion Roberts at the same time midway through the half.
Sale had seven of their squad away on international duty, but despite the further losses Thomas kicked them into a 10-8 lead with a 29th minute penalty. Saracens were soon in more trouble when Lloyd had to be helped from the field. However, before half-time they turned things back their way thanks to Jackson landing both a drop goal and a second penalty. Another came back off a post.
At 14-10 down on the restart and with uncontested scrums because of more injuries Sale pressed hard to regain the ascendancy, but after Thomas missed a penalty Saracens stretched the difference by a further seven points. They created a clear overlap down the left and New Zealand lock Chris Jack passed for Cato to touch down for a try converted by Jackson.
Within seven minutes, though, the gap was back to only three points. Thomas scored in the opposite corner and although he missed the conversion he made no mistake with a 58th minute. Jackson was presented with two more penalty chances and landed the second for 24-18. It was a lead that was whittled down again, but they just held on.
Following the game, Saracens director of rugby Eddie Jones reflected on what he called "the worst week I've ever had in rugby" that saw the club announce plans for a massive clear-out of players at the end of the season.
"I've never seen anything like it. Some of the guys have been in tears all week, and yesterday there was a meeting with lawyers. I'm 100% disappointed. I brought my family here and I wanted to build a strong club, the best in Europe. There's never a right time for this. The impact of culling so many of your best players has a massive effect on the club. But I've told the players I am fighting their corner, and my job is to leave the club in the best shape I can. I guarantee I will."
As for beating second-placed Sale, in the circumstances of the week, the Australian added, "The senior players have been fantastic in pulling the guys together. I take no credit."
Sale director of rugby Kingsley Jones refused to put the blame on Thomas following his crucial conversion miss. "Lee's sitting in the changing room with his head in his hands, but he was one of the best players on the field," he said. "There were other opportunities we didn't take, and our discipline was the disappointment. I felt that let us down.
"The positive was that we got a bonus point. We caught Saracens at a tough time for them, but if I was in their shoes I'd go out to have the game of my life. We found a very determined Saracens side."
In the match programme Saracens chief executive officer Edward Griffiths admitted it had been a difficult week, but stated: "I believe it will prove to be the darkest day before a genuine, bright and lasting dawn."
He called on fans to support the team "as never before" and told them: "The club is implementing a concerted business plan to transform itself from a perennially mid-table outfit losing in excess of £2million every season into a club that achieves sustained success on the field and moves towards commercial viability off the field."
The target is to have 15,000 at all home games. Today's attendance was 8,311.
Chairman Nigel Wray added, "At the moment the game of rugby is essentially split into two, the RFU who make a very substantial profit despite a burgeoning bureaucracy and the Premier League clubs who make a very substantial loss i.e. something is going wrong here. We have to make Saracens sustainable otherwise sooner or later the model will break, as indeed it will for everyone else."
Saracens: Goode, Haughton, Ratuvou, Powell, Cato, Jackson, Marshall, Lloyd, Cairns, Johnston, Jack, Vyvyan, van Heerden, Saull, Skirving, Visagie.
Replacements: Penney for Haughton (70), Barritt for Powell (70), Wilson for Marshall (76), Seymour for Lloyd (32), Visagie for Johnston (17), Chesney for Jack (59), Kyriacou for Visagie (35).
Sale: McLeod, Bell, Keil, Thomas, Doherty, Hodgson, Wigglesworth, Faure, Briggs, Roberts, Schofield, Cockbain, C. Jones, Abraham, Fernandez Lobbe, Turner.
Replacements: Kuadey for Doherty (65), Leck for Wigglesworth (21), D. Tait for Faure (54), Turner for Roberts (21), Cox for Cockbain (41), M. Jones for Turner (36). Not Used: Ripol.
Ref: Tim Wigglesworth (RFU)