Sale stun Saracens to reach final
March 10, 2013
Sale's Tom Holmes grabbed their first score
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Sale shocked Saracens to book their place in the Anglo-Welsh Cup final thanks to a 21-15 triumph.
Four Ben Spencer penalties to Danny Cipriani's two gave Sarries a 12-6 advantage midway through the first half before Tom Holmes' unconverted touchdown reduced the deficit to one point at the interval. Spencer added his fifth three-pointer in the second period but Nathan Fowles went over and Cipriani kicked another penalty to send the Sharks into the final where they will face Harlequins.
Despite fielding a virtually full-strength side in the round-robin phase, Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond decided to rest a number of his first-choice players with their Aviva Premiership relegation battle still ongoing. Meanwhile, Sarries boss Mark McCall continued his philosophy of giving his fringe squad members a chance to impress in the knockout competition.
The hosts started the brighter, with Mike Haley - who came in as a late replacement for Cameron Shepherd - surging down the right-hand side. Although a knock-on ended the move, the pressure was eventually rewarded after four minutes when the visitors infringed at the breakdown and Cipriani kicked the penalty. The lead was short-lived as indiscipline from the restart offered up a simple chance for Spencer to level, which he duly took.
With the wind against them in the opening period the Sharks were being pinned back in their own half and successive penalties from scrum-half Spencer took Saracens into a 9-3 lead. The respective kickers then traded penalties but it was the visitors who were controlling most of the territory.
However, they failed to make their dominance tell on the scoreboard as a solid Sale rearguard kept McCall's men from crossing the whitewash, and the hosts profited when one of their few excursions into the opposition 22 resulted in a try. It stemmed from a poor throw at the lineout by hooker Tommy Taylor, but the ball fell kindly for Holmes and he powered his way over.
Spurred on by that touchdown just before the break, the home side did most of the running in the early second-half exchanges. Andy Powell - impressive throughout - and Charlie Ingall both made bursts but mistakes at crucial moments prevented them from building on a positive opening. Instead, it was Sarries who were next to threaten as Ben Ransom and Jack Wilson made incursions into Sharks territory.
With 20 minutes to go Saracens decided to send on the cavalry with former England internationals Matt Stevens and Charlie Hodgson coming on to the field. Almost immediately they earned a penalty in front of the posts which Spencer kicked to extend the lead to 15-11.
But the Sharks hit back when, after numerous phases, James Gaskell's offload found Fowles and the replacement half-back touched down. Cipriani added the conversion and then a late three-pointer to seal the win.
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