Sale earn shock win at Saracens to reach play-offs

Gallagher Premiership

Saracens: (3) 10

Try: Riccioni Con: Farrell Pen: Farrell

Sale: (10) 20

Tries: Roebuck, du Preez Cons: Ford 2 Pens: Ford 2

Sale secured a Premiership play-off place as they earned a rare away victory at Saracens to end the regular season with five straight wins.

After a cagey opening, Sale hit the front through Tom Roebuck’s converted try before Owen Farrell and George Ford exchanged penalties to give the Sharks a 10-3 half-time lead.

Ford booted the visitors further ahead before Rob du Preez intercepted Alex Lewington's loose pass to walk in and extend the lead to 17 points.

Marco Riccione's close-range try cut the deficit, but it proved too little, too late as a first home defeat since December saw Sarries drop two places to fourth and lose home advantage for the play-off semi-finals.

The two sides could yet meet for the second season running in the Premiership final, with Saracens now facing a tough semi-final trip to table-topping Northampton on Friday, 31 May, while third-placed Sale head to Bath the following day.

Sarries slump as Farrell says farewell to StoneX

Saracens had already secured their play-off spot last weekend, but needed a win to secure home advantage for the semi-finals.

Sale, meanwhile, knew defeat - at a ground where they had lost on 11 of their 12 previous visits - combined with victories for any of the three sides below them, would cost them their place in the play-offs.

Sharks had lost seven of their previous eight matches on the road, while Sarries had lost just once this season at home.

But the hosts failed to fire for much of the match, as departing stars Owen Farrell and the Vunipola brothers made an underwhelming farewell to the StoneX.

Sale lay down a play-off marker

Ben Bamber and Ben Curry celebrate
Sale finished the regular season in third thanks to five straight wins [Getty Images]

A stop-start, edgy opening 20 minutes betrayed what was at stake for both sides, with Sarries - who lost the retiring Sean Maitland to injury in the warm-up - happy to put boot to ball.

The visitors lost Manu Tuilagi to a knock after just 17 minutes in an attritional, physical encounter, but struck first when Roebuck’s step inside outfoxed the home defence and gave him a clear run under the posts.

Farrell’s penalty cut the lead to 7-3 almost immediately, and Sarries enjoyed a huge let-off shortly before the break when England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie collected an overthrown line-out but spilled the ball before touching down.

Ford kicked the visitors further ahead after Sharks’ dominant pack earned a third scrum penalty of the half against the head, and then stretched the lead to two scores with another three points early in the second half.

Sarries continued to misfire and their prospects of a home semi-final were in real jeopardy when Lewington struggled to handle the awkward bounce of Sam James’ deep kick to give Du Preez a crucial score.

Sarries finally sparked into life after director of rugby Mark McCall rang the changes, with prop Riccioni going over on 66 minutes - teed up by fellow replacement Theo Dan's superb line break.

Farrell's conversion cut the gap to 10 points, but the visitors' defence held out impressively under some intense, if belated, Sarries pressure.

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said:

“We were poor today and played unenthused if we are honest and that is a difficult thing to say with what was at stake.

“You have that little thing in the back of your mind because everything is on the line for them and we had the safety net of already being there and it looked like their want was bigger, you saw how enthusiastic they were and if that is the case, that is disappointing.

“It is not what we wanted. Our number one strength this year as a group has been responding to setbacks and disappointing performances very well and our next performance being really strong.

“We are going to need to do that, there are no more second chances and there won’t be another chance after the next game but we need to see if we can respond to what happened today.”

Saracens prop Mako Vunipola told BBC Radio London:

"Today was a tough one, but we got what we deserved."

On play-off against Northampton: "We've not played very well against them twice this year and they're the form team, and the team to beat this year.

"All we've got to do is concentrate on what we can do and hopefully we'll put in a performance that we'll be proud of. If we do that, we'll be happy.

"I'd like to keep playing, so the next step is to figure out what's going on with that, but I understand how things are and I’m very fortunate that I've got a bit more time on my side."

Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson told BBC Radio 5 Live:

"Sale hadn't won here for 20 years, but then we hadn't won at Newcastle for ages [until last week] so it seems that this group that we've got at the moment have a want and desire to break records and set standards and send messages.

"The set-piece was slightly off in the first 10 minutes but the physicality was there in spades.

"We slipped off slightly in the second half through fatigue, but they just dug in and did so well against a Sarries team which never dies. It's in their DNA."

Saracens: Daly, Lewington, Cinti, Tompkins, Parton, Farrell, van Zyl, M Vunipola, George, Judge, Itoje, Tizard, Gonzalez, Earl, Willis.

Replacements: Dan, Mawi, Riccioni, Isiekwe, McFarland, B Vunipola, Davies, Goode.

Sale: Carpenter, Roebuck, R du Preez, Tuilagi, O’Flaherty, Ford, Warr, Rodd, Cowan-Dickie, Harper, Wiese, Andrews, Curry (c), Dugdale, JL du Preez.

Replacements: Taylor, McIntyre, John, Bamber, van Rhyn, Quirke, James, Reed.

Referee: Luke Pearce.