Planet Rugby

Saracens pip Sale Sharks

09th March 2008 16:59

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Cencus Johnston Saracens

Prop Idol: Cencus Johnston finds a gap

Saracens ended their three-match losing run with a tense 24-20 victory over Sale at Vicarage Road on Sunday, a result which keeps their Guinness Premiership play-off hopes very much alive.

A fourth successive defeat would have left them with a big gap to close, but Saracens opened up a 21-0 lead and then resisted Sale's second-half rally to go level on points with the north-west side.

Forwards Ben Skirving and Cencus Johnston scored the first-half tries which put the home side in the driving seat.

Fly-half Glen Jackson moved to the top of the Premiership scoring chart with a 14-point contribution as he landed five kicks from six attempts.

Jackson's four penalties and a conversion took him to 134 for the season, enabling him to overtake Sale's Charlie Hodgson, on 124, who missed the match after coming off the replacements bench for England at Murrayfield 24 hours earlier.

Sale replied with tries from Sebastien Chabal and Oriol Ripol, with former New Zealand international Luke McAlister, who switched from centre to fly-half in the absence of Hodgson, kicking two conversions and two penalties.

But they were always chasing the game after Saracens went 21-0 ahead in the first half.

Sale missed a third-minute opportunity to take the lead when Ripol needlessly put a foot in touch before supplying a return pass to full-back Mark Cueto who had the line at his mercy.

Jackson opened the scoring 11 minutes later after Sale were caught offside but was fortunate not to concede a try when Sharks scrum-half Sililo Martens charged down his clearance kick.

Saracens celebrated their escape when number eight Skirving ran 45 metres through the middle for a try when he snatched up the ball after visiting winger Julien Laharrague spilled a pass.

The winger, whose right thigh was heavily strapped, was immediately withdrawn and replaced by Chris Mayor.

Jackson landed two more penalties and was also on target with the conversion after Johnston, the heavyweight Samoan prop, scored a try worthy of a winger, stepping inside three Sale players near the right-hand touchline before powering his way to the line.

Sale opened their account in the final minute of the first half when Chabal, the number eight overlooked by France for this season's Six Nations, forced his way over from close range and McAlister converted.

The Sale pack, with flanker Kris Chesney making a record-equalling 193rd Guinness Premiership appearance to go level with Wasps second row Simon Shaw and former London Irish prop Neal Hatley - provided a solid foundation in the first half after successive defeats by Newcastle, Harlequins and London Irish.

But Sale stepped up their game in the second half, leaving Saracens grateful to hang on for victory.

McAlister kicked two penalties to reduce the deficit to 21-13 before Jackson kicked his fourth penalty for the home side.

Sale were denied a second try when Saracens full-back Richard Haughton made a last-ditch tackle on McAlister who had glided through a gaping hole in the home defence.

Then it was Saracens' turn to squander a gilt-edged opportunity when right wing Rodd Penney burst through but held on to the ball too long before compounding the error by throwing a forward pass to centre Dan Scarbrough, who had a clear run to the line.

The scorers:

For Saracens:

Tries: Skirving, Johnson

Cons: Jackson

Pens: Jackson 4

For Sale Sharks:

Tries: Chabal, Ripol

Cons: McAlister 2

Pens: McAlister 2

Saracens: 15 Richard Haughton, 14 Kameli Ratuvou, 13 Dan Scarbrough, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Rodd Penney, 10 Glen Jackson, 9 Neil de Kock (c), 8 Ben Skirving, 7 Don Barrell, 6 Kris Chesney, 5 Hugh Vyvyan, 4 Chris Jack, 3 Cencus Johnston, 2 Andy Kyriacou, 1 Nick Lloyd.

Replacements: 16 Matt Cairns, 17 Cobus Visagie, 18 Tom Ryder, 19 Paul Gustard, 20 Moses Rauluni, 21 Brent Russell, 22 Edd Thrower.

Sale Sharks: 15 Mark Cueto, 14 Julien Laharrague, 13 Chris Bell, 12 Elvis Seveali'i, 11 Oriol Ripol, 10 Luke McAlister, 9 Sililo Martens, 8 Sebastien Chabal, 7 Magnus Lund, 6 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 5 Chris Jones, 4 Dean Schofield (c), 3 Eifion Roberts, 2 Sebastien Bruno, 1 Lionel Faure.

Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Terry Sigley, 18 Sean Cox, 19 Nathan Bonner Evans, 20 Will Cliff, 21 Lee Thomas, 22 Ben Foden.

Referee: Dean Richards

Touch judges: Paul Emerson, Andrew Watson

Assessor: Paul Bridgman

Television match official: Laurie Bryant

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