Saracens saw their LV= Cup semi-final hopes dashed despite an emphatic bonus-point win over Sale.
Chris Wyles was the star for Saracens with a hat-trick of tries, but Newport Gwent Dragons’ win over Llanelli Scarlets ended their chances of advancing. Matt Stevens made his first senior start for Saracens, while England RBS 6 Nations squad member Charlie Hodgson began at fly-half for Sale – against the team he’ll be playing for next season.
Saracens caught the visitors cold, scoring a well-worked try before two minutes had elapsed. The attack, launched towards the right, was switched cleverly by Owen Farrell, with Wyles touching down on the left. Farrell missed the conversion attempted from wide out, but had a hand in his team’s second try, scored in the sixth minute.
Again, Saracens attacked in strength and again it was United States international Wyles who finished it on the left. Farrell’s conversion flew wide. Sale hit back two minutes later when a fine break by Iain Thornley was halted close to the line. But the centre managed to offload well to full-back Nick Macleod who scored by the posts. Hodgson kicked the conversion.
Blustering winds made it difficult to judge kicking accurately, and Farrell missed a penalty after 13 minutes as well as a third conversion after flanker Jackson Wray was driven over Sale’s line in the 15th.
Prop Stevens was enjoying considerable success in the scrum, helping create a platform from which Saracens launched a succession of powerful attacks that kept Sale pinned in their 22. The pressure told again on 23 minutes. Saracens kicked a penalty to touch, Mouritz Botha took the throw and when the maul got rolling, Sale were crushed, hooker Jamie George driven over for the fourth, bonus-point winning try.
This time, Farrell’s conversion looked spot-on only to strike to right-hand post and fly out. Saracens extended their lead in the 33rd minute with an Alex Goode penalty, which he repeated two minutes from half-time when Sale were once more penalised for offside by referee Leighton Hodges.
Things got worse for Sale just five minutes after the break when Wyles broke up the left, kicked ahead and beat opposite number Rhys Crane in a straight sprint to complete his hat-trick. Farrell missed the conversion.
Despite ringing the changes, Saracens continued to threaten with Alex Goode switched to fly-half when Farrell left after an hour. To their credit, Sale battled defiantly, making repeated tackles to stem the flow. Back Hilary Staff came off the bench to make his Saracens debut, and was quickly armed with a chance to attack. A six-man move was halted by smother defence feet from the Sale line.
Sale were finding it increasingly difficult to escape their own half, and at times, their 22. And they finally cracked again on 72 minutes when skipper Ernst Joubert smashed his way between two defenders, Goode adding the conversion. Try number seven arrived four minutes later when an attempted clearance was charged down and Justin Melck had the legs to get outside the cover defence. Goode added the conversion.
The rout was completed when Rodd Penney, back with Saracens after a spell in France, sped up the right unchallenged to score by the flag.