Charlie Hodgson struck deep into injury-time with a classic drop-goal to hand Sale a dramatic victory and condemn Saracens to their second successive GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP defeat.
The scores were tied at 15-15 when the discarded England fly-half collected the ball and calmly slotted over the posts to sent Edgeley Park into raptures.
Saracens totally dominated the opening 30 minutes and stormed into a 9-0 lead courtesy of Glen Jackson, who landed the first of his five penalties.
However, they allowed Sale to hit back with four penalties of their own to lead 12-9 in the early stages of an incredibly tense second half.
The visitors will feel aggrieved at being denied what looked a perfectly legal score by Andy Saull in the 50th minute.
A try at that point in such a tight contest would have provided a huge platform for victory but referee Rob Debney decided the young forward had knocked on before grounding the ball and Sale survived before Hodgson had the final say.
Saracens’ early dominance alone should have been enough to put the Sharks out of sight after they completely overran Philippe Saint-Andre’s side in the opening half hour.
Giant forwards Chris Jack, Steve Borthwick, Hugh Vyvyan and Michael Owen – none of whom stand below 6ft 5in – had a field day up front.
That it took Sale almost 30 minutes to escape their own half said everything about the early balance of power.
Saracens dominated not only the forward battle but also showed far more purpose and skill in their backline.
Full-back Richard Haughton – an ever-willing and dangerous runner from deep – put paid to a promising move in the sixth minute which saw the ball pass through three pairs of hands but culminated in Haughton knocking on from close to the left touchline.
Yet Saracens had already began to establish a stranglehold on proceedings and by the 26th minute Jackson had landed three penalties to put Saracens 9-0 ahead and seemingly in total control.
It was no more than they deserved and the only disappointment Jones must have felt was that his side had not established a greater lead.
The loss to injury of scrum-half Neil De Kock – who took a blow to the face and was replaced by Moses Raulini in the 29th minute – seemed to knock Saracens out of their stride.
Sale got the scent and Luke McAlister finally began to find some rhythm to help lay the platform for a spirited revival which cut the deficit to three points before the half-time whistle.
Hodgson – rejected by England but invaluable as ever to Sale – landed two excellent penalties from distance to haul his side back into the game at 9-6.
He had the opportunity to draw his level on the stroke of half-time but skewed another penalty wide of the posts from 25 metres when he looked a good bet to convert.
McAlister – a Kiwi who spent part of his childhood training with Manchester United schoolboys – assumed kicking duties after the restart and two well-struck penalties edged Sale ahead 12-9 by the 45th minute.
Then came the moment of controversy when Saull’s effort was ruled out after he had weaved his way through with some delightful footwork and Debney was forced to lecture Sebastien Chabal and Borthwick in the 56th minute as tempers began to fray.
Jackson claimed his fourth penalty of the evening moments later to draw the scores level at 12-12 but McAlister again proved trusty with the boot on the hour mark with his third penalty to put Sale back in front.
Five minutes later, Jackson’s fifth penalty of the evening again drew the scores level but Hodgson had the final say.