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Match Report: Sale Sharks 36 Saracens 36

27 Feb 2016
Match Report: Sale Sharks 36 Saracens 36

Danny Cipriani’s last-gasp conversion attempt of a Tom Arscott try went wide but Sale Sharks preserved their unbeaten home record in Aviva Premiership Rugby this season following a see-saw draw with Saracens.

Sharks had raced into a 17-point lead from the off, with Sam James, Johnny Leota and  Arscott all crossing in the opening quarter.

But Saracens stormed back with 22 unanswered points to complete the half – Chris Wyles notching a try-double after Jim Hamilton’s effort.

Then, after Cipriani’s three penalties had given Sale the advantage, Nick Tompkins and Mike Ellery took advantage of two Sharks mistakes to put league leaders Saracens ten points ahead.

However, Cipriani was left counting the costs of his missed conversions – scoring just one of five attempts – as TJ Ioane and Arscott tries made for a grandstand finish.

It was Saracens who had the better of opening exchanges after Hodgson kicked out on the full from the drop out, before the boot of Ben Spencer had the hosts defending deep in their own territory.

But a crooked lineout saw Sale put together some momentum – with the jet-heeled James at the forefront.

With James having started things off at halfway, Sale hared up the pitch in a lightning counter-attack and the centre was there to provide the finish some 50 metres later.

Cipriani made no mistake with the conversion and a good start got even better by the 12th minute after Leota scored try number two.

Again James provided the spark as he gathered in his own chip – thanks to a fortunate bounce – and played in Leota on the wing, though Cipriani missed the touchline conversion.

And it was beginning to look rather worrying for Sale when Arscott crossed moments later, Leota this time playing creator with an incisive off-load.

Arscott still had it all to do however, as he held off his Ben Ransom with a dummy before ploughing through into the corner.

Cipriani let Saracens off the hook again with a missed conversion – and the league leaders are a side that need no second invitation.

Charlie Hodgson kicked to the corner after Saracens won the first penalty of the game, and their rolling maul was simply unstoppable with Scotland lock Jim Hamilton applying the final touch.

Indeed the visitors had well and truly flipped the switch and could have been in for their second on the 25th minute if Mike Ellery’s final pass had gone to hand.

Play came back due to the advantage and Hodgson reduced the arrears to seven points with a penalty.

Hodgson then unpicked Sale’s defence in the build-up to a superb try from Wyles just past the half-hour mark, though the conversion that would have levelled the scores went astray.

But Saracens would have to make do without the talismanic Hodgson for the rest of the game after he picked up an injury – and exited the field of his former club to a standing ovation.

That seemed to make little difference such was Sarries’ surge as Wyles somehow managed to dot down without going into touch – verified by the TMO – in the left-hand corner.

Spencer took over kicking duties and promptly knocked over the extra two and Sarries went in 22-17 up – having scored 22 unanswered points.

Sale stopped the rot by scoring the first points of the second half, as a Leota carry yielded a penalty and Cipriani realigned his radar to kick it over.

The England fly-half then nosed Sharks back in front with another penalty in front of the posts, as Sale continued to look like a different side to the one that ended the first period.

He made it a third kick in a row after Juan Figallo was caught off his feet, and suddenly Sale were four points in front with an hour gone.

But the hosts were architects of their own downfall soon after as Will Addison juggled a pass into the hands of Wyles, before Tompkins took on the past to touch down.

That not only put Saracens back in front but gave them the try-bonus point, and Spencer’s conversion improved the lead to three.  

And the game looked up when Leota flung the ball to a lurking Ellery, and the Saracens winger won a footrace with Cipriani to cross over.

Almost inevitably in this topsy-turvy contest, Ioane rumbled over off the back of a driving maul to give Sale hope with ten minutes left to play – Cipriani’s missed conversion leaving the score at 36-31.

In another late twist, with Sale knocking at the door, Arscott surged over at the left corner to level things up.

But Cipriani could not finish the job after his conversion from the touchline went wide of the left upright, and then Nils Mordt miscued a drop-goal attempt to bring the curtains down on a thrilling contest.


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