Charlie Hodgson returned to haunt his former employers as he kicked Saracens back to winning ways in the Aviva Premiership thanks to a 15-10 victory over Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium.
The Sharks scored the only try of the match through hooker Marc Jones but Hodgson, who spent 11 years at Sale, kicked five penalties to sink his old club.
For Saracens, it was a welcome victory after they came unstuck at Allianz Park last weekend and they returned to the top of the table while also avoiding a run of three straight defeats in all competitions for the first time since 2010.
Sale will rue Nick Macleod’s missed 75th-minute penalty and a missed chance to steal a march on their play-off chasing rivals.
Saracens threatened the first try of the match after just three minutes thanks to a surprisingly deft kick through from hooker Jamie George.
Scotland centre Duncan Taylor won the foot race with Mark Cueto but the veteran wing prevented the score, albeit illegally in the eyes of referee Greg Garner.
Sarries kicked for the corner and while they couldn’t convert that into a try – the story of their first half – they were awarded a penalty when Jones was pinged for not rolling away. Hodgson made no mistake for 3-0 to the visitors.
Back came Sale however and, not to be overawed, they levelled the scores at 3-3 on 15 minutes through Danny Cipriani’s penalty.
Sarries were enjoying the better of the possession and the territory and they were creating opportunites – the problem for them was that the ball went to ground at the crucial moment or they were denied by some last-ditch Sale defending.
Never was that more true than on 18 minutes when Taylor burst towards the right-hand corner. The try-line appeared within his reach but, under pressure from Ciprani, he looked for Chris Ashton inside who could not gather the pass.
After weathering the storm it was Sale’s turn to attack and whereas Saracens had been wasteful, the Sharks were ruthless.
Michael Paterson made a fine break and offloaded to James Gaskell who marched down the right touchline on 35 minutes. Garner awarded Sale a penalty and they showed their intent by kicking to the corner.
It has been an effective tactic for Sale recently and so it proved again when they won the lineout and drove over – Jones trucking the ball up and dotting down.
Cipriani made no mistake with the conversion while Hodgson was wild with a penalty into the wind just before the break, giving Sale a 10-3 lead at the interval.
Hodgson was on target however on 49 minutes to trim the deficit to just four after some fine work from Steve Borthwick at the breakdown.
And on 55 minutes Sarries were back to within a point after another superb penalty from Hodgson after the Sharks were penalised for not rolling away.
Hodgson continued to turn the screw and after Gaskell was penalised for a high tackle on the hour mark, a fourth penalty from the veteran fly-half saw Sarries retake the lead.
Sale refused to bow but with Hodgson controlling proceedings, they enjoyed few forays into the Saracens half and even when they were well placed with ten minutes remaining, scrum-half Dwayne Peel knocked on.
They did however earn themselves a penalty on 75 minutes thanks to a fine chipped kick from Rob Miller but replacement Macleod saw his effort drift agonisingly wide before Hodgson wrapped things up with his fifth penalty late on.