Saracens managed to cope without Andy Farrell as they continued their fine recent run with a 22-9 victory over Sale Sharks at Vicarage Road.
Back spasms kept Farrell out of a game which might have allowed him to further his claims to keep his England place against France next weekend. His absence only adds to the concerns Brian Ashton has before naming his side.
His 20-year-old replacement, Adam Powell, scored the only try in a match that was never going to be much of a spectacle in the muddy and wet conditions. Stand-off Glen Jackson kicked the other 17 points, Sale’s only replies being three penalties – two from Lee Thomas and the third from Rhys Jones.
Saracens have lost only one of their last seven games, but remain in fifth place in the Guinness Premiership with Wasps overcoming Bristol.
Better news for Ashton was that Mark Cueto, captaining Sale from full-back, came through the 80 minutes unscathed, although he never really had a chance to show how sharp he is.
Looking further ahead Ashton will also be pleased that flanker Richard Hill has another game under his belt and that prop Andrew Sheridan’s recovery from a broken foot lasted 67 minutes before he was substituted.
A Thomas penalty after two minutes gave Sale the lead, but Jackson replied in kind five minutes later and after 20 minutes Saracens went ahead with the only try of an opening half played in driving rain throughout.
Right-wing Chris Mayor tried to run out of defence, but was left to regret it when a knock-on gave Saracens a scrum. They broke blind and Jackson passed to Powell to touch down when he probably could have gone over himself.
Jackson added the conversion to make it 10-3 before Thomas narrowed the gap with his second penalty. The stand-off then pushed two long-range efforts narrowly wide, but after Sale lock Dean Schofield had been lucky to stay on the pitch for throwing a punch at Kris Chesney Jackson’s second successful kick stretched the gap to 13-6 in first-half injury-time.
Conditions improved for the start of the second period and Jackson was on target again as Saracens pressed hard.
Jones lifted Sale with a penalty moments after he and Richard Wrigglesworth replaced Thomas and Mayor. Sheridan and fellow prop Stuart Turner came off as well and with 10 minutes remaining Jones had an opportunity to reduce the deficit to seven points, but fired wide.
Two minutes later Jackson made no such mistake, taking his personal tally to five penalties and a conversion.