The future may be uncertain for many of the Saracens players, but the present was bright on Sunday as they beat Sale, second in the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP, 24-23 at Vicarage Road.
After away defeats to lowly Northampton and Newcastle seventh-placed Saracens returned to winning ways with tries from prop Nick Lloyd and wing Noah Cato and 14 points – three penalties, a conversion and a drop goal – from stand-off Glen Jackson.
Sale should have snatched a late victory, however. Lock Dean Schofield scored his second try four minutes from the end, but centre Lee Thomas pulled the relatively simple conversion wide.
Saracens hit the headlines in the week by announcing that many of their players – 15 was reported – will not be required next season.
Sale director of rugby Kingsley Jones said he has already had agents on to him and there were a number of the home side who did their hopes of a move no harm at all.
Thomas did score a try, a conversion and two penalties, but it was his miss near the end that he was left to reflect on most.
Saracens took the lead in the ninth minute with a Jackson penalty awarded when opposite number Charlie Hodgson threw the ball away to prevent a quick line-out.
It became 8-0 soon afterwards with Lloyd barging his way over, but Jackson hit the post with his conversion attempt and back came Sale after 16 minutes with a try of their own from Schofield after a kick had been charged down.
Thomas converted that before both teams were forced into changes, Saracens losing prop Cencus Johnston and Sale both scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth and prop Eifion Roberts at the same time midway through the half.
Sale had seven of their squad away on international duty, but despite the further losses Thomas kicked them into a 10-8 lead with a 29th minute penalty.
Saracens were soon in more trouble when Lloyd had to be helped from the field. However, before half-time they turned things back their way thanks to Jackson landing both a drop goal and a second penalty. Another came back off a post.
At 14-10 down on the restart and with uncontested scrums because of more injuries Sale pressed hard to regain the ascendancy, but after Thomas missed a penalty Saracens stretched the difference by a further seven points.
They created a clear overlap down the left and New Zealand lock Chris Jack passed for Cato to touch down for a try converted by Jackson.
Within seven minutes, though, the gap was back to only three points. Thomas scored in the opposite corner and although he missed the conversion he made no mistake with a 58th minute.
Jackson was presented with two more penalty chances and landed the second for 24-18. It was a lead that was whittled down again, but they just held on.