Former Sale Sharks favourite Charlie Hodgson returned to haunt his old club by kicking 20 points in Saracens’ bonus point victory at Edgeley Park which took them to the top of the Aviva Premiership Rugby table.
It was not all about the exemplary performance of Hodgson, though, as the visitors scored two first half tries through Chris Wyles and Ernst Joubert.
Although Sale's Nick Macleod responded with three penalties in the opening period, the Sharks struggled to open up a resilient Saracens defence. And after two further Hodgson penalties had extended their advantage, Alex Goode, Michael Tagicakibau and Hugh Vyvyan went over in the second period to seal the win.
With Steve Borthwick's prowess in the lineout, Sale decided to go with two lightweight second-rows in James Gaskell and Kearnan Myall. Despite their lack of power at lock, it was from a scrum penalty that the Sharks had their first attempt at the posts. However, Macleod's kick drifted underneath the bar.
Although the visitors gave away a further penalty at the scrum, John Smit and Co stabilised the front row battle. And it was from a solid set-piece that Saracens opened the scoring. After Hodgson had powered a flat pass to Wyles, the centre splintered a static Sale defence to go over.
The fly-half converted and then added a penalty as the Watford-based outfit raced into a 10-0 lead after 18 minutes.
However, Macleod slotted a three-pointer of his own, but despite dominating possession, the hosts were struggling to break through a stubborn Saracens rearguard. Mistakes were also pervading their play and when they failed to take a high ball, visiting scrum-half Neil de Kock collected before feeding Joubert who touched down in the corner for an unconverted score.
Sale's stand-off then reduced the deficit with a penalty, but it was the side second in the table that were looking the most dangerous with ball in hand.
Although they had limited opportunity to attack, when they did, Saracens were devastating. And after Wyles and James Short had combined, Sharks were caught offside. Hodgson kicked the resulting penalty and the visitors led 18-6. However, with half-time looming, the hosts went for one last surge. It eventually paid off when Macleod added his third three-pointer.
But Sale continued to make mistakes in the second period and it was Hodgson who capitalised. His two quick-fire penalties took Saracens out to a 24-9 advantage and even at that stage the win seemed assured. The Sharks tried to force their way back into the game, but the play-off contenders were too powerful.
Therefore, it was no surprise to see the visitors go over for their third try when de Kock broke the gain-line and fed Goode for a simple score. Tagicakibau added further misery to the majority of the 9,476 who were in the crowd, when good hands sent the winger over to confirm the bonus point. Hodgson converted before Vyvyan touched down late on, and It was aptly left to their fly-half to add the final points.