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Sale stun Saracens to book unlikely spot in Premiership playoffs
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Sale stun Saracens to book unlikely spot in Premiership playoffs

Sale upset the odds to clinch their place in the Premiership playoffs with a dogged victory over Saracens, ensuring Owen Farrell’s final home match for his boyhood club ended on a miserable note. The upshot is that Saracens have been denied a home semi-final and, after being leapfrogged by Sale, they finish fourth and must now head to high-flying Northampton in the playoffs.

Sale will travel to Bath with considerable momentum after five straight wins but may do so without Manu Tuilagi, who limped off with a hamstring injury which could spell the end of his career in England. They did, however, go some way to avenging last season’s final defeat by raining on Farrell’s parade.

By the fly-half’s own admission, it was not supposed to be this way. Saracens had high hopes of securing a home semi but after finding themselves 20-3 down at one stage, left themselves with too much to do. Saracens have an impressive away record this season but have lost home and away to Saints and now have it all to do.

Sale were worthy winners – their first ever league win at the StoneX Stadium – with tries from Tom Roebuck and Rob du Preez ensuring they clinched third place, having been eighth in late March. In doing so they rendered results at Welford Road and the Stoop irrelevant in the race for the top four and fired a warning to their playoff rivals. “From where we were post-Six Nations to getting in the playoffs is a herculean effort from the lads,” said Sale’s director of rugby Alex Sanderson.

Tuilagi has to be considered doubtful for the trip to the Rec on 1 June and given he joins Bayonne in the summer, this could prove to be a goodbye to English rugby in miserable fashion. It is no way for Tuilagi – who was celebrating his 33rd birthday – to wave goodbye, though having said that it would be something grimly appropriate considering his injury record.

“He has definitely pulled his hamstring, we just don’t know how badly,” added Sanderson. “He is a quick healer and we have got two weeks to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. We will give him as long as we can.”

Robert du Preez Sale touches down Sale’s second try.View image in fullscreen

Sanderson had predicted Test-match intensity and, after a sluggish start following George Ford’s errant kick-off, that was precisely what unfolded. Every inch was contested, every yard fought over – it was an arm wrestle and for the most part that suited Sale, in particular their excellent openside Sam Dugdale. Alongside him Ben Curry was superb, too, and though Sanderson believes Tom Curry will be fit for his first appearance of the season against Bath, he has some way to go to get into this side.

Roebuck scored the opening try – he might have done so earlier after the burst from Tuilagi that led to his withdrawal after 18 minutes – by scooting down the right, then cutting inside under the posts. Farrell got Saracens on the board with a penalty but Ford responded after a third scrum penalty in his side’s favour – an area of the game Sale dominated in front of the watching England assistant Tom Harrison.

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Another Ford penalty shortly after the break extended Sale’s lead before Du Preez gave Sale breathing space, capitalising on a dreadful error from Alex Lewington who can perhaps use the bad bounce of the ball to explain his fumble, though not excuse it.

The Saracens bench upped the tempo and soon Marco Riccioni was burrowing over to bring his side back to within 10 points but Sale were in no mood to relinquish the lead they had fought so hard to establish.

“Our No 1 strength this year has been responding to setbacks and disappointing performances like that very well and our next performance has been really strong,” said Saracens’ director of rugby Mark McCall. “We’re going to need to do that – there are no more second chances.”

Source: theguardian.com