Sale 9 Saracens 45: Hodgson returns to haunt Sharks as Sarries hit summit
00:06 GMT, 24 March 2012
It was just like old times for Charlie Hodgson at Edgeley Park as he came back to haunt his former club and had a big hand in
lifting Saracens to the top of the Aviva Premiership table.
Back at the ground where he spent 11 years as Sale's prolific playmaker,
the England fly-half set up a try and kicked 20 points as the visitors
made light of a potentially awkward fixture to stay on track to defend
Try time! Wyles scores for Saracens in the first-half
Sale: Pens: MacLeod 3.
Sale: Miller, Brady, Burrell, Tuitupou, Cueto, MacLeod, Peel, Sheridan, Jones, Buckley, Myall, Gaskell, Easter, Seymour, Powell.
Replacements: Leota for Burrell (48), Willis for Peel (62), Dickinson for Sheridan (53), Ward for Jones (62), Cobilas for Buckley (62), Vernon for Easter (62), Holmes for Seymour (67).
Not used: Addison.
Saracens: Tries: Wyles, Joubert, Goode, Tagicakibau, Vyvyan.
Cons: Hodgson 4.
Pens: Hodgson 4.
Saracens: Goode, Taylor, Wyles, B. Barritt, Short, Hodgson, de Kock, Smit, Brits, Stevens, Borthwick, Kruis, Melck, Fraser, Joubert, Saull.
Replacements: Tagicakibau for Taylor (41), Powell for B. Barritt (54), Spencer for de Kock (54), Vunipola for Smit (41), Nieto for Stevens (57), Saull for Melck (46), George for Fraser (54), Vyvyan for Saull (49).
Referee: Andrew Small (RFU).
Another victory for Mark McCall's men founded on tireless commitment and resolute defence ensured that Harlequins' long-standing lead in the league was gone, if only until this afternoon. The champions secured a bonus point in a compelling display which suggests they are primed to peak at exactly the right time.
Hodgson gradually reduced Sale's biggest crowd of the season – 9,476 – to silence as he orchestrated Saracens' remorseless onslaught. He showcased much of the repertoire so familiar in these parts; the accurate shots at goal, the astute tactical kicking and the impressive range of precision passing.
McCall, Sarries' director of rugby, was delighted with his No 10's 'great' contribution and hugely satisfied with the collective effort. 'That was a top away performance,' he said. 'This seemed like a banana-skin game and they had won six of their eight matches here this season.
'They had a lot more possession but our defence was absolutely outstanding not to concede a try. The players worked so hard and it says a lot about their motivation, with a big game against Harlequins at Wembley coming up next weekend. I'm chuffed with the appetite we showed.'
Aside from Hodgson, this was a positive return to club duties for others who had featured in England's Six Nations campaign – coach Andy Farrell, along with Brad Barritt and Matt Stevens. The former was particularly prominent in Saracens' suffocating defensive display and led the trademark, committed kick- chasing which has become such an effective weapon.
Hodgson capitalised on Sale's indiscipline to dispatch four penalties
and also landed the same number of conversions as his side racked up
five tries in what became a one-sided exhibition.
There were two before
the break. From a scrum outside Sale's 22, the visiting stand-off
released Chris Wyles and the centre slalomed past defenders to the
Later, Neil de Kock broke left when a kick was spilled by Rob
Miller and the scrum-half's pass freed Ernst Joubert to go over in the
Best foot forward: Hodgson was deadly with the boot
After half-time, Saracens surged further and further clear. De Kock
broke a tackle on the left and passed inside for Alex Goode to scorch
away and score, then good handling on the right gave Michael Tagicakibau
sight of the line and he ran through Sam Tuitupou's flailing challenge
to go over.
Finally, with a minute remaining, Hugh Vyvyan twisted the
knife one last time by spinning free from a cluster of opponents to
strike from close range.
Sale's limitations and shortcomings were cruelly exposed. At the end of a
week when the Cheshire club announced the signing of Danny Cipriani,
this heavy defeat showed that the arrival of the exiled England fly-half
and Scotland lock Richie Gray can't come soon enough, to add Test
The Sharks had so much possession and territory but lacked the guile or
finesse to make it count, winding up with just three penalties from Nick
MacLeod to show for their efforts.
Steve Diamond, their chief executive, was damning in his verdict. 'That
was totally unacceptable,' he said. 'They are a good side but we were a
shambles defensively. There will be changes afoot, all over the show.
Tonight was a rude awakening for us.'