Saracens bitten by Sharks despite try from Vunipola on return
PUBLISHED: 22:09 04 January 2019 | UPDATED: 22:09 04 January 2019
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Gallagher Premiership: Saracens 24 Sale Sharks 18
Billy Vunipola scored on his return to the Saracens team but could not prevent his side from slumping to a 24-18 defeat at the hands of an impressive Sale at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Vunipola was playing his first game since breaking his arm in October and his try, combined with Owen Farrell’s penalty, gave Sarries an early 10-3 lead, but it was Sale that took a five-point advantage into the interval.
Sam James touched down to add to an earlier Rob du Preez penalty before Denny Solomona crossed the whitewash to take the Sharks 15-10 ahead.
Farrell and Du Preez traded three-pointers just shy of the break but the hosts’ fly-half kicked Sale to victory in the second half with successive efforts off the tee, despite the Londoners gaining a bonus-point via a late Nick Tompkins try.
That point allowed Saracens to move top of the Gallagher Premiership standings, although Exeter can reclaim first place when they host Bristol on Saturday.
The visitors initially controlled the game through the accurate kicking of their half-backs and deservedly opened their account in the seventh minute.
Farrell found a hole in the opposition rearguard, sending David Strettle through the gap, and the wing duly fed Alex Lozowski. The centre was stopped just short of the line but the ball was handed to the returning Vunipola in space and the number eight did the rest.
It was an excellent opening from the defending Premiership champions but Mark McCall’s men were soon on the back foot when they failed to deal with the restart. Tom Curry showed excellent technique at the breakdown and Sarries were penalised for holding on, allowing Du Preez to reduce the arrears.
McCall’s outfit soon restored their seven-point buffer via their stand-off but Sale stunned the away side with two quick-fire tries.
Firstly, Solomona sent James over before the home-grown centre repaid the complement, allowing the wing to scamper in from 50 metres for a fine score.
The conversion from their South African pivot put them 15-10 ahead, an advantage they would keep at the break after the fly-halves traded three-pointers.
Farrell had also been sin-binned for a high tackle in between those scores but they did well to prevent the hosts getting more than that single penalty by Du Preez.
The score remained 18-13 in the early stages of the second period, with mistakes pervading the play, and the Sharks held that lead going into the final quarter.
Sarries were getting frustrated and replacement Christopher Tolofua took it out on young wing Arron Reed, which earned the hooker 10 minutes in the sin-bin.
As a result, the Greater Manchester outfit increased their buffer going into the latter stages of the contest.
McCall’s team looked to hit back and were dangerous with ball in hand but Sale were superb in defence and snuffed out any potential incursion.
They were also brave from their own 22 and James’ break put them back on the front foot. Steve Diamond’s charges then earned a penalty from the resulting passage of play which Du Preez kicked to open up an 11-point advantage.
It sealed the win but Sarries did go away with a bonus-point thanks to a Tompkins effort.