Salary Cap news over recent weeks has put some of the glare and ire back on Saracens, who will be known as the team that were relegated due to irregularities over a couple of years. The fall out 2 years ago very nearly saw me turn away from this game, one I love watching and a club I love supporting, the ‘glee’ shown by some of my fellow Saracens fans over recent events, is I guess understandable, but still unfortunate from my perspective. Leicester Tigers were found to have breached the cap by between £55K and £147K over 4 years between 2016 and 2021. The punishment? A £310K fine. The breaches were below the level to attract any other fall out. Today news broke of problems at Bristol Bears, problems they have since denied. The most worrying paragraph in the Telegraph article, talking of the Bears off-loading players is this –

Offloading players is no simple matter. Many other clubs are struggling to balance the books with the ‘existing contract’ clause coming to an end. It is estimated that up to 30 players could be left without a club this summer

Premiership clubs voted to reduce the cap two years ago from £6.4 million to £5 million for the 2021-22 season, a lot of clubs, including Bristol, took advantage of a clause that allowed them to count 75% of existing contracts against the revised cap. The Telegraph article suggests Bristol have made errors with players who signed two (years) plus one deals. I for one don’t want to see any other club, or their fans go through what Saracens did……… But, this recent news may make Saracens refusal to open their books unless the other clubs did, easier to understand.

On to an actual rugby game, full-time work means this is an armchair match for me, Sale had Manu Tuilagi back on the bench, Saracens had Billy Vunipola back but were without their captain Owen Farrell who took a head knock in his first match back since the Autumn against Bristol. Jamie George was captain for the his 251st match in a Saracens shirt.

An early penalty given away by Ben Earl saw Sharks in a great attacking position, but a great, low tackle by Tim Swinson saw the ball knocked on. Billy Vunipola cleared the ball from the scrum and Alex Lozowski jinked his way past several players. Saracens won a penalty after the ball was klcked ahead by Aled Davies. The ensuing attack was thwarted by the ball being ripped away by Sale Hooker, Ashman.

It was bizarre to hear the referee shouting at Sean Maitland who was offside from another Davies box kick, he totally ignored him, but, Saracens gave away a second penalty in a kickable position, a kick which was duly converted by Rob du Preez to give Sale a starting lead.

It was a relief to have a different commentary team to the one used for the Bristol game, BT Sport will hopefully keep the hate filled twins Goode and Dallaglio away from any Saracens game on the TV for the rest of the season, I can but hope.

A penalty for Saracens on the halfway line was kicked by Elliot Daly, a distance of 52 metres the kick had the legs but not the accuracy. Aled Davies and Vincent Koch collided as they rushed towards Faf de Klerk, who was clearing the ball, it was a nasty collision and Davies was probably very lucky to stay on the pitch, he was running at some pace and was always going to be late. It was a reckless collision. Sale were awarded a penalty where the ball had landed and it was an easy conversion. That gave the home team a lead of 6 after 20 minutes.

In common with the Bristol game at White Hart Lane, Sale looked the better team, certainly in the first 20 minutes, Maro Itoje was a huge factor in preventing a couple of great attacks coming to more. Another promising attack for Sale was well defended, but a Sale knock on was the final result. Vincent Koch had gone down injured while defending which wasn’t ideal before a defensive scrum, Vunipola again took the ball from the base and this time Lozowski cleared the ball.

Saracens were awarded a penalty after Ben Curry was deemed to have tackled Alex Goode late as he was kicking the ball down field, the leading points scorer in the league, Lozowski, kicked this one wide. Two high hits on Vunipola saw another penalty opportunity for Lozowski, from the opposite side of the pitch, he missed that one too!

However a strong drive from Ben Earl saw a try awarded, Sale appealed for a try held up, but with the try awarded there wasn’t enough evidence to turn the decision over. The conversion was……… missed!

I must mention the booing from the crowd, as I have when it happens at Saracens, I could not be less of a fan, and to boo pretty much every decision given against you is just crazy (to be polite).

The half finished with the score on Sale Sharks 6 Saracens 5. To go back to my opening points, could a knock on effect of the lower cap see more players in the Premiership competition who aren’t eligible to play for England? When these 2 teams met at the Stonex Stadium, Sale had 13 South Africans in their 23, for this match it was 11. I had a conversation with Juan Figallo on Wednesday about the Under 18 players he’d been training at Saracens, 4 have been awarded Academy contracts, that left a lot of unpleasant discussions. The 30 mentioned above are likely to depend on their rugby contracts for their mortgages.

An early penalty against Saracens gave Sale good territory, the first half had been a bruising encounter, could the Saracens defence keep their work at the same level of intensity? That territory came to nothing and Saracens were awarded a penalty moments later. That was another kick for Lozowski, he’d missed 3 in the first half, he didn’t miss this one, and Saracens had a slim lead, for the first time in the game.

A messy scrum scenario that saw a free kick given against Saracens, a scrum reset twice, then a penalty for Saracens, could they make use of the territory? That was generally a no as Luke James cleared the Sale lines with a great kick.

As good as Faf de Klerk had been it was good to see Raffi Quirke coming on, not so good to see Manu Tuilagi, purely as a Saracens fan, I truly wish him well.

Ben Earl felt the full force of Tuliagi as Saracens attacked, but managed to bounce off him and carry on, the Saracens Flanker had been having a good game for the second week in a row,

Ben Curry was deemed to be offside as Saracens attacked, they’d had more of the ball in the first 15 minutes of this second half. the kick was good from Lozowski and Saracens led by 5. There was a shout at the TV moment 2 minutes later as Max Malins gathered a kick through from Daly, in some space, Sale won the ball back however, so the excitement was for nought.

A scrum penalty for Saracens gave them a line-out in the Sale half, there’d been a lot of knocked on ball and this time it was Vunipola, who lost the ball as he was tackled. He then gave away a penalty in a kickable position for Sale, Du Preez took his team to 9 and within 2 of Saracens with 63 minutes on the clock.

Saracens had made a fair few substitutions by this point, Andy Christie is a notable sub, Maro Itoje joined NIck Isiekwe in the second row as Christie took his place as Flanker.

Sale had conceded 5 penalties in the first 30 minutes of the second half, happily the crowd had got tired of booing. From one such penalty a lovely break from Malins saw him pass to Earl who ran in to score, the pass was checked but was deemed to be ok. The pair who played at Bristol together do work well when in the same vicinity.The score was Sale 9 Saracens 18 with 72 minutes on the clock. This was a much better half for Saracens.

More shouting at the TV, but this time in distress as Luke James made a brilliant run out of his own half, he seemed to have an invisibility cloak on, Sale were very close to a super try, but James’ kick went just too far as Malins and Reed raced for the ball, a potential try of the season – a big phew as a Saracens fan.

With 90 seconds on the clock, Nick Tompkins hit James late, with his back turned, giving Sale the territory they needed to close the gap for a bonus point. A further penalty with the clock in red saw Du Preez kick the penalty that gave Sale the losing bonus point.

A brutal game of rugby, many bodies will be shattered after the defensive efforts across the pitch. Sale is a tough place to go on a Friday night, this was a good win for Saracens. A second Man of The Match award for Ben Earl, who was immense and had 2 tries to his name to boot.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.