As a rugby league fan it’s always interesting to watch the involvement of former legends of that game plying their trade and coaches in this ‘other code’. Mike Forshaw, who I’ve been lucky enough to interview, and Paul Deacon played most of their rugby, together at Bradford Bulls and Bothe represented Great Britain and England. I do believe the game has improved due to the involvement of these ex-players. A quick google search found me more ex league players than I knew about, starting with the most high profile, here’s a quick list. Several others have had spells with union clubs, including Sean Long and Dennie Betts,

  • Shaun Edwards – France
  • Andy Farrell. – Ireland
  • Simon Middleton – England Women
  • Martin Gleeson – England
  • Jon Clarke. – England
  • Henry Paul. – Canada 7’s
  • Les Kiss. – London Irish
  • Brad Davies. – London Irish
  • Mike Ford – Leicester Tigers
  • Mike Forshaw – Sale Sharks
  • Paul Deacon. – Sale Sharks
  • Jamie Langley. – Sale Sharks
  • James Lowes – Ealing Trailfinders
  • Billy McGinty – Edinburgh
  • Phil Larder – (England)
  • Graham Steadman – (Scotland)

On to the match in hand, a game between the top 2 in the league, without England players on both sides. This saw an incredible landmark for a very special Saracens man, Alex Goode playing in his 339th match for the club, overtaking the previous record holder Chris Chesney. he 34 year old has been involved in most if not all of the good things that Saracens have been involved in since I started watching them back in 2009, often putting in a Man if the Match performance. I’d hoped he’d be starting at 10 in Owen Farrell’s absence, but that shirt went to Manu Vunipola, who hadn’t had the best of games against London Irish in the cup and had left the pitch with an injury. Sadly for Vunipola he again went off with an injury that looked much the same as the one that cut his game short agains Irish, hopefully he’ll recover quickly.

Great to see a line-up of Saracens legends for Alex Goode

It was disappointing to be without ref link for this game, it adds so much to the experience, the match commentary is usually just a wind up. Sale looked to have scored with less than a minute on the clock after Daniel du Preez stripped the ball from Eroni Mawi, the ball found its way out to Tom O’Flaherty on the wing, but Simon McIntyre had tipped the ball forward as it went on its way. No Try! But, a penalty awarded to Sale saw them score from the line out as Ben Curry went over with some ease. Robert du Preez missed the kick, with the ball hitting the posts, but Sale had the lead.

Alex Goode took the restart, in spit of Vunipola still being present, crowd (and commentator) favourite Theo McFarland leapt salmon like into the air to take the ball. The ball went left then back into the centre, Vunipola popped a pass to Alex Goode, who found one heck of gap to score Saracens’ first try of the game. The kick went to the left of the posts.

R du Preez took the lead again for Sale with a penalty kick, one of 16 conceded by the home team, the highest yet for this season by my reckoning, not a great stat. Sale were penalised just 7 times. After 12 minutes it seemed the commentary team had a win for Sale in their minds and that possibility was reinforced when Ben Earl, captain for the day, was shown a yellow card as Sale were awarded a penalty try on 15 minutes. I’d have liked to hear Wayne Barnes response as he was knocked to the ground for the first of two time during the game in the build up to that try – ‘I’d already made the tackle’ – was a good response to being bundled to the ground, he took quite a hit! For some reason we had the second set of ‘handbags’ which saw McFarland’s shirt ripped apart, I should be professional and not say too much, but I have to say, wow!

Wayne Barnes came a cropper a couple of times in the game, I imagine he went home a tad bruised!
Theo McFarland – Try Scorer, Shirt Changer

Goode took over at 10 just before the 15 minutes and started that spot with a mighty tackle on D du Preez, he gave away a penalty which saw the card and penalty try from the line out as Sale mauled over the line. Earl had changed his bind and a penalty try usually sees a card proffered as was the case here.

A mention for Jackson Wray with a lull in the scoring, just when I think he should be a bench man he puts in a huge shift and that was most definitely the case in this game. Sale didn’t add any points while Earl was on the naughty step, in fact the next points came from the boot of Elliot Daly on 25 minutes, the kick ewas at a slight angle just inside the Sale half. He’s been on fire this season and offers so much with his kicking, he also seems to have sorted his form under a high ball. Eddie Jones failure to pick him is Saracens gain.

Ben Earl, Captain, Yellow Card receiver, Try Scorer

Another versatile player who’s having a cracking season, Alex Lozowski made a great break after Andy Christie had secure the ball for Saracens, he was also involved late run the move on the other side of the pitch as he put in a perfect pass to McFarland who showed his heels to go through several defenders to score. I always think Ben Earl could make a Centre, I’m starting to think McFarland could too. The conversion took the score level on 15 apiece. An Alex Goode penalty kick put Saracens ahead for the first time in the game. R du Preez had the chance to bring things level again on the stroke of half time, but his kick, from a similar angle to the Daly kick, went wide.

Things started well for Saracens in the 2nd half, before going rather wrong. Ben Earl showing his power and pace to run in and score, the build up had seen a lovely pass from Nick Tompkins to Alex Lewington. Goode the timed his pass perfectly to Earl who storm3ed through. The conversion was missed, but Saracens had an 8 point lead. Daly then kicked a 58 metre penalty kick to stretch the lead.

The worse then came as first Elliot Daly then Nick Tompkins were shown yellow cards, a clumsy grab at the leg of R du Preez as he was in the air for Daly and a a clash of heads as he was too upright in the tackle for Tompkins, both fair cards for me. I would however judge that Sam Hill might have benefited from an HIA after what was a nasty collision. `Sale failed to score when Saracens were down to 13 for 3 minutes but they did score 7 minutes into Tompkins card. The 7 minutes with no score saw some mighty defence from the 13 men of Saracens. Tommy Taylor saw a potential try disallowed after he’d crawled on the floor, that meant a let up for Saracens for a couple of minutes.

Sale’s penalty try happened in the 15th minute, their next score was Joe Carpenter’s try on 61 minutes, a great kick from Sam James to the Saracens corner saw some better decision making as the ball went our to Carpenter on the wing. they’d eschewed a similar opportunity against 13 men. The conversion was good taking the score to Saracens 26 Sale Sharks 22.

Joe Carpenter touches down for Sale

The game had another lull as far as points were concerned, we did see Wayne Barnes come a cropper again as he got in the way of the Saracens scrum half Ivan van Zyl, happily for him he didn’t go to ground this time.

Nick Tompkins saved a certain try as Gus Warr was heading ti the kine from the back of a ruck, he spotted the scrum half from the fat side of the ruck and got across to stop him. He was then the try scorer on 75 minutes, a lovely kick through by Goode was missed by Carpenter but touched down by Tomkins. A funny moment on this one as a Twitter friend Laura pointed out, Alex Lozowski , who was just behind Tompkins, had no one from his team to throw his arms round in celebration, so he cue a hug for Sale’s Gus Warr. Goode took his time with the kick and the score moved to Saracens 33 Sale Sharks 22 and that was where it finished.

Man of the Match and record breaker Alex Goode

This was an impressive all round performance from Saracens (Yellow cards aside), with their defence being as impressive as their attack. They now have 7 wins from 7 and a 10 point gap between them and Sale in second spot. This is a league won at Twickenham o May 27th next year, it isn’t won over the first 7 matches, but this had been a great start for Saracens.

I’ve let the commentary run on as I add a few photos and find myself somewhat surprised to hear Austin Healey suggest Sale would be bitter about some of the decisions made, that, is a ridiculous comment, 16 penalties against Saracens, 3 yellow cards and yes, 2 tries disallowed, but rightly so in both cases.

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