Sale roar back against Saracens to win top-of-the-table thriller
Two tries for full-back Joe Carpenter completed a remarkable comeback for Sale Sharks as they cut the gap at the top of the Premiership table to six points by beating Saracens 35-24 in a thrilling game at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Trailing 16-0, Sale looked unlikely winners but a yellow card for Alex Goode and a late red for Robin Hislop ultimately proved decisive.
Sam James, Jono Ross and Jean Luc du-Preez were also on the try-scoring sheet with Rob du Preez converting all five.
Alex Lewington, Theo Dan and Kapeli Pifeleti scored Saracens’ tries while Goode kicked two penalties and Manu Vunipola one.
Saracens were quicker out of the traps and were rewarded with an early lead when Goode kicked a straightforward penalty.
The visitors continued to look the sharper side in the opening exchanges with both wingers, Sean Maitland and Lewington, troubling the defence with their elusive running.
However the try-line was hardly threatened and it came as no surprise that the next score was another penalty from Goode.
After 20 minutes, Saracens scored an excellent try. The ever-alert Goode was the instigator with a couple of a long passes which culminated in Maitland racing away to provide Lewington with an easy run-in.
In that opening quarter, despite playing in front of the largest crowd this season, a strangely subdued Sale had not fired a worthwhile shot and their woes continued when Dan finished off an unstoppable line-out drive for Saracens’ second try.
Sale needed a boost and they got one when Goode was yellow-carded for impeding Tom O’Flaherty with the hosts immediately capitalising.
They secured possession from a close-range line-out and moved the ball wide to create a try for Carpenter but Saracens soon responded with a penalty from Vunipola.
Goode was still absent when Sale scored their second try. O’Flaherty raced through the defence to send out the scoring pass to James and although it looked suspiciously forward the try was given. A second conversion from Rob du Preez left the home side trailing 19-14 at the interval.
Two minutes after the restart, Goode returned in time to see Sale nearly score again when a superb run from O’Flaherty was just thwarted by a last-gasp tackle from Alex Lozowski.
Sale were now a totally different animal from their lack-lustre opening and after 54 minutes, Carpenter tore through the visitors’ defence for his second try with the conversion giving them the lead for the first time.
It was now one-way traffic with the hosts scoring their bonus-point try when Ross crashed over.
Sale looked in control but their opponents restored some of their momentum with a third try when replacement Pifeleti finished off a driving line-out.
The game lay in the balance but even though prop Hislop was sent off for a head-high challenge on the impressive Carpenter with 11 minutes remaining, Saracens still finished the stronger and it took some heroic defence from Sale to keep them out.
In the final minute, Sale broke out for Jean–Luc du Preez to score their fifth and deprive Saracens of a deserved bonus-point.
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