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Saracens squander eight-point half time lead to lose 25-23 to Sale Sharks in a thrilling LV=Cup encounter
With several players absent on international duty Sarries were once again forced to field a youthful team that perhaps lacked the experience needed to see out a game the Men in Black were at one stage in control of.
Sale took the lead in under three minutes as a well-worked line out caught the Saracens defence napping and the Sharks moved the ball along the line quickly for Mark Cueto to cruise over for an early try.
Inside centre Jordan Davies failed to find the target with a tricky conversion and minutes later the visitors reduced the deficit to 5-3 when Nils Mordt made no mistake with a close-range penalty.
Saracens had woken up and soon after they were ahead. A strong break by Mouritz Botha - released from England duty in midweek - saw the ball travel through three pairs of hands before finally Ratuvou ghosted through the Sale defence to score under the posts.
Mordt then made it two conversions out of two to take the score to 10-5 with less than a quarter of an hour gone.
Sale though began to exert themselves on the match, enjoying a consistent spell of possession and looking most comfortable with the ball in the hands of their agile back line.
With 19 minutes on the clock the hosts bagged the points their dominance deserved.
Scrum half Dwayne Peel - bright and ambitious throughout - planted a neat kick over the top which had to be rushed into touch by the covering Ben Spencer and the resulting line out saw a penalty try awarded after Sale's driving maul edged over the line.
Davies converted well from out wide and the Sharks were back in front.
The advantage didn't last long though. Despite a handful of fluid Sale attacks, indiscipline up front once again let them down and Mordt's second penalty of the game gave Saracens a 13-12 lead.
For the next ten minutes the match drifted as handling errors and naive decision-making ruined both side's attempts to establish any sort of rhythm.
Two minutes before the break though, Saracens punished some weak Sale tackling which allowed Ben Ransom to ease through. Ransom found Andy Saull who found Duncan Taylor who in turn fed Tomkins to score a well-worked try out wide.
Mordt notched the conversion to give the Men in Black a perhaps flattering 20-12 advantage at half time.
Sale were hungrier, quicker and sharper after the interval and when Fraser McKenzie went over in the 48th minute for the hosts' second try of the match, Saracens were once again left to rue a sluggish start to the half.
Davies' conversion and a Danny Cipriani penalty not long after meant Sale were well and truly back in the contest, leading 21-20.
Sarries' Sheriff was binned for ten minutes for foul play and Mordt had to go off with a facial injury but the Men in Black refused to die and a Spencer penalty restored the visitors advantage.
Around the hour mark Sale substitute Will Addison showed an impressive burst of pace and probably should have carried on himself as his attempted pass inside to Cueto was cut out.
With the rain coming down and the conditions quickly deteriorataing the contest became increasingly industrial - less about handling and fluidity and more about efficiency and kicking.
In the 72nd minute, Cipriani's second penalty of the match gave Sale a 25-23 lead and a minute later the hosts were given further encouragement when Spencer's own attempt got caught in the wind and dropped agonisingly short.
It was Saracens' last chance to regain the lead as Sale played the majority of the remaining minutes in the Men in Black's half and held on for a memorable victory.
Sale Sharks: 15 Cameron Shepherd 14 Charlie Amesbury 13 Corne Uys 12 Jordan Davies 11 Mark Cueto 10 Danny Cipriani 9 Dwayne Peel 1 Eifion Lewis-Roberts 2 Joe Ward 3 Tony Buckley 4 Fraser McKenzie 5 Kearnan Myall 6 James Gaskell 7 David Seymour (capt) 8 Richie Vernon
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor 17 Ross Harrison 18 Vadim Cobilas 19 Tom Holmes 20 James Doyle 21 Will Cliff 22 Rob Miller 23 Will Addison
Saracens: 15 Ben Ransom 14 Duncan Taylor 13 Joel Tomkins 12 Kameli Ratuvou 11 James Short 10 Nils Mordt (capt) 9 Ben Spencer 1 Nick Auterac 2 Jamie George 3 Lorenzo Romano 4 Eoin Sheriff 5 Mouritz Botha 6 Nick Fenton-Wells 7 Andy Saull 8 Jono Ross
Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling 17 Rick Reeves 18 Carlos Nieto 19 Matt Hankin 20 Jackson Wray 21 Ali Price 22 Sam Stanley 23 David Strettle
Referee: Llyr ApGeraint Roberts
Attendance: 5, 243
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