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Saracens miss out on place in the LV=Cup final after 21-15 defeat to Sale Sharks at the Salford City Stadium
Saracens’ hopes of achieving an historic treble were dashed as the Men in Black were beaten 21-15 by a determined Sale Sharks in the LV=Cup semi-final at the Salford City Stadium.
Sarries were in front for most of the game thanks to five penalties from Ben Spencer but a try late in each half for Sale meant it was the hosts who deservedly progressed to the final.
Mark McCall kept faith with the majority of the team that had served him well in the earlier rounds of the tournament although a few heavyweights – Schalk Brits, Matt Stevens and Charlie Hodgson - were in reserve on the bench.
The opening 20 minutes left little to write home about as neither side were able to establish a rhythm or any meaningful attacks on the opponents’ line.
It was left to the boots of Spencer and Sale number ten Danny Cipriani to keep the scoreboard ticking over as five penalties saw Saracens edge ahead 9-6.
As the game drifted towards the break Sarries began to assert themselves more and more in Sale’s half and with Nick Auterac and George Kruis beginning to orchestrate at the breakdown, the visitors enjoyed longer spells of possession.
Spencer, who made it 12-6 before the half-hour mark with his fourth successful penalty, regularly turned the Sale defence with probing kicks over the top and the Men in Black increasingly looked to be in control.
However, three minutes before half time, in a rare venture into the Saracens half it was Sale who crossed the line first as Tom Holmes found space and darted into the corner to reduce the deficit to 12-11 at the break.
Despite the wind now in Sale’s favour, Saracens continued to dominate territory early in the second half but lacked the incision and craft to break through.
Spencer shanked a penalty wide before the hour mark and with the game very much still in the balance Sarries threw on the artillery including Alistair Hargreaves, Stevens and former Shark Hodgson, who received a warm reception from the home fans.
But with just over ten minutes to go it was the hosts who seized the initiative as a series of pick and go’s near the Saracens line saw Nathan Fowles eventually put the ball down in the corner sparking jubilation among the home supporters.
Cipriani added a brilliant conversion from out wide to put Sale 18-15 ahead and a place in the final firmly within their grasp.
With the crowd spurred on by the try and cheering every Sale tackle, Saracens struggled to re-establish a foothold in the match and when Cipriani added his third penalty of the match with two minutes left on the clock there was no way back for the visitors.
It is the second time this season Saracens have lost to Sale and the Men in Black will be hoping to be in better form when they return to Premiership action next against second-placed Harlequins at Allianz Park.
Saracens: Ben Ransom, James Short, Chris Wyles, Adam Powell, Joe Maddock (Wilson, 51), Nils Mordt (Hodgson, 61), Ben Spencer (de Kok 68), Nick Auterac (Saunders, 68), Jamie George (Brits, 69), Petrus du Plessis (Stevens, 60), George Kruis, Mouritz Botha (Hargreaves, 56), Justin Melck (Saull, 55), Nick Fenton-Wells, Ernst Joubert
Replacements: Schalk Brits, Jared Saunders, Matt Stevens, Alistair Hargreaves, Andy Saull, Neil de Kock, Charlie Hodgson, Jack Wilson
Sale Sharks: Mike Haley, Tom Brady, Jonny Leota, Nick Macleod, Charlie Ingall, Danny Cipriani, Cillian Willis (Fowles, 48), Ross Harrison (Dickinson, 52), Tommy Taylor (Jones, 55), Henry Thomas (Buckley, 55), Fraser McKenzie, Tom Holmes (Ostrikov, 55), James Gaskell, David Seymour, Andy Powell
Replacements: Marc Jones, Alasdair Dickinson, Tony Buckley, Andrei Ostrikov, James Doyle, Nathan Fowles, Sam James, Will Addison
Referee: JP Doyle