Sale 12 – 18 Saracens

Ben Earl scores two tries as Saracens beat Sale 18-12 to tighten grip on second spot in Gallagher Premiership and dent Sharks’ play-off bid; Sale give Manu Tuilagi runout from the bench as England centre makes first appearance since February having been sidelined by hamstring injury

Last Updated: 01/04/22 11:35pm

Ben Earl scored two tries as Saracens beat Sale 18-12 to tighten their grip on second spot in the Gallagher Premiership and dent Sharks' play-off bid

Ben Earl scored two tries as Saracens beat Sale 18-12 to tighten their grip on second spot in the Gallagher Premiership and dent Sharks’ play-off bid

Ben Earl scored two tries as Saracens moved a step closer to Gallagher Premiership play-off qualification and boosted their chances of a home semi-final with an 18-12 win over Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium.

In a physical encounter, just one point separated the sides at the interval and the second half was also close, but Earl’s second touchdown of the night settled the contest.

Sharks garnered a losing bonus-point late on but Sarries deservedly went away with the win as they tightened their grip on second spot and prevented Sale from entering the top four.

Sale – for whom Rob du Preez scored four penalties – are one point adrift of fourth-placed Exeter Chiefs having played a game more.

Du Preez, who has not always been reliable off the tee this season, was on target twice in the first 20 minutes to give Sale a 6-0 advantage.

Saracens’ Alex Lozowski had successive opportunities to reduce the arrears off the tee but the centre was awry on both occasions and when the visitors won their next penalty they duly went to the corner.

That decision paid dividends as Earl went over from close range, only for Lozowski to miss the conversion to leave his side 6-5 behind at the break.

Lozowski finally scored a penalty in the 43rd minute and added another in the 56th against a Sale side who gave Manu Tuilagi a 30-minute runout from the bench.

The England centre made his first appearance since February following a hamstring problem which ruled him out of the whole of the Six Nations.

Sale hit back, cutting the deficit to 11-9 when Du Preez kicked another three-pointer, but Max Mallins then teed up Earl for his second try of the evening and Alex Goode applied the conversion.

Du Preez’s fourth penalty earned Sale a bonus point but with one win in five and only three games left, Sharks’ play-off hopes are fading.

‘Earl is on top of his game’

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall on Ben Earl: “He’s the top tackler in the Premiership this year.

“The quality of his tackling has improved but he’s a devastating attacker as well. He’s like having an extra back on the field.

“He did a lot of important things on the field for us today and he’s done it all season. He’s on top of all parts of his game.”

‘Sale won’t stop fighting for play-off place’

Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson: “I’m gutted because the hopes of proving our worth has just become that bit harder in terms of controlling our own destiny. We’re not going to stop fighting, there’s no point throwing the towel in, but clearly we have to be better.

“I’m sure it will come down to that last game which will keep the Premiership exciting and keep us very motivated. But we’ve just made it that bit harder for ourselves.

“For all the effort, for all the physicality, for all the territory and for all the possession we had in the first half, we needed to convert that into some points.”

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