Match Report | Saracens Women 41-33 Sale Sharks Women
Saracens held off a late Sale Sharks fightback to secure a home play-off semi-final at the StoneX Stadium.
Sarries made an excellent start as each of the back three crossed in the first quarter of an hour, with Alysha Corrigan, Chantelle Miell and Lottie Clapp all scoring to give the hosts a 17-0 lead.
They went into the break 31-7 up courtesy of two more scores from Catha Jacobs and Holly Aitchison, before Alev Kelter scored in the first minute of the second half.
Sale came back with three scores after Sarries were reduced to 14 players, but a late Kelter penalty was enough to give them an ultimately comfortable win despite one further Sharks consolation try at the end.
The hosts came into the game knowing victory would extend their lead at the top of the table to eight points following Bristol’s surprise draw to Loughbourough yesterday, whilst Sale Sharks came into the game second from bottom.
Despite that, the visitors made an promising start with much of the first five minutes spent in the Saracens half, but it was the hosts who would strike first after Aitchison’s chip over the top on the edge of the 22 bounced up beautifully for Kelter.
The Sarries 12, star of last week’s win at Bristol, then showed great composure to find Corrigan for the game’s opening try and knocked over the conversion.
It was on the counter again that Sarries second score came a few minutes later, with Mielle receiving a deep clearance kick before evading three defenders to run in a superb try from 60 metres.
Kelter’s kick was narrowly wide from the touchline, but Sarries went straight back on the attack, and after a sustained period in the Sale 22, Clapp went over for the hosts third with just under 15 minutes on the clock.
The bonus point was wrapped up soon after, as Aitchison stepped through before lovely hands from the front five saw Kat Evans find Fi McIntosh, who fed second row partner Jacobs for a try under the posts.
Kelter duly converted and the hosts had a 24-point lead in as many minutes, before Aitchison found Corrigan bursting on her inside, and the right-winger returned the favour to give Aitchison a richly deserved try.
Another Kelter conversion stretched the lead past 30 points, but Sale would have the last word in the first-half as Jodie Ounsley made a dart down the left-wing before she cut inside brilliantly to finish under the sticks and reduce the arrears.
Half-time: Saracens Women 31-7 Sale Sharks Women
The 31-point lead was almost immediately restored for the hosts as they made the perfect start to the second half, with Kelter scoring and converting after Mackenzie Carson turned over the ball, broke through the Sale defence, and offloaded to the American inside centre.
But Sale came back again, as Kelsey Clifford saw yellow after multiple penalties against Saracens in the 22, before Ounsley added her second with a sharp finish.
With the wind now on their backs and having an extra player, the visitors were growing in confidence, and they worked their way up the field before eventually crossing through prop Catie Benson, who drove over from close range.
The gap was down to 19 courtesy of a well-struck conversion from Lizzie Duffy, and a messy goal-line dropout gave Sale another good opportunity with a 5m scrum.
Once again the resilient Sarries defence held firm for a while, but Sarah Law eventually dotted down in the corner and Duffy slotted home an immaculate conversion to set up a tense final ten minutes at 38-26.
Sarries were now up to a full-compliment though, and they managed to halt the Sharks momentum before Kelter struck a crucial penalty four minutes from time to give her side a three-score cushion.
And though there was still time for one more Shark attack, as Vicky E Irwin drove over, that would be the last score of the day as Saracens claimed victory and a home semi-final berth.