Farrell helps Saracens down Sale
Owen Farrell scored a try and kicked six points on his return to the Saracens side as they kept themselves in European Rugby Champions Cup contention with a 19-15 triumph over Sale Sharks.
Farrell was omitted from an England starting line-up for the first time since 2012 for last month's win over Australia after several below-par performances, but he played a key role for his club on Saturday.
Thanks to the 23-year-old's try and penalty, and also a three-pointer from Charlie Hodgson, Sarries went into the break with an 11-10 lead, with the Sharks' response coming through Magnus Lund's converted touchdown and Danny Cipriani's penalty.
The visitors appeared to have established their superiority in the second period when Billy Vunipola - who was dropped by England coach Stuart Lancaster for the win over Samoa before then missing the Australia Test with concussion - went over to make it 16-10.
Sale refused to go away and Andrei Ostrikov's try kept them in contention, but a Farrell drop-goal extended Saracens' advantage back to four points and, although the home side pressed late on, they could not find a way through.
The visitors went into this game with a better European record than the Sharks, following their 30-23 victory over Clermont Auvergne in round one, but it was Steve Diamond's men who were on better form.
Having secured three successive wins in the Aviva Premiership, Sale were starting to display the type of qualities that saw them finish last season in a surprise sixth position.
In comparison, Saracens have struggled at times domestically and their defeat to Exeter Chiefs last weekend only confirmed that they have not quite found the fluency of past campaigns.
They started the brighter here, though, as Hodgson's penalty took them 3-0 ahead in the opening five minutes.
Sale hit back when a succession of driving mauls - an important facet of their game under Diamond - resulted in Lund crossing the whitewash.
But Mark McCall's side always seemed dangerous with ball in hand and a searing break by their stand-off, where he evaded three tacklers, ended in Farrell touching down.
After a positive start from the home team Sarries' powerful pack appeared to take command, even though stout Sharks' defence, particularly at the breakdown, prevented them from adding to the score.
The Sharks also had their moments in possession and a neat chip-kick from Cipriani - who had an otherwise forgettable first half - put Mark Cueto in a threatening position.
That move eventually broke down but they were rewarded for their endeavour when the Sale fly-half kicked them in front.
Farrell's effort late in the half regained Saracens' advantage, but it was proving to be a tight contest between the two Premiership sides.
Like in the opening period, the visitors looked to establish their dominance up front early in the second half and a powerful drive saw Vunipola go over.
But they could not shake their dogged and determined hosts. Although Sale lost Cipriani to injury, their experienced players made their presence felt as both Sam Tuitupou and Lund made significant surges into the London-based outfit's defence.
That opened the space for Russia international Ostrikov to cross the whitewash and bring them to within a point. However, Nick Macleod failed to add the extras and Sale were still behind with 18 minutes to go.
It was to prove costly as Farrell's drop-goal gave Sarries a four-point buffer, leaving the hosts needing an unconverted try to win the game, which they could not quite force.