Premiership: Sale Sharks 3-13 Saracens
|Sale (3) 3|
|Pen: de Klerk|
|Saracens (10) 13|
|Try: Williams Con: Spencer Pens: Spencer 2|
Saracens replaced Exeter at the top of the Premiership thanks to a narrow victory at Sale Sharks.
In a tight and cagey first half, Liam Williams scored the only try as the visitors led 10-3 at half-time.
Ben Spencer kicked penalties either side of the break as Saracens looked in control without fully dominating.
Sale struggled to break down a resolute Saracens, despite threatening in the last 10 minutes, and their only points came from the boot of Faf de Klerk.
Saracens went into the game on the back of four successive Premiership victories, including last week's 25-3 triumph over Newcastle, and they started the game well.
The visitors led when Williams spotted a gap in the Sale defence and cut inside from the right to go over. Spencer added the conversion, but then hit the crossbar with a penalty attempt midway through the first half.
Williams and Sale's Rob Webber were shown yellow cards after a scuffle on the half-hour mark, and De Klerk got the home side's only points from the resulting penalty.
Spencer's straightforward penalty in front of the posts on the stroke of half-time stretched the visitors' lead back to seven points, and he repeated the trick 10 minutes after the interval.
With a rare attacking opportunity, Sale had a chance to break down the left-hand side with eight minutes remaining but Mike Haley knocked on just metres from the line.
Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond:
"We didn't play particularly well. We coughed the ball up too often and against sides like Saracens they will strangle you if you do that.
"We've won five out of six games and we've come across a very good side - and they've shown with their defence that they can close us down.
"We're a good side. We don't do what other sides do and whinge about injuries but we've got Sam James, who's a fantastic centre, playing 10 and with AJ (MacGinty) and James O'Connor not fit at the minute, sometimes - against the top sides - we can be a little bit found out."
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall:
"We had to do a lot of defending in the second half. There were clearly areas of our game which could have been better and our set-piece was a bit wobbly at times but, in terms of fighting for each other, our defence in the last 30 minutes of the game was magnificent.
"We got ourselves an important lead early in the game but to defend the lead the way we defended was brilliant.
"We were really pleased with how we came up here and fronted up. It's a difficult place to come and, with it being the middle of the Six Nations, we were absolutely chuffed with the effort the players put in."
Sale Sharks: Haley; Solomona, Addison (capt), Jennings, Yarde; James, De Klerk; Harrison, Webber, John, Beaumont, Ostrikov, Ross, B Curry, Strauss.
Replacements: Jones, Flynn, Aulika, Nott, Neild, Cliff, James, Charnley.
Saracens: Goode; Williams, Bosch, Barritt (capt), Wyles; Lozowski, Spencer; Barrington, Tolofua, Figallo, Isiekwe, Kruis, Clark, Burger, Wray.
Replacements: Spurling, Thompson-Stringer, Longbottom, Flanagan, Earl, Whiteley, Malins, Earle.
Referee: Luke Pearce.