BARNET, ENGLAND - JANUARY 25: Andre Esterhuizen of Sharks breaks away to score a try during the friendly match between Saracens and Natal Cell C Sharks at Allianz Park on January 25, 2014 in Barnet, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Johannesburg – The Sharks came unstuck in their 23-15 loss to a Saracens team brimming with South African players at Allianz Park, in London on Saturday.

The coastal franchise was given a proper test in their first pre-season match ahead of this year's Super Rugby competition.

Jake White's troops were denied possession and territory for most of the first half with Saracens doing most of the playing.

While the side did not come away with the victory, White would be pleased with some of the youngsters that showed some maturity against a top side.

The Sharks went into the match with a young backline that showed the potential that would come in handy when injuries take its toll midway through the season.

White would have taken note of the performance of standout inside centre Andre Esterhuizen, who constantly troubled Saracens' defence, while looseforward Jean Deysel put in a mammoth display.

Deysel constantly got over the gain line with his menacing runs with ball in hand while he stopped the opposition in their tracks with bone crushing tackles.

White would spend some time analysing the scrums where his Springbok front row of Beast Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis and Bismarck had a difficult day at work.

The Sharks scored the first points on the board shortly after the start with flyhalf Tim Swiel succeeding with a penalty conversion before the hosts levelled the scores through a Charlie Hodgson three-pointer.

Saracens took the lead in the 22 minute when Hodgson made no mistake with his kick at goal.

Five minutes later Saracens were handed double-barrelled advantage when Sharks lock Ettienne Oosthuizen was yellow carded for collapsing the maul metres from the line.

As Oosthuizen was making his way off the artificial playing pitch, Saracens wing David Strettle scored from a quick tap with Hodgson converting.

The Sharks suffered another blow from the restart when Springbok lock Pieter-Steph du Toit also received his marching orders for taking the player in the air.

Despite the disadvantage the Sharks launched an encouraging salvo on the Saracens line reaching the 22 for the first time in the encounter.

Their efforts was to no avail as the ball was fumbled on their way to the line and it was the hosts instead that scored on the 40 minute mark.

Hodgson intercepted a pass from Swiel meant for Paul Jordaan to score the try which he converted to extend their lead to 17 points going into the half-time break.

Shortly after the break White sent on the fresh legs with a new-look pack of forwards having to do the donkey work.

This seemed to pay dividends as they managed to get greater gain line advantage, with replacement scrumhalf Charl McLeod providing the backline with sharper service from the base.

In the 60th minute Esterhuizen was rewarded with his stellar performance with a try that emanated from a linebreak by flanker Tera Mtembu.

Five minutes later the Sharks again crossed the whitewash with Heymar Williams doing the damage to bring them within five points of the home side.

Hodgson, however, took the wind out of the visitors' sails as he knocked over a penalty in the 68th minute to extend their lead to eight points.


Sharks 15 (3): Tries: Andre Esterhuizen, Heimar Williams. Conversion: Tim Swiel. Penalty: Swiel.

Saracens 23 (20): Tries: David Strettle, Charlie Hodgson. Conversions: Hodgson (2). Penalties: Hodgson (3). – Sapa