Harlequins, on paper, looked the toughest test yet though. They are reigning Aviva Premiership Champions and have won their last five away games, they are also top seeds in the Heineken Cup. Their last defeat away from the Stoop was last November when they lost 18-21 to Bath at The Rec although they were turned over by Wasps at The Stoop a couple of weeks ago.
Sale were hoping to avenge the 14-37 reversal at the Stoop last September and halt a losing run against Quins that dates back to September 2010 when Sharks beat the Londoner's 21-17 at Edgeley Park
Two turnovers in the first few seconds were followed by a crossfield move that saw Tuitupou and Cueto make good metres before Cueto offloaded to Cameron Shepherd who set off on a mazy run. Initially he looked for support but then backed himself and touched down for his first try for the club. The 70 second try was by far Sharks fastest score of the season. Danny Cipriani converted and Sale led 7-0.
Harlequins took time to settle but on 8 minutes won a penalty 30 metres from the Sharks line and Ben Botica's left foot kick sailed over the posts. 7-3
Charlie Amesbury was his usual prominent self but on 12 minutes he pulled up sharply with what looked like a muscle injury and needed lengthy treatment from the physios. Amesbury tried to run it off but had to be replaced by Will Addison a couple of minutes later.
Referee Fox angered the Sale fans with a series of penalties he awarded to Harlequins. Harlequins it must be said looked very dangerous on the attack. Sale weathered the Quins pressure and won a couple of quick penalties to move down the field. Referee Fox called David Seymour to him on 20 minutes and issued a warning which he instructed Seymour to pass on to his team. Botica kicked his second penalty on 21 minutes and the Sharks knew they had a game on their hands. 7-6.
Referee Fox had to break up a bout of fisticuffs on 24 minutes and gave both captains a lecture. The referee's decisions were baffling many including Steve Diamond who paid referees assessor Brian Campsall a visit in the stand to ask for clarification on several of the referees decisions. On 27 minutes the referee pulled out a yellow card for Sammy Tuitupou for an infringement at the ruck and Sharks were forced onto the back foot against 15 hungry Quins.
Sharks held out for five minutes but the defence was split wide open by scrum half Dickson who put Williams in for a try. Botica converted and whilst the conversion was being kicked Mark Cueto needed lengthy treatment for a leg injury. Mark got to his feet but looked far from happy and had to be replaced by Nick Macleod. 7-13
Macleod went to full back with Cameron Shepherd moving to the left wing. Sharks won a penalty 40 metres out to ironic cheers and Danny Cipriani opted for a kick at goal to try and reduce the arrears and wind the clock down with Tuitupou still in the sin bin. Cipriani's kick was short 7-13.
Worrying for Sale Sharks was that in the first half hour they had lost both wingers and all the front row had been treated for shoulder injuries. Tuitupou returned to the field but the half ended with Harlequins being awarded yet another penalty 42 metres out which Botica sliced wide to ironic cheers from the South Stand.
HT Sale Sharks 7 Harlequins 13
The teams emerged from the dressing rooms well ahead of the referee who was roundly booed by the fans as he re-emerged from the tunnel. One minute into the second half Sammy Tuitupou broke clear but was pulled back for a forward pass.
On 43 minutes Harlequins added to their score with another Botica penalty and crucially for Sale they now trailed by nine points, and were out of losing bonus point range. 7-16.
The crowd of 7103 were getting increasingly frustrated with the mounting penalty count against Sale Sharks.
On 50 minutes Sharks brought on a full front row set of replacements in Roberts, Jones and Buckley to try and match the power of the Quins. It didn't take long for the changes to take effect and on 53 minutes Sharks were awarded a penalty 35 metres out which Danny Cipriani pulled wide. 7-16.
The Sale Sharks fans were still getting behind the team doing their best to raise the tempo. Quins flanker Maurie Fa'asavalau was sin binned on 56 minutes by referee Fox following an altercation with Marc Jones and Sharks tried to press home their one man advantage. Eifion Roberts took a blow to his ribs and was a relative passenger and needed more treatment from the physios. Richie Vernon was introduced as a replacement for Kearnan Myall on 62 minutes. This allowed James Gaskell to move to Lock and Richie played in his customary number 8 position.
With Roberts struggling the one man advantage did not have its desired effect and Quins went further ahead on 63 minutes through Nick Easter and Botica's conversion gave the visitors a 7-23 lead. After the try Roberts was replaced by Thomas.
Quins went after the bonus point and on 70 minutes Charlie Matthews scored the visitors third try after a good passage of play and with Botica converting the game was effectively out of Sale's reach at 7-30.
Sharks were keen to finish well and Richie Vernon outpaced the defence to score a great try. Danny Cipriani converted and Sharks trailed 14-30 with three minutes to go. Sharks sensed a mini comeback and scored again on 79 minutes through Sammy Tuitupou with Cipriani converting it was 21-30 with 12 seconds remaining. Despite a rampaging run by Addison the ball was eventually kicked into the West Stand to end the game. The Sale faithful cheered the team off but referee Fox was booed as he left the arena.
Final Score Sale Sharks 21 Harlequins 30
Sale: Cameron Shepherd; Charlie Amesbury (off 14mins), Johnny Leota, Sam Tuitupou, Mark Cueto (off 33mins); Danny Cipriani, Will Cliff (off 67mins); Ross Harrison (off 50mins), Tommy Taylor (off 50mins), Henry Thomas (off 50-63mins; on for Roberts 63mins); Fraser McKenzie (off 71mins) , Kearnan Myall (off 62mins); Dan Braid, David Seymour (c), James Gaskell.
Replacements: Marc Jones (on for Taylor 50mins), Eifion Lewis-Roberts (on for Harrison 50-63mins; off 63mins), Tony Buckley (on for Thomas 50mins), Tom Holmes (on for McKenzie 71mins), Richie Vernon (on for Myall 62mins), Cillian Willis (on for Cliff 67mins), Nick Macleod (on for Cueto 33mins), Will Addison (on for Amesbury 14mins)
Scoring Sequence (Sharks first): 5-0, 7-0, 7-3, 7-6, 7-11, 7-13 (Half Time) 7-16, 7-21, 7-23, 7-28, 7-30, 12-30, 14-30, 19-30, 21-30
Referee: Martin Fox
|Sale Sharks Score Card|
|Harlequins Score Card|