Quins fumble final place

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Sale 26 Harlequins 16

Sale continue to beat the odds stacked against them. Even though Harlequins had lost both their Division One matches to this assertive little Cheshire club earlier in the season, they had started favourites once more in this cup-tie. A side with as much home-grown and bought-in talent as Quins would surely have worked out some means to subdue a band of local heroes. Not at all. Quins were always labouring to get back on even terms, and Sale, who had reached their first semi-final for 21 years, scored three tries to one to win through to their first final ever.

Even playing at Twickenham will be something of a novelty for all but the former England scrum-half Dewi Morris, who came out of semi-retirement in junior rugby to pitch his weight with Sale. His strongly physical approach is the perfect complement to Sale's style of interactive play between backs and forwards, which brought an opening try from the flanker Dylan O'Grady.

The second try came from their captain, Jim Mallinder, who broke from full-back to take a pass with arms outstretched and, with unexpected pace, carve his way through for a try. With the sturdy New Zealander Simon Mannix, not as elegant as Quins' Thierry Lacroix at stand-off, matching the Frenchman exactly in points, Sale had built a convincing 12-point lead by half-time.

Yet the result was still in doubt until Harlequins paid dearly for two crucial dropped passes. The first came seven minutes before the interval when Peter Mensah knocked on a few feet from the Sale line. Had he scored, and there was nothing but his own anxiety to stop him, Quins would have moved in front for the first time by 13-10 and restored their shaky confidence. Their other mistake came midway through the second half when their full- back, Paul Challinor, failed to hold the ball on a counter-attack in his own half. It was eagerly accepted by Tom Beim who set off on the long, oblique run to the Quins line, which at 26-9 put the result beyond reasonable doubt.

The visitors rallied for a final mauling assault which brought a token try for Gareth Llewellyn. But by then they had made too many unforced errors to be in contention, and might have been in even deeper trouble but for the pained concentration of Lacroix, who regularly released the Sale pressure with his long punts down the touchline.

Sale: Tries O'Grady, Mallinder, Beim; Conversion Mannix; Penalties, Mannix 3. Harlequins: Try Llewellyn; Conversion Lacroix; Penalties Lacroix 3.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); D Rees, J Baxendell, A Hadley, T Beim; S Mannix, D Morris; P Winstanley, S Diamond, A Smith, D Baldwin, J Fowler, D Erskine, D O'Grady, J Mitchell.

Harlequins: P Challinor (J Williams, 58); D O'Leary, P Mesah, W Carling (J Keyter, 69), S Bromley; T Lacroix, H Harries (N Walshe, 67); J Leonard (capt), T Billups, L Benezech, A Snow (G Allison, 62), G Llewellyn, R Jenkins, L Cabannes, W Davison.

Referee: T Spreadbury (Bristol).

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