Rugby Union: Howarth the hero

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Manchester Sale 44

Harlequins 34

HARLEQUINS HAVE been called some things in their time. City Slickers, Fancy Dans and, more recently, the English game's great under-achievers. That title has now been claimed by Northampton, so it leaves Quins hoping to avoid some other unwanted epithet. Despite finishing third in the League two seasons ago, when Dick Best was their coach, they have failed to make any meaningful impression, except perhaps as illusionists.

After Andy Keast's unproductive single term at The Stoop, there was talk that Quins were going to call on Paul Daniels to coach them. Instead, they turned to New Zealand and the magic of the former All Black Zinzan Brooke, who has tried to bring cohesion and focus to their game, and add some necessary steel. For all of the final quarter of an exciting, if flawed, contest at Heywood Road, it looked as if the force was with Quins. It proved to be an illusion.

Had Quins been able to capitalise on the kicking of John Schuster, whose personal contribution of 19 points almost won them the game, there would have been due cause for celebration in Brooke's camp. But eventually Shane Howarth outperformed Schuster, with 24 points of his own, including two enormous penalties in injury time which settled the match.

That it came to this must have mystified Sale, who were in complete control in the first half. They scored three well-worked tries. The second, after Phil Winstanley's opening touchdown, coming when Jos Baxendell opened up the Quins midfield with outrageous opportunism, for Chris Yates to finish off an 80-metre move for a fine try. Tom Beim capped that with the interception of Stuart Power's pass for the third, and Sale looked unstoppable.

They may have been if they had prevented Dan Luger scoring two tries after the break. Schuster narrowed the gap to a point by converting the second, but that is as close as Quins got once Howarth found his range.

Sale: S Davidson; M Moore, S Howarth, C Yates (J Devereux, 58), T Beim; J Baxendell, R Smith (K Ellis, 63); P Winstanley (D Bell, 77), D Geraghty (S Diamond, 51), D Williamson, D Baldwin, C.Murphy, P Angelsea, P Sanderson, J Machacek.

Harlequins: D O'Leary (P Mensah, 68); J Keyter, S Power (N Walshe, 81), J Schuster, D Luger; C Wright (S Stewart, 63), H Harries; D Barnes, C Ridgway (K Wood, 61), A Yates (G Halpin, 48), B Davison, G Morgan (T Collier, 71), R Jenkins, A Leach, Z Brooke.

Referee: S Savage (Nuneaton).