Rugby Union: Quins cut to quick

Sale 23 Harlequins 13
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The Independent Online
HARLEQUINS have not yet regained the winning habit, despite having recovered from their five-match losing streak by demolishing Richmond 41-12 last weekend. Zinzan Brooke has arrived from New Zealand to turn things round for the Londoners, but we have heard this sort of thing from The Stoop before now. Wasn't the arrival of Andy Keast from Natal, once he replaced the dismissed Dick Best, meant to turn things round?

Brooke, who was assisting with coaching declared himself very satisfied after the defeat of Richmond, but his contract with the NZRFU prevents him playing until August.

He will be dismayed by the frequency, and at times quite alarming sloppiness, with which Quins concede tries. Before yesterday's match at Heywood Road they had shipped 46 in the league - only Bristol and London Irish have poorer defensive records - and No 47 was only 31 seconds in arriving, as Kevin Ellis and Shane Howarth opened Quins up for Dion O'Cuinneagain to score in the corner.

But Harlequins briefly rediscovered their try-scoring touch, and when Sale became over-ambitious and their passing broke down, Thierry Lacroix put boot to ball and Dan Luger claimed the try. Lacroix converted and kicked a second penalty and Quins were rolling.

Their momentum was halted when Lacroix was sin-binned for persistent off-side, but Sale were unable to make their numerical advantage count - any more than could Quins when Matt Tetlow was similarly dismissed for 10 minutes in the second half - and the break was reached with Harlequins 13-8 to the good.

There were signs before the interval that Sale may have profited by keeping it a shade tighter. Without Keith Wood and Gareth Llewellyn in their starting line-up, Quins were being driven back at ruck and maul, where Sale had the upper hand.

But Sale wanted to spin the ball wide whenever the opportunity arose, though their midfield handling was at times so uncertain that this became a liability. But an impressive surge within two minutes of the restart had Sale level when Phil Winstanley was on hand to take Steve Diamond's pass on the line.

Try as they did Harlequins were unable to break Sale's defensive stranglehold. Howarth, who had failed with two penalties and two conversions, at last found his kicking form to bang over a penalty and convert Duncan Bell's try which wrapped up the match for Sale.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); D Rees (M Tetlow, 49), J Baxendell, C Yates, T Beim; S Howarth, K Ellis; P Winstanley, S Diamond, D Bell, D Baldwin, S Raiwalui, D Erskine, D O'Cuinneagain, P Sanderson.

Harlequins: S Stewart; D O'Leary (T Tollett, 73), J Keyter, P Mensah, D Luger; T Lacroix (capt), N Walshe (H Harries, h-t); J Leonard, T Billups, A Yates (M Cuttitta, 71), B Davison, L Gross (G Llewellyn, 58), A Leach, C Sheasby, L Cabannes (R Jenkins, h-t).

Referee: H Smith (Cork, Ireland).