Rugby Union: Steel of Sale

Harlequins 30 Sale 31
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The Independent Online
Rugby these days at Harlequins is accompanied by the spectacle of dancers called the "Stoop Troop" gyrating to a rap version of the old standard "Mighty Quinn".

The trouble is it was exactly the wrong title yesterday. It was Sale who displayed all the mightiness, particularly in their pack, which thundered over for four tries, and in the unlikely boot of their centre Chris Yates, who hoofed over a speculative dropped goal on the final whistle to snatch the game.

While it is true Quins only lost by a single point, in truth they were flattered by the kicking ability of their French outside-half Thierry Lacroix, who notched up 20 points.

After the game, the Quins director of rugby, Dick Best, knew the true story: "We didn't deserve to win, the way we played our rugby today. It rules out any chance we have of winning the League. We played against a very well-organised pack that drove straight to the heart of us and split us. We'll have to go away and look at ourselves."

The lessons were clear on the pitch. Sale have clearly benefited for the New Zealand-style commitment and technique imported with their All Black player-coach John Mitchell.

Their four tries all followed the same pattern of driving forward play. First, the lock Dave Baldwin was shunted over in a maul, then the No 8 Charles Vyvyan found himself pushed over to score in similar fashion. The other lock, John Fowler, then repeated the feat. Baldwin grabbed his second try when he again found himself at the front end of the Sale bulldozer.

The Cheshire side's coach, Adrian Hadley, not known as a kicker in his long careers in union and league, landed a couple of penalties and a conversion to keep Sale's points tally ticking over.

For much of the game it looked as though Quins simply lacked commitment, though that is best denied, citing as evidence the way they pulled themselves back from what appeared to be runaway defeat. In the second half Lacroix started to play with a threatening unpredictability, sending long, teasing kicks to the corners one moment and throwing the ball wide the next.

Finally, after a full hour, Quins took the lead. Gareth Llewellyn had scored a try earlier in the match to keep the margin manageable, but the real break for the home side came when Lacroix put a delicate kick over the Sale backs for the scrum-half, Huw Harries, to gather and ground over the Sale line.

Lacroix converted to add to his six penalties, and Quins were suddenly in the lead with seconds to go. It was at that moment that Yates snatched the victory to see justice done with his dropped goal.

The constant war cry in the Sale pack, echoing around The Stoop, had been: "Psych it up, psych it up!" It was a cry that Quins might emulate. They gave every impression of reverting to old habits and delivering less in total than the international sum of their parts might indicate.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, W Carling, P Mensah, D Luger; T Lacroix, H Harries; J Leonard (capt), P Delaney, L Benezech, Glyn Llewellyn (M Watson, 72), Gareth Llewellyn, R Jenkins, B Davison, L Cabannes.

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

Referee: C White (Gloucester).

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