Though Sale may agonise over the way they almost allowed Harlequins to steal a match they looked to have won by half-time, at least they have a couple of wins. Harlequins will no doubt look at how they came so close, without having anything to show for a dramatic final quarter when Sale were teetering.
As the clock ticked towards injury time, Quins were camped under Sale's posts with the score at 38-34. A try would have given Zinzan Brooke's team the lead for the first time but the referee, Steve Savage, adjudged that Keith Wood had slipped his bindings and taken the scrum down. In other words the Harlequins forwards had attempted to con the referee. Savage would have no more of this, no more than he was prepared to tolerate obstruction or allow players to join the ruck or maul from in front of the back foot. Quins thought the decision savage. He was as correct in that as he had been over most other things.
If Sale had been as accurate as the referee in all they attempted, they would not have been required to look so deep within themselves when the game appeared to be slipping away. They had played all the football in a sparkling first half, to run in four tries - one of them a superbly creative effort from 80 metres - leaving Harlequins to rely almost exclusively on the boot of John Schuster. He chipped in with three penalties and the conversion of Colin Ridgway's try, to leave Quins 29-16 adrift at the break.
Sale reappeared as if the game was already won. But two tries by Dan Luger soon wiped the smile off their faces as their advantage was cut to a single point. From then on it was a dogfight. Schuster kicked two more penalties but, once Wood was branded a culprit, Shane Howarth kicked two to put Sale out of reach.
Manchester Sale: Tries Winstanley, Yates, Smith, Beim; Conversions Howarth 3; Penalties Howarth 6. Harlequins: Tries Luger 2, Ridgway; Conversions Schuster 2; Penalties Schuster 5.
Manchester Sale: S Davidson; M Moore, S Howarth (capt), 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, 80), 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 (capt).
Referee: S Savage (Nuneaton ).Reuse content