Rugby Union: Turner upstages Quins

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The Independent Online
Sale 29

Harlequins 11

AS ANY stand-up comic could have told them, playing the northern clubs can be murder. The Harlequins got away with it at Orrell five weeks ago; at least people were throwing coppers onto the field. And since then, with five straight league wins, they seemed to have got their act together. But here at Heywood Road they died the death. They fluffed their lines, missed their cues and went down to Sale, who had not won since the opening league game of the season, by two converted tries and five penalties to a try and two penalties. A pratfall with a roll of drums.

Both sides play a more lateral and exciting game than most of the knock- down, fifth-phase stuff on show so far this season. And during the early stages, the Quins, in classical terms of clean handling and hard running, looked the more accomplished side. But they lacked variation until driven to display it by desperation in the last minutes, when they produced a try by hard graft from the whole ensemble, and a finishing burst of effort by two individuals, Will Greenwood, who made the burst, and Jim Staples, who crossed with the ball.

By that time, their opponents had them struggling for air. Sale are a far more enterprising side than their recent results have suggested, especially when they have their Welsh guru, Paul Turner, at stand-off. He never stops scheming, exploiting the blind side, flipping passes in reverse, and taking quick dropouts. Yet he also immediately recognises when there's nothing on, sending a raking kick down the touchline. As a result Sale's back play lacks the Quins' surface elegance, but it keeps on its toes, remains inventive and is backed by a strong defence.

After David Pears and Rob Liley had opened the ceremonies with an exchange of penalties, Sale moved ahead with an impromptu, and characteristic, try. Rob Kitchin, the Quins' scrum-half, tried to kick through in attack on Sale's 10-metres line and instead put the ball into the hands of his opposite number, Christian Saverimutto, who cantered half the field before, to his relief, finding his lock, Dave Baldwin, beside him to carry on the baton.

Sale's second try also came gift-wrapped from their opponents, with Neil Ashurst picking up from Pears and, running clear, lifting his arm in salute even before he had troubled to touch down behind the posts. Liley added the conversion, plus the last three of his five penalties, and the Quins were left struggling to save face, with the outcome beyond retrieval.

Afterwards Paul Turner said; "I'm not at all worried that we have only won two games so far this season. Last year we won only three games before Christmas and still came out in the top half of the table." The Harlequins camp, too, was generous about Sale's efforts, feeling that a good many other sides would have lost if they had met the home side on yesterday's form and that their own muddled performance, broadcast live on television, would shake them out of their complacency.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); R Liley, J Baxendell, G Higginbottom, C Yates; P Turner, C Saverimutto; A Yates, S Diamond, A Smith, J Fowler, D Baldwin, D Erskine, N Ashurst, P Hewitt.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, W Greenwood, P Mensah, S Bromley; D Pears, R Kitchin (capt); S Brown, B Moore, A Mullins, M Watson, P Thresher, G Allison, R Jenkins, C Sheasby.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).