Harlequins 24 Sale Sharks 3 match report: Clifford takes step-up easily in his stride

England Under-20 captain marks elevation to Quins’ first XV with solo try

The Twickenham Stoop

When opportunity knocked for Sale to emphasise their candidacy for a top-four finish, and to show a London crowd how their decent form of the second half of last season had continued into this, they blew it. Harlequins found greater motivation somewhere deep in the hurt locker of a club best by injuries and depleted yet further yesterday by three England players  – Chris Robshaw, Mike Brown and Joe Marler – being rested in advance of next week’s match against Australia at Twickenham.

The 2012 champions had lost all three of their previous home matches but scored two tries in the second half through two of Robshaw’s younger back-row brethren, Luke Wallace and Jack Clifford, and gradually subjugated a Sharks team who brought a strong scrum but little else that was remotely incisive.

A reasonable expectation was that Sale’s dynamic duo of flankers, Dan Braid and Dave Seymour, would create merry hell with a Quins side missing four forwards and three backs in addition to their England men. Harlequins had not exactly been hanging their heads in shame after the previous home setbacks to the well-fancied Northampton and Saracens in the league, but the one to Scarlets a fortnight ago cut deeper. Perhaps the crucial boost was going to Clermont Auvergne seven days ago and wresting a bonus point from the French galacticos.

Harlequins began here with adventure and vigour, intent on playing their way out of adversity, true to the ethos which made them the title winners. Awarded an early penalty, Quins eschewed the kick at goal and went for the line-out instead, almost earning a try when Nick Easter, playing in the second row while Nick Kennedy and Charlie Matthews regain fitness, was held up by Sale’s scrum-half Dwayne Peel.

By the 25-minute mark the score was 3-3, after a penalty each to Ben Botica and Sale’s Danny Cipriani. For Quins, their regular kicker Nick Evans was hobbling and their No 8 Tom Guest was soon to go off with a suspected ‘stinger’ that required a precautionary visit to hospital.

Cipriani had in front of him a scrummage that was giving Quins a hard time. The lad who dazzled for England in these environs once upon a few years ago certainly did not toss this promising position away. If anything, Sale’s battle plan was too conservative, as Cipriani went through the phases with lateral passes along a spread-out line of attackers – using centres, props, second rows, whoever – and then kicking for position when it all petered out. His kicking was good but Quins were not in the mood to be cowed.

Best known for captaining England to the World Under-20 Championship title in France during the summer, Clifford had been recalled from a loan spell at his dual-registered club Ealing Trailfinders in the second division to sit on the bench. Guest’s injury after 34 minutes ushered the 20-year-old into action earlier than expected. “That’s the back row we think might be playing week on, week in three or four years’ time, not now,” said Conor O’Shea, the Harlequins director of rugby. “It’s not that there is not long to go this season. We’ll stay in the fight and we’ll get stronger.”

With two more penalties by Botica before the interval, Harlequins felt emboldened not to abandon their élan. A scrum on their 22-metre line was a difficult situation and they had only just brought on Danny Care as replacement scrum-half. Care may not have been in the best of moods after being released by England, who appear to have earmarked Lee Dickson and Ben Youngs to face the Wallabies. But Quins did just enough to hold a Sale shove, and Care and company launched a devastating counter-attack that culminated in Wallace’s try at the left corner. Evans, Botica and Tom Williams gave the pacy impetus and good hands and a lovely cross-kick by Evans did the rest. Wallace was name-checked by England coach Stuart Lancaster for his strong showing against Clermont; the implication being that the lavishly-hairstyled Quin along with Matt Kvesic of Gloucester and Saracens’ Will Fraser were the readiest alternatives to Robshaw as the national team’s No 7.

Cracking on with the task in hand, Wallace was illegally bumped off from chasing a loose ball by Mark Cueto  at the cost of a penalty kicked by Botica for 17-3. An overthrown Harlequins line-out gave Braid, Seymour and Cueto a rare Sale break but it came to nothing, and elsewhere the home hooker Dave Ward had every reason to be delighted on a rare start in the mulitcolours. It was then Clifford’s turn to transfer his rangy running from June’s Under-20 fun in Nantes to the senior stage. Charging down Joe Ford somewhere near halfway he re-gathered for a joyous 30-metre gallop to the posts, with Botica adding the conversion.

Line-ups:

Harlequins: T Williams (P Sackey, 50); U Monye, M Hopper (C Walker, 70), B Botica, S Smith; N Evans, K Dickson (D Care, 46); M Lambert (D Marfo, 69), D Ward (H Allen, 79), W Collier (K Sinckler, 64), N Easter (capt; G Merrick, 75), G Robson, J Trayfoot (Merrick, 36-40), L Wallace, T Guest (J Clifford, 34).

Sale Sharks: R Miller (A Forsyth, 50-58); T Arscott, J Leota, S Tuitupou, M Cueto; D Cipriani (J Ford, 55), D Peel (W Cliff, 40); E Lewis-Roberts (R Harrison, 55), T Taylor (M Jones, 55), H Thomas (V Cobilas, 55), J Mills, A Ostrikov (T Holmes 64), D Braid (capt), D Seymour, M Easter (K Kulemin, 50).

Referee: L Pearce (London).

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most