Macleod takes advantage after Quins lose their cool

Sale 21 Harlequins 17
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The Independent Online

Harlequins winger Tom Williams was substituted last night. Didn't that used to be newsworthy? As it happened, an incandescent Conor O'Shea quite rightly had far bigger issues on his mind following this brilliantly entertaining encounter.

There was no "blood" this time and also no Steph Brennan, the physio involved in Bloodgate having been struck off this week by the Health Professions Council, the last act of a sorry saga that Quins are desperate to move on from.

Unfortunately second-half performances like this one will not help them do that. It was nothing short of old- fashioned indiscipline that cost them what would have been a superb win.

Quins were cruising at 17-6 before yellow cards for Ollie Smith and Tomas Vallejos saw them play for 20 second-half minutes with just 14 men. Sale left it late at Edgeley Park last night but finished up with a superb 21-17 victory. "I'm furious," said the Quins director of rugby. "If you play for 20 minutes with just 14 men, it doesn't matter how fit you are, you will be run ragged. That was a game we should have put away but we didn't deserve to. Credit to Sale for the way they played, but I keep coming back to this word 'furious' and I am."

O'Shea added: "It is a feeling of frustration for us and the supporters who come up here, because they deserve better. We will take a long hard look at ourselves this week." His demeanour was frightening enough in the press room as he fought to remain articulate in his fury, so heaven help his players after somehow managing to lose despite being 11 points up with just 14 minutes to play.

Early on it looked very different as a simple converted George Lowe try after five minutes got Quins off to a flying start. Sale's initial play was marred by basic errors, encapsulated by Chris Leck's thoughtless knock-on at the base of his own scrum while the pack was bullied by their denser and more malicious-looking opponents as Nick Easter, playing second row rather than No 8 in order to accommodate Tom Guest, took charge.

That changed when Sale's front eight began to throw counter punches and inch the Cheshire side further up the field. Only heroic defending kept Mark Cueto out in the corner but Nick Macleod did kick two Sale penalties in succession, one of which was a monstrous effort from 60 metres.

After a sustained period of entertaining attrition it was anyone's game, but it was Quins who made what could have been the decisive thrust on half-time when Jordan Turner-Hall caught Sale's porous defence on the back foot as he kicked through and then touched down; Nick Evans kicked the extras.

After the interval a total of five substitutions were made on the front rows but Quins then suffered a further, undesired, change when Smith got his 10 minutes for not rolling away.

Quins held on while he was otherwise engaged but when Vallejos replaced him in the sin-bin, Sale finally broke through. Cueto scored in the corner and Kyle Tonetti followed not long after. As the tension mounted, Macleod kicked one conversion, missed the other but then landed a nervy penalty to leave Quins scratching some very tired heads.

"I thought I was watching Lee Evans on telly, it was comedy hour for a while," Sale's director of rugby Mike Brewer admitted. "Quite honestly, I don't know how Harlequins lost that. That was a bottom-six performance by both teams and we need to improve on that."

Sale: Tries Cueto, Tonetti; Conversion Macleod; Penalties Macleod 3. Harlequins: Tries Lowe, Turner-Hall; Conversions Evans 2; Penalty Evans.

Sale T Williams; B Cohen, C Bell, N Macleod, M Cueto; M James (K Tonetti, 56), C Leck (Cliff, h-t); E Lewis-Roberts (J Forster, 63), M Jones (N Briggs, h-t), J Forster (A Sheridan, h-t), W Lewaravu (N Rouse, 74), J Gaskell (capt), C Fearns, D Seymour, S Koyamaibole (Ormsby, 52)

Harlequins M Brown; T Williams (G Camacho, 25) O Smith, J Turner-Hall, G Lowe; N Evans, K Dickson; T Guest (P Browne, 67), W Skinner, C Robshaw (capt), T Vallejos, N Easter, J Johnston (M Lambert, 44), M Cairns (C Brooker, 44), Jones (J Marler, 44).

Referee D Pearson (RFU).