O'Shea votes Clegg for Quins' alternative at No10

Harlequins 21 Sale Sharks 9
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The Independent Online

If Harlequins miss out on the play-offs by a couple of points, they will look back on games like this. They had Sale for the taking but only managed to score two tries.

The Test prop Andrew Sheridan started for Sale and played for 71 minutes. The England manager, Martin Johnson, will be relieved that his first-choice loosehead came off with only a small cut above his eye.

Tries from Joe Gray and Mike Brown and 11 points from the boot of Rory Clegg gave Quins a comfortable victory in conditions that were not conducive to running rugby, although both sides attempted to play with the ball in hand. When tactical kicking was required, Clegg outshone his opposite No 10, the England squad member Charlie Hodgson. The Quins fly-half played superbly, pinning Sale in their 22 with astute kicking out of hand.

The Harlequins director of rugby, Conor O'Shea, was quick to praise the former Newcastle Falcon. "Clegg is the best passer of a ball I have ever seen," the Irishman said. "He has been living out of Nick Evans' pocket and he knows this is how it is going to be for the next couple of years. I am sure Evans [Quins' former All Black fly-half] would admit that he'd love Clegg's pass and I thought Rory was absolutely superb today. But he has to be patient.

"They were horrendous conditions out there but Clegg was brilliant in his game management."

Harlequins started much the brighter and they should have taken the lead after four minutes – Ugo Monye wasted a two-man overlap. Brown found himself in a similar situation a couple of minutes later but his pass missed the hooker, Gray, who would have had a clear run to the line.

Clegg soon kicked a penalty and after 13 minutes Harlequins scored their first try. A ruck in the centre of the Sale 22 led to Maurie Fa'asavalu passing inside to Gray, who ran under the posts. The home crowd only had to wait three minutes for the next try and it was a superb solo effort from their team's full-back, Brown. Quins collected the re-start and Clegg pinned Sale back. Then Brown collected the ball 30 metres out and chipped through the defence before winning the race to touch down.

A four-try bonus point looked inevitable at that point, but it was not forthcoming. Hodgson and Clegg exchanged penalties to leave Quins 18-6 up at half-time.

In the second half, despite attempts from both sides to play running rugby, the awful conditions put paid to any chance of ball retention as the game became a scrappy affair, full of dropped passes and knock-ons. Two Hodgson penalties and one from Clegg were the sole contributions to the scoreboard in the second half and the game ended with a brawl on the touchline that left George Lowe and Ben Cohen to sit out the final couple of minutes, in the sin-bin.

Harlequins M Brown; G Camacho (T Williams, 71), G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, U Monye; R Clegg, D Care; J Marler (C Jones, 61), J Gray (C Brooker, 61), J Johnston (M Lambert, 71), O Kohn, P Browne (T Vallejos, 65); M Fa'asavalu, C Robshaw (capt); W Skinner.

Sale Sharks R Miller; T Brady, C Bell, K Tonetti (A Tuilagi, 58), B Cohen; C Hodgson, W Cliff (C Leck, 71); A Sheridan (L Imiolek, 71), M Jones (B Roberts, 66), H Thomas (J Forster, 64); C Jones, W Lewaravu, J Gaskell (capt), S Koyamaibole (S Cox, 40), C Fearns (N McMillan, 71).

Referee G Garner (Warwickshire).


Tries: Gray, Brown

Con: Clegg

Pens: Clegg 3

Sale Sharks

Pens: Hodgson 3