Having come out on the losing side of their European Cup quarter-final slugfest with Leinster at the Stoop last Sunday, Harlequins suffered a blow on the domestic front at Edgeley Park last night. Falling victim to a hungry Sale side scenting lingering hope of a top-four finish, the pressure will be on Dean Richards’ men in their final-day fixture at home to Newcastle next Saturday in their quest to make the Premiership play-offs for the first time.
It was a painful evening all round for Quins, with Ugo Monye and David Strettle joining their lengthening casualty list. For Sale, there were no pangs, an injury-time try by replacement scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth taking them above Gloucester into fifth in the table with a bonus point.
Quins were still feeling the aftershock of Sunday’s Heineken Cup collision as they prepared to take the field, the tournament organisers, European Rugby Cup, having announced their intention to launch an investigation into the circumstances of Tom Williams’ late departure and the hobbling Nick Evans’ return to the fray.
Of more immediate concern was the further collateral damage they suffered in the pre-match warm-up, Monye’s pulled muscle prompting a promotion from the bench for Seb Stegman.
Quins were already without Evans and Chris Malone, leaving a heavy burden on the shoulders of Waisea Luveniyali in the No 10 shirt. Capped for Fiji against the Wallabies in the World Cup two years ago, the third-choice fly-half did not make the best of starts, screwing wide a penalty from just outside the Sale 22-metre line.
It was his rifling long pass, though, that launched the attacking sequence which led to Sale’s Spanish winger Oriol Ripol being dispatched to the cooler for killing the ball and, in turn, to Luveniyali putting the first points on the board with a close-range penalty.
Not that the Quins camp were celebrating for long. Having lost one England wing in the warm-up, they were shorn of another in the 17th minute, Strettle limping off with a foot problem (seemingly his right, rather than the left one that has bedevilled him in the last two seasons). They then suffered damage on the scoreboard four minutes before half-time, referee Wayne Barnes awarding a penalty try after Quins were pinged for a sixth time for disrupting a scrum that was set nine times in all. Quins also lost prop Mike Ross to the sin bin and were left 7-3 down, Charlie Hodgson landing Sale’s conversion.
Two minutes into the second half Sébastien Chabal, Sale’s Gallic totem, drove over from close range, Hodgson again converting. With Danny Care at fly-half for the final 20 minutes, Andy Gomarsall pegged back a penalty for Quins before Rudi Keil, on as a replacement at inside centre, burst through for try No 3 after 63 minutes. Hodgson added the extras and did so again when Wigglesworth crossed the whitewash with time up.
Sale: N MacLeod; D Doherty, M Tait, A Tuilagi (R Keil, 61), O Ripol; C Hodgson, D Peel (R Wigglesworth, 64); A Sheridan (L Fauré, 55), S Bruno (D Tait, 64), E Roberts (S Turner, 70), S Chabal, D Schofield (C Jones, 45), J White, N Briggs, J M Fernandez-Lobbe (capt).
Harlequins: T Williams; D Strettle (D Care, 17), G Tiesi, D Barry, S Stegman (N McMillan, 71); W Luveniyali (J Turner-Hall, 58), A Gomarsall; C Jones, G Botha, M Ross (M Lambert, 45), J Percival, G Robson (J Evans, 55), C Robshaw (T Guest, 54), W Skinner (capt), N Easter.
Referee: W Barnes (RFU).
*Leicester last night appointed Richard Cockerill, their former hooker, as head coach on a formal basis after deciding to keep the job in-house. Cockerill has performed the role in an acting capacity since Heyneke Meyer returned to South Africa for personal reasons shortly after Christmas and has cemented the team’s position in the upper reaches of the Premiership while guiding them into the last four of the Heineken Cup.
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