Quins maintain play-off push
March 20, 2009
Harlequins' Tom Guest dives over to score against the Sharks at The Stoop
© Getty Images
Harlequins ran in four second-half tries on their way to a 38-20 victory over Sale that sees them maintain their push for a Guinness Premiership championship play-off spot.
Centre De Wet Barry secured what could prove an important bonus point with their fourth try after hooker Gary Botha, winger Seb Stegmann and No.8 Tom Guest struck the earlier blows for Quins - unbeaten at home since losing to Leicester at the end of September.
Fly-half Chris Malone, who is moving to London Irish at the end of the season, kicked 18 points, landing four penalties and three conversions after being called up in place of injured former New Zealand No.10 Nick Evans.
Ex-England fly-half Charlie Hodgson replied with five penalties from five attempts and a late consolation try for Sale, who have now lost seven of their last eight away matches.
Sale, whose own top four hopes were dealt a blow, suffered another with the return of All Blacks star Luke McAlister lasting only 26 minutes. McAlister, who had been out for a month with a knee injury, limped off to be replaced by Jonny Kennedy.
The sides were level at half-time, with Malone and Hodgson landing four penalties each.
Sale came closest to a first-half try when Hodgson retrieved the situation after having a clearance kick charged down inside his own 22. Recovering the ball, he stepped inside a tackle before racing 60 metres into the Harlequins half and kicking for the corner, where the home side were grateful to scramble the ball into touch.
Sale won the resulting lineout but squandered the opportunity when hooker Sebastien Bruno, back in the side after two weeks on the injured list, put the final pass behind winger David Doherty two metres from the line. Harlequins hit back with a series of attacks in which their veteran former England scrum-half Andy Gomarsall vented his anger at the officials after they failed to spot him being tripped.
Referee Chris White finally ran out of patience with the persistent breakdown offenders, sending Sale centre Rudi Keil to the sin bin in the final minute of the first half when he blatantly played the loose ball from an offside position. Quins elected to kick for the corner but lost possession following the resulting lineout.
The same strategy paid off eight minutes into the second half, producing Harlequins' first try. They failed to take the lineout clearly but the ball bounced favourably for Welsh prop Ceri Jones.
He was stopped just short of the line by weight of numbers but Botha showed immense to drive over at the second attempt, with Malone converting. Hodgson reduced the arrears to four points with his fifth penalty, but five minutes later Quins struck again when a huge clearance out of defence by the fly-half rebounded on his side.
Play was brought all the way back for a scrum on the Sale 22 after the ball ran dead at the other end of the pitch and Quins made excellent use of the possession, moving the ball along the three-quarter line for full-back Mike Brown to send Stegmann racing over in the right-hand corner.
Harlequins, again opting for the corner rather than the penalty shot, were denied a third try when flanker Chris Robshaw was held up over the line. However, Sale's respite did not last long as No.8t Tom Guest burst over from the base of the resulting scrum in the 65th minute.
Hodgson was the culprit again when his pass was intercepted by Barry and the centre, who had been recalled to the starting line-up in preference to Jordan Turner-Hall, sprinted clear of the Sale defence on a 60-metre dash to the line.
Hodgson made partial amends with a 78th-minute try in the left-hand corner but it came too late to affect the outcome.
Harlequins boss Dean Richards warned his England players - Nick Easter, Ugo Monye and Danny Care - not to expect an automatic return to the side, who are now up to fourth.
Richards said, "Andy Gomarsall played very well today in parts, Seb Stegmann was outstanding in parts, De Wet took his try very well, Chris [Malone] kicked extremely well and the pack as a whole worked well as a unit. "We have a squad of players and it's such that the guys that will come back from England, in terms of Ugo, Nick Easter and Danny Care, are not guaranteed spots."
Sale Sharks director of rugby Kingsley Jones cannot wait to get his international pack stars Andrew Sheridan, Sebastien Chabal, Jason White and Lionel Faure back from Six Nations duty.
Jones lamented, "We've played five hard away games in a six-week period without any of our internationals. I've told the players that's the end of that period, it's gone, tomorrow is our new season. We're preparing for four massive games and it starts with Bath on Friday night."
Jones will be losing Chabal, White, Faure and Argentina lock Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe to French clubs at the end of the season but he said: "We've got players back, we pull together and I believe everyone here is a winner, whether they are leaving or whether they are staying."
He is also hoping All Blacks star Luke McAlister, who lasted just 26 minutes of his first game for a month, will be fit to face Bath. "Luke's okay. He felt it and the good thing is that we took him off straight away and we're hoping he'll be fine for Friday. I was hoping he'd play for 40 minutes but we didn't endanger him in any way."
Harlequins: Brown, Stegmann, Strettle, Barry, T. Williams, Malone, Gomarsall, Jones, Botha, Lambert, Percival, J. Evans, Robshaw, Skinner, Guest.
Replacements: Turner-Hall for Strettle (67), Luveniyali for Malone (75), Poluleuligaga for Gomarsall (61), Fuga for Botha (61), McMillan for Lambert (72), Robson for Percival (61). Not Used: Ross.
Sale: McLeod, Lamont, McAlister, Keil, Doherty, Hodgson, Cliff, O'Donnell, Bruno, Roberts, C. Jones, Cockbain, Fearns, Briggs, Fernandez Lobbe.
Replacements: Ripol for Lamont (60), Kennedy for McAlister (26), Turner for O'Donnell (70), Gaskell for Bruno (76), Ward for Roberts (72), Cox for Cockbain (70), D. Tait for Fearns (60).
Sin Bin: Keil (39).
Ref: Chris White (RFU).
Jim Mallinder and Justin Burnell were sat on the same top table, but in different circumstances. Tom Hamilton reports on the Aviva Premiership season launch
Tom Hamilton reports back from the launch of the Guinness PRO12 where there is a renewed sense of optimism with all of the off-field changes to the league
So much for the great Australian revival, writes Greg Growden. It now has the potential of going off the rails after the capitulation at Eden Park
The latest Week in Pictures takes in photographs from the Rugby Championship, the Top 14 and the southern hemisphere domestic scene