Quins too strong for Sale
February 22, 2013
Harlequins secured a hugely important victory
Harlequins cemented their place at the top of the Aviva Premiership table with a 30-21 victory over basement side Sale Sharks at Salford City Stadium in Friday night.
Cameron Shepherd's try took Sale into an early lead, but Quins controlled the rest of the half with Tom Williams touching down and Ben Botica adding eight points with the boot. Botica continued his fine form in the second period with another penalty before converted scores from Nick Easter and Charlie Matthews sealed a fine victory, their 12th in 13 games. Richie Vernon and Sam Tuitupou scored consolation efforts in the last few minutes for Sale, but the result means they still reside at the bottom of the league.
After securing four wins in succession, the Sharks were handed a further boost when Rob Miller and Dan Braid put pen to paper on new deals. Although Miller sat out this game, his replacement, former Australia international Shepherd, got the Sharks off to the perfect start.
Just two minutes had elapsed when Quins were turned over in the contact area. Will Cliff then fed Henry Thomas and good hands from Tuitupou and Mark Cueto sent the fullback away. Danny Cipriani converted impressively from a difficult angle and the league's bottom club led 7-0 but the visitors, in typical fashion, went on the attack.
Jordan Turner-Hall made indents in the Sale defence and, after they infringed at the breakdown, Botica slotted the resultant opportunity. Despite their fine opening, it was the London-based outfit that began to dominate. Ill discipline at the tackle area was proving costly and Harlequins' Kiwi stand-off added a second from the tee to reduce the arrears further.
Another penalty then forced referee Martin Fox to send Tuitupou to the sin-bin and the away side profited when Williams touched down. Karl Dickson took advantage of the space left by Cueto, who was lying injured on the ground, and his surging run was finished by the right winger. Botica was successful with an easy conversion as Quins deservedly led 13-7 at the interval.
The second half continued with the defending Premiership champions controlling proceedings and their fly-half took them nine points clear after another Sharks' indiscretion. Sale had barely touched the ball throughout the match but a penalty chance allowed them an opportunity to get back into the encounter. However, Cipriani was off target with the attempt.
Harlequins' back-row Maurie Fa'asavalu then received a yellow card for punching Marc Jones, but it was one of Europe's outstanding outfits that were by far the more inventive. Dickson in particular was causing problems around the fringes and his piece of quick thinking nearly ended in another score.
Although the hosts initially held out, a lineout drive saw Easter touch down, Botica converting, to take the score to 23-7. Further pressure on the home team's line then led to Matthews going over as they crumbled under Quins' sheer power. Vernon and Tuitupou crossed late on as the home side rallied, but it was too little too late.
"I'm incredibly happy," said Quins boss Conor O'Shea. "We felt coming up here that it was going to be an incredibly tough match. We knew they would fight tooth and nail for everything and anything they could get their hands on.
"Credit to our guys. To come here and get a win like that is huge for us, especially with the number of players we had missing (because of the Six Nations). These are the games that people don't remember in May but they're massively important."
Despite a controversial performance by referee Martin Fox, Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond refused to be drawn on the display. Diamond twice spoke with the referee's assessor in the first half but wryly said in his post-match press conference: "It was probably the best refereeing performance I've seen all year. (I'm saying it) with an absolute straight face that it was the best refereeing performance I've seen since I've been back coaching."
Quins' Maurie Fa'asavalu looks to protect the ball © Getty Images
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