A cold but dry afternoon saw Quins defeated at home 21-30 by Sale Sharks this Saturday, narrowly missing out on a bonus point. Outscored by three tries to two, Quins were left chasing the game following two tries in quick succession by the Sharks within the first 10 minutes of the second half.
Having started positively with some good attacking play, Quins opened the scoring within the first minute through a Paul Burke penalty arising from an infringement by Sharks at the breakdown on their 22.
The restart saw an exchange of kicks, before Vaughan Going gave away another penalty for not releasing in the ruck. Some backchat pushed Quins 10 metres further into Shark's territory, but still out of range of the posts. Burke's kick to touch resulted in a Quins lineout within 10 yards of the Shark's tryline. Having won their lineout, Quins spun the ball out to Burke, who chipped through the defence to the tryline. Burke was narrowly beaten in the chase and the Sharks touched the ball down in the goal area for a drop out.
The next five minutes saw a powerful driving maul from the Sharks forwards, and some incisive breaks by the Shark's No. 2, Matt Cairns and their left wing, Steve Hanley, but a number of handling errors by both sides interrupted the fluency of play.
Eleven minutes into the game, the Sharks were awarded a penalty for offside, directly in front of the posts and 10 yards out. The successful kick from Braam Van Straaten levelled the score at 3-3.
Exciting attacking play by both sides followed, with Quins carrying the ball to almost 5 metres of the Sharks tryline before strong defence forced a handling error. A free kick from the ensuing scrum relieved the pressure on the Sharks, with the ball sent spiralling back to the halfway line.
With 20 minutes gone, the Sharks were awarded a penalty on the Quins 10 metre line. Sharks elected to go for goal, but the kick from Van Straaten was unsuccessful. Still 3-3.
From the dropout, the ball was gathered on half way and run back into the Quins 22. A knock-on by the Sharks No. 5 Dean Schofield gave Quins the scrum. However, good pressure on Burke forced a rushed clearance kick, which only just reached the Quins 22.
Following the lineout, a strong run by Hanley was halted by Quins full-back Gavin Duffy, but the ball was recycled and sent left. A combination of strong running by Sharks and poor tackling by Quins saw Cairns go over for a try in the 42nd minute. A successful conversion by Van Straaten put Sharks ahead 3-10.
The restart was gathered by Sharks, but Quins were held back. Penalty to Quins in front of the posts, within Burke's range. 6-10 after 26 minutes.
Quins went on the attack, but could find no way through the excellent Shark's defence. Possession see-sawed for the rest of the half, with both sides attacking strongly, but both missing opportunities due to handling errors, which interrupted the fluency of play. The Shark's defence continued to pose a huge problem for Quins for the duration of the first half, and the score remained 6-10 at the half-time whistle.
The second half once again saw Quins start positively, being awarded a penalty almost immediately within the Shark's half. Taking a quick tap, Ben Willis darted towards the try line but spilled the ball forward. With advantage being played, the Sharks scooped up the ball and their No. 8 Chris Jones thundered through some weak defence towards the Quins 22. A well-timed pass to Hanley saw the Shark winger with a clear run to the line. The try was duly converted by Van Straaten to increase Shark's lead to 6-17 after 42 minutes.
Following the restart, the Shark's defence was penalised on their 22 for not rolling away, and the penalty was successfully kicked by Burke. 9-17 after 46 minutes.
The Shark's replied to the Quins penalty almost immediately. The restart was kicked deep into the Quins 22, where Quins were awarded a scrum going forward in the drive. Once again, the Shark's defence put Burke under immense pressure, resulting in a short clearance kick. From the lineout, fluent passing first to the left and then back to the right stretched the Quins defence and found the strong running Shark hooker, Cairns on the wing. Neatly side-stepping Matt Moore, Cairns passed to Mark Cueto who dived over for their third try of the match. A successful conversion by Van Straaten put the score at 9-24 after 49 minutes of play.
The remainder of the match saw Quins upping the anti, but finding it hard to breach the Sharks outstanding defence, which continued to hold strong.
An excellent slip pass from Mel Deane to Andre Vos coming in at pace raised the noise levels within the crowd, but the ball was spilled before reaching the try line. A short clearance kick to touch saw Quins win the lineout and set up a driving maul, driving to within 10 yards of the try line. However, the touch judge had spotted foul play and Bill Davison was sin binned on 56 minutes for throwing a punch.
Two more penalties to Sharks, on 71 and 76 minutes, both within kicking distance of the posts saw Van Straaten increase Sharks lead to 9-30.
Into injury time, Quins at last began to breach the Shark's defence. An excellent break through the middle by Andy Dunne (who replaced Burke at 74 mins) set up Simon Keogh for a try in the 82nd minute, which Dunne successfully converted. 16-30.
With injury time still to play, Jim Evans caught the ball from the re-start and set up a ruck. A penalty was given against Sharks for handling in the ruck, and a further 10 metres given for backchat. The kick to touch found the Sharks 22, and Quins won their lineout. Pat Sanderson broke the defence once more, and sent Andy Reay over for a try on 85 minutes. 21-30.
The conversion, which would have gained a valuable bonus point for Quins, was unsuccessful.
NEC Harlequins CEO Mark Evans:
"I have never doubted (apart from last week) that this team does battle. We might not be the most talented team, but we don't half battle."
"The Sharks asked more questions of us than any other side has this year. We spent a lot of time in their 22 and came away with nothing, but we kept playing and scored two well worked tries from set play."
Sale Sharks coach Jim Mallinder:
"'m Happy. To come away to Quins and win is a good achievement. We deserved to win. We looked after the ball well in the first half and in the early stages of the second half the defence was outstanding. The basics were done well and we put Quins under pressure. Lots of credit must go to the mid field and particularly to Nick Walshe."
During week commencing 22nd April Harlequins will launch an innovative, new Membership Scheme which will replace the existing Season Ticket Holder Programme. Further details of the scheme will be announced in due course.