Friday, 3rd February 2017 @ 22:44
A late penalty was enough to give Sale Sharks a 10-13 win in trying conditions at The Stoop in Round 4 of the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Sale, who had travelled with a strong side, took a 3-10 into the break after hooker Neil Briggs drove over from close range in a largely uneventful opening spell.
In the second half Harlequins were on top for long phases and levelled the scores with a penalty try on the back of a dominant scrum. But with only a few minutes remaining Sale would retake the lead 10-13 as they looked to join Harlequins in the Anglo-Welsh semi finals.
Harlequins had won their opening three Anglo-Welsh Cup matches this season and were guaranteed to top Pool 3 entering the fixture. A win however would have given them a home semi-final so the stakes were high for both sides.
As they arrived at The Stoop they were met by horizontal rain, and a numbing cold as the wind played havoc on the first half.
Will Addison and Ruaridh Jackson would each kick a penalty in the opening quarter as both side’s attack failed to spark. Conditions were so bad at one stage that Jackson missed a chance to take the lead after his ball flew off the tee mid kick.
It was Northerners who had the better of the chances early but Harlequins defence was uncompromising as they forced Sale into mistakes and penalties.
With five minutes to play in the first half Sale’s territorial advantage would finally pay off after Harlequins were reduced to 14 men. From an attacking line out a number of Quins were guilty of taking out a man in the air but it was Adam Jones that was shown the yellow card.
The resulting line out saw Sale set up the maul and drive sideways halfway across the field before Neil Briggs crashed over under the posts. It was enough to see them take a deserved 3-10 lead into the break.
In the second spell Harlequins were under the cosh early again but impressive goal line defence saw them get out of trouble on a handful of occasions.
With Jones re-joining the fray it was his opposite number who would soon be off the pitch as Brian Mujati was shown a yellow card for a high tackle with Quins finally on the attack in the 22.
Sensing the Sale forward pack were under pressure Harlequins called for the scrum and four penalties later Referee Matthew O’Grady had no choice but to award a penalty try. Jackson’s conversion from in front of the sticks levelled the scores at ten a piece.
In the final quarter the match was in the balance but Harlequins could not capitalise on their momentum. Sale worked themselves back into the contest as they continued to play the match in the right areas of the pitch.
With only five minutes to play the visitors would get within inches before the ball was held up high on the post protectors. From the resulting five metre scrum however they would get the revenge as their forwards won the crucial penalty. Addison kicked the points and Sale led 10-13.
With the clock winding down Quins had one final attack but they couldn’t force the draw or win. They would have to settle with a losing bonus point, and most likely an away semi-final in March unless upcoming results fall in their favour.
Harlequins now return to the Aviva Premiership where they sit seventh, though only one point out of fifth. With back-to-back away trips against Bristol and Bath, before a Friday night showdown with rivals Leicester Tigers, it looks set to be a crucial month for John Kingston’s side.