Harlequins suffered their first Premiership defeat of the season after they were edged out 28-22 by Sale Sharks.
Setting an early tone for the evening, Sale Sharks put significant pressure on the travelling Harlequins through a beefy forward pack. Despite early pressure releases through two superb lineout steals from young Quins forwards Dino Lamb and Jack Kenningham, Sale snuck through for an opening score for scrum-half Raffie Quirke in the 14th minute after a midfield break from Sale captain and blindside Jono Ross.
Four minutes later, Danny Care would be the man to send Quins’ reply, responding to his opposite number’s score with some quick thinking. As Quins visited the Sale 22 for the first time of the day in the 14th minute, the talismanic Quins halfback tapped a quick penalty before wrestling his way over the line for the score. Halfback partner and man of the moment Marcus Smith added the conversion to bring the scores level.
Four minutes later and Sale retook their lead with a penalty for fly-half Kieran Wilkinson after Quins captain Alex Dombrandt was caught on the wrong side of a Sale ruck.
A yellow card for Sale skipper Ross saw his side go down to 14 men with just over ten minutes left to play before the break, allowing Quins to take the lead for the first time of the day through fullback Tyrone Green. Receiving a tip pass from blindside James Chisholm just inside the Sale half, Green bumped the first defender and hit the gas to race into the corner for Quins’ second. Another Smith conversion brought the travellers to a 10-14 lead with just four minutes left until half-time.
Thirty seconds before the break, Sale were restored to a full contingent. Making the most of their returning captain, the Sharks had the final word of the first-half as Ross benefitted from a strong maul drive from a lineout deep in Quins territory, dotting down for the score that would allow Sale a three-point lead heading into the changing rooms once Wilkinson kicked his third successive shot at posts.
Landing a lightning quick blow just seven seconds into the second half, Quins pounced as Sale missed the restart, with the ball fizzing into the hands of Luke Northmore, who would sprint untouched to claim Quins’ third try, and with it the lead. Despite Smith’s conversion sailing wide right, the travelling Quins headed into 17-19 lead.
Sadly for the men from South West London their lead didn’t last long, with Wilkinson adding another penalty to his tally ten minutes later to take the score to 20-19 in the Sharks' favour.
Another Smith penalty to restore Quins' lead and three successive missed penalties by Wilkinson had suggested the Londoners would hold on to the slimmest of winning margins, but, ultimately, a high penalty count in the second half led to a penalty for Sale replacement Tom Curtis and a second try for Sale’s Quirke as the hosts claimed a 28-22 victory.
A silver lining for Quins, as Curtis’ conversion failed to hit the target, allowing the visitors to leave Manchester with a losing bonus point.