Aviva Premiership: Harlequins leapfrog into fifth with 27-12 victory at Sale Sharks
Last Updated: 12/04/14 7:42pm
Harlequins bolstered their play-off bid with an imposing 27-12 bonus-point victory over Sale Sharks in the Aviva Premiership at the AJ Bell Stadium on Friday night.
Sale started the match four points ahead of their visitors in the league table, but their hopes of reaching the knockout stages were handed a hefty blow as Harlequins usurped Steve Diamond's side to move into fifth position.
With conditions in their favour, Harlequins flourished with their usual brand of running rugby as England trio of Mike Brown, Danny Care and Chris Robshaw ensured Sale's defensive capacity was stretched to breaking point.
A quick start from the Sharks, which saw Tom Brady race home the game's opening try, was soon extinguished as Harlequins' axis partnership of Nick Evans and Care both crossed the whitewash to give them a 15-5 lead at the break.
Harlequins continued to extend their advantage after the break as Sam Smith dotted down shortly after the restart and the visitors eventually found the all-important bonus-point try when Maurie Fa'asavalu crossed late on.
A yellow card for replacement Charlie Smith left Harlequins to see the closing stages a man down and Sale were given a reprieve in the form a penalty try but it was scant consolation.
Sharks fly-half Danny Cipriani received the Aviva Premiership Player of the Month for March earlier in the week and he continued his fine form as the hosts made a brisk start as dusk fell in Salford.
And it was Cipriani who took on the role of catalyst for the opening try of the night as he released Tom Arscott with an incisive pass, before Brady completed a fine move in the right corner.
Harlequins' riposte came from Cipriani's opposite number as former All Black international Evans pierced his way through the Sale back line.
Evans stormed through the Sharks defence, breaking Arscott's tackle on the way and Cirpriani was also left flattened as the Harlequins half-back levelled the scores.
Conor O'Shea's side seized the advantage as Evans added his own extras, before an infringement at the breakdown allowed him to extend Harlequins' lead to five as he bisected the uprights for the second time in as many minutes.
As Harlequins raced through the gears Sale, most notably second row Jonathan Mills, made a valiant effort to repel the onslaught but the inevitable came on 24 minutes.
Care, excelling at the heart of a pace-filled attack, showed the ball off the back of the ruck before dashing over the whitewash out to touch down Harlequins' second try of the night.
Harlequins continued where they left off following the interval and indiscipline surfaced as Sale struggled to contain their free-flowing guests.
With a penalty advantage under their belt, Quins sent winger Smith over in the left corner and the scoreboard appeared to be racing away from Sale.
Sale - and Brady - thought they had their second of the night just before the hour as the Sharks flyer raced over the line, only for the TMO to deny the score after an earlier knock-on by scrum-half Dwayne Peel at the ruck.
Harlequins refused to leave without a fourth score and their persistence paid off with nine minutes to play as Fa'asavalu crashed over from close range to earn a crucial point, which saw the visitors leapfrog Sale into fifth place in the Premiership standings.
Lock Charlie Matthews was forced to see out the match in the sin bin after he was shown a yellow card by referee Wayne Barnes and the Harlequins defence subsequently conceded a penalty try, which Cipriani converted.
Still, Harlequins refused to relent as they tore back downfield and Karl Dickson thought he had crossed the line with the final move of the game, but the TMO ruled the replacement had been held up on the line.