|Harlequins (9) 16|
|Try: Baldwin Con: Smith Pens: Smith 3|
|Sale (0) 10|
|Try: McGuigan Con: R Du Preez Pen: MacGinty|
Harlequins beat Sale in a disappointing first Premiership game back after a five-month coronavirus hiatus.
Three penalties from Quins’ Marcus Smith separated the sides after a first half where Sale lacked discipline.
Byron McGuigan scored a Sale try after the break – after a flowing move – but Scott Baldwin was driven over for Quins after Simon Hammersley was sin-binned.
AJ MacGinty’s penalty closed the gap to six points and Sale came away from the Stoop with a losing bonus point.
Sale stay second in the table, but are four points off leaders Exeter with all of their rivals having a game in hand, while Harlequins move up a place to sixth, three points off the top four.
New stars fail to shine
The return of the Premiership was not the spectacle that some had hoped for.
All eyes were on Sale’s new signing Manu Tuilagi after the England centre moved to the Sharks after his much-publicised departure from Leicester following a contract dispute.
But the combination of a wet evening, an empty stadium and players having not had a competitive game for more than five months saw plenty of handling errors and a good number of penalties – Sale conceded 12 in the first half alone – eight of them coming in the first 20 minutes.
Quins controlled the game for long periods – leaving Tuilagi and his fellow debutant centre Sam Hill with little opportunity to show their attacking talents – something which will concern boss Steve Diamond with many tipping his side to be pushing for the title after adding to his already strong squad.
Smith twice slotted home as Quins had two thirds of the early possession while Robert du Preez missed a penalty two minutes after the mid-half water break before a third Smith penalty followed after half an hour.
The Sharks finally got close to the hosts’ try-line in the final minute, but Tuilagi knocked on as he tried to dive over with a penalty advantage, and Du Preez squandered the resulting three-point effort as he missed an easy shot.
Sharks resume brightly but Quins take deserved win
Sale hit back almost immediately after the break as they kicked a penalty deep into touch and set up a great attacking move from the Quins 22 that allowed Scotland’s McGuigan to get his fifth try in his past seven games as he dived into the right corner.
But the visitors pressed the self-destruct button with 25 minutes to go as Du Preez’s speculative cross-field kick from inside his own five metre line was intercepted by Mike Brown who set up an attack that was held up on Sale’s line illegally by Simon Hammersley – the Sharks full-back was sent to the sin-bin and Baldwin was driven over from the resulting close-range line-out.
Quins continued to dominate with Smith and scrum-half Martin Landajo pinning Sale back with some excellent kicks to touch, although MacGinty’s 70th-minute penalty gave Sale some hope after he replaced Du Preez, but Quins deservedly held on for four points.
Players unite against racism
Unlike other leagues, such as Premier League football, where all players took a knee before matches, clubs were given free rein by Premiership Rugby to decide how to mark the Black Lives Matter movement before kick-off.
Sale’s players all wore white T-shirts adorned with ‘Rugby against Racism’ and four of their players took a knee before kick-off as the team stood in a line.
Harlequins’ players formed a circle inside their half and all 15 of their starters took a knee.
Harlequins head of rugby Paul Gustard told BBC Radio London:
“I was really happy with the game management, our set-piece was good, our defence was really good, but we were actually a little bit inaccurate really, we probably should have scored two or three tires but didn’t quite finish them off.
“Start of the second half we gave Sale a sniff – and they’re a brilliant team, very well-coached with a lot of international players – and for us to fight back in that next 10-minute window was crucial for us.
“If we conceded again then we would have been in trouble, but I was really pleased with the turnaround from that.”
Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond told BBC Radio 5 Live:
“We obviously didn’t get the interpretation of the breakdown right in the first half – we were in double figures for penalties and couldn’t get any momentum or rhythm and didn’t really fire a shot.
“We only had one opportunity and we scored off that – the rest of it we were still on the coach.
“We gave a silly try away and we missed a kick before half-time – that’s a 10-point turnaround and we lost by six.”
Harlequins: Brown; Ashton, Marchant, Lang, Earle; Smith, Landajo; Marler, Baldwin, Kerrod, Lewies, Symons, Chisholm, Robshaw (capt), Dombrandt.
Replacements: Gray, Garcia Botta, Collier, Lamb, Lawday, Evans, Steele, Lasike.
Sale: Hammersley; McGuigan, Tuilagi, Hill, Yarde; R du Preez, de Klerk; Oosthuizen, van der Merwe, John, J-L du Preez, de Jager, Ross (capt), T Curry, D du Preez.
Replacements: Langdon, Harrison, Cooper-Wooley, Phillips, B Curry, Cliff, MacGinty, Solomona.