Marcus Smith kicked three penalties to punish an ill-disciplined performance from Sale Sharks and steer Harlequins to a 16-10 win in London on Friday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The win saw Harlequins momentarily climb above Bath into sixth place on the Premiership table, while second-placed Sale missed out on the opportunity to close the gap on the league leaders Exeter Chiefs, who face the Bristol Bears on Saturday.
Plenty of the pre-match focus was not only on the rugby that would take place, but also on how each team would use the moment before the first whistle to raise awareness about racism, following the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and similar signs of solidarity in other sports. In a strong moment of rugby’s solidarity, the Sale players came out wearing ‘Rugby against Racism’ shirts, while Harlequins formed a circle and took the knee prior to kickoff.
The game itself got off to a stuttering start, as both teams clearly looked rusty after five months without rugby. Notably, there was a strong enforcement of the laws at the breakdown – similar to what we saw in the first round of Super Rugby Aotearoa – which resulted in plenty of penalties being conceded.
It was Sale in particular who struggled to adapt, as they conceded 10 penalties in the opening half-hour of the match, with flyhalf Smith punishing the visitors with three penalties to put his side 9-0 up. As if to demonstrate Sale’s issues in the first half, Robert du Preez missed what appeared to be a simple penalty in front of the posts on the verge of half-time to see Harlequins take a nine-point lead into the break.
Faf de Klerk was the pick of the South African players in the first half as despite not having too much of the ball, he still managed to get his side into good positions with some clever kicks reminiscent of his work for the Springboks last year. The Du Preez twins carried strongly when they got the opportunity, while Jono Ross was a constant threat with England’s Tom Curry at the breakdown.
After what must have been a strong discussion during the half-time interval, Sale came out flying in the second half, taking just four minutes to get the breakthrough after working Byron McGuigan into space out wide.
However, Harlequins hit back with their own bit of pressure and restored their nine-point lead just after Sale fullback Simon Hammersley was yellow carded for a cynical foul, as Scott Baldwin scored from a driving maul.
Sale set up a nervous finish as replacement flyhalf AJ MacGinty slotted a penalty to make it a six-point game, but the visitors made a hash of a late attacking maul to allow Harlequins to come away with the ball and seal the win.
Harlequins – Try: Scott Baldwin. Conversion: Marcus Smith. Penalties: Smith (3)
Sale Sharks – Try: Byron McGuigan. Conversion: Robert du Preez. Penalty: AJ MacGinty.
Harlequins – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 James Lang, 11 Nathan Earle, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 James Chisholm, 5 Matt Symons, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Simon Kerrod, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Joe Marler
Subs: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Will Collier, 19 Dino Lamb, 20 Tom Lawday, 21 Will Evans, 22 Scott Steele, 23 Paul Lasike
Sale Sharks – 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Byron McGuigan, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Jono Ross (c), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Jean-Luc du Preez, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Coenie Oosthuizen
Subs: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 James Phillips, 20 Ben Curry, 21 Will Cliff, 22 AJ MacGinty, 23 Denny Solomona.
Photo: Getty Images