Sale Sharks made a massive stride towards the Guinness Premiership play-offs by recording a fine 23-16 victory over Harlequins at the Stoop on Sunday.
Sale Sharks took a massive stride towards the Guinness Premiership play-offs by recording a fine 23-16 victory over Harlequins at the Stoop on Sunday – a result the sees the northerners leapfrog the Londoners to third in the standings.
The visitors survived a second-half wobble to bulldoze their way to a win that leave Harlequins' semi-final hopes hanging by a thread.
The Sharks led 23-11 with tries from Richard Wigglesworth and Andy Vilk putting them in pole position until a pair of yellow cards placed them under the cosh in the final quarter.
England prop Andrew Sheridan was sent to the sin-bin for punching and Argentina openside Juan Fernandez Lobbe followed him shortly after for pulling down a maul.
With the forward duo off the pitch, Quins piled on the pressure but could only muster a try from scrum-half Danny Care despite a glut of ball and Sale escaped.
The Twickenham club had raced into an early lead through winger Tom Williams but once the Sharks' fearsome pack had settled they were comprehensively outmuscled.
Sale now look assured of reaching the Premiership play-offs – they close the regular season at home to London Irish – and today's victory suggests they are serious title contenders.
Despite their defeat Quins – who finished with a potentially crucial bonus point – could yet join them in the semi-finals with top-four rivals Leicester and Wasps also losing this afternoon.
Sale were battered by an early onslaught from Quins who kept the ball for the opening five minutes and were rewarded with a try for Williams.
Ugo Monye produced a beautiful touch-finder and Quins stole the ball at the line-out before spreading it wide where full-back Mike Brown delivered the scoring pass to Williams.
Fly-half Adrian Jarvis missed the conversion but slotted a penalty as Sale, whose line-out was misfiring woefully, struggled to gain a foothold in the match.
Sale number eight Sebastien Chabal was conspicuous, although not always for the right reasons as he flopped on the ball to hand Jarvis three points.
The Sharks had been in Quins' 22 just once before they breached the whitewash in the 26th minute, Chris Jones doing the damage with a well-timed run through midfield.
The England lock made hard work of the finish with just full-back Mike Brown to beat but Wigglesworth was on hand to complete the move.
Charlie Hodgson converted and Quins' woes continued when hooker Tani Fuga was stretchered off and replaced by Chris Brooker following a heavy collision.
All Black Luke McAlister wowed the Twickenham Stoop as a side-step at full sprint swept him through the midfield only for his perfectly-executed chip to be met with a knock-on as the line beckoned.
Sale could not be denied in the 46th minute though when excellent work from Chabal in the tight led to a half-chance down the right which winger Andy Vilk exploited with a fine finish.
Hodgson, who had earlier booted a penalty, added the conversion and his second three pointer to push the Sharks 20-11 ahead at half-time.
Sale remained in full control as the match approached the final quarter with Hodgson landing another penalty to reflect their superiority on the scoreboard.
Full-back Ben Foden had the Quins defence at panic stations with a darting run but the supporting Selorm Kuadey ran into trouble.
Sheridan was sent to the sin-bin for a 60th minute punch on George Robson, forcing referee Dave Pearson to opt for uncontested scrums.
It was now Sale's turn to scramble furiously as Quins launched waves of attacks and when Sharks openside Lobbe was show a yellow card for his professional foul they were ready to crack.
The home pack surged forward and Care spotted space down the right, darting free and touching down.
But Quins could not add to the score as Sale closed out the match in expert fashion.
Tries: Williams, Care
Cons: Jarvis 2
For Sale Sharks:
Tries: Wigglesworth, Vilk
Cons: Hodgson 2
Pens: Hodgson 3
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 David Strettle, 13 Ugo Monye, 12 Tosh Masson, 11 Tom Williams,, 10 Adrian Jarvis, 9 Danny Care, 8 Tom Guest, 7 Will Skinner (c), 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Robson, 4 James Percival, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Tani Fuga, 1 Ceri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Chris Brooker, 17 John Brooks, 18 Jim Evans, 19 Nick Easter, 20 Steven So'oialo, 21 Chris Malone, 22 De Wet Barry.
Sale Sharks: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Selorm Kuadey, 13 Chris Bell, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Andy Vilk, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Sebastien Chabal, 7 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Jason White (captain), 5 Brent Cockbain, 4 Chris Jones, 3 Stuart Turner, 2 Sebastien Bruno, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 Eifion Roberts, 18 Sean Cox, 19 Dean Schofield, 20 Michael Hills, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Matt Riley.
Referee: Dave Pearson
Touch judges: Peter Huckle, Ken Stewart
Television match official: Bob Ockenden