Marcus Smith did his chances of starting for England in the 2024 Six Nations no harm at all with an impressive display against his direct rival George Ford.
The 24-year-old playmaker set up Harlequins’ crucial second try with a brilliant run and off-load for Danny Care to touch down.
That took the Londoners 17-3 ahead – adding to Tyrone Green’s earlier effort – before Sam Riley made it a 19-point buffer.
Smith then instigated the bonus-point try, which was scored by Will Joseph. A few minutes later, the centre completed the rout by going over for his brace as they secured a superb 36-3 triumph over the Premiership leaders.
It was a bad night for Sale and their primary playmaker Ford, who could only score three points off the tee,
After Owen Farrell stepped back from England duty, Smith very much laid down a marker against his competitor for the 10 shirt.
Smith was given the easier night, however, because of the the work rate and determination of his forwards highlighted by the resolute defending of their line shortly before half-time.
A difficult night for Sale was compounded by the loss of captain Ben Curry to injury and there were few positives on show to make the journey back to Manchester more comfortable.
Alex Sanderson’s early-season pacesetters were rarely at the required level and it took just nine minutes to leak their first try, full-back Joe Carpenter making a mess of a kick that allowed Green to grab the ball and complete a simple run in.
The South African used his footwork to set off on a mazy run out of defence that launched a fresh home assault which ended with a Quins penalty.
Sale were spending time in opposition territory but each time departed without any points with Ford missing one very kickable penalty on the half-hour mark.
Joe Launchbury was hurt in contact but Quins were relieved to see their England second row rise to his feet and rejoin a match that was in danger of slipping away from the Sharks.
Sensing the urgency, Sale ended the first half by using forward pick and goes to batter away at the whitewash but the resilience shown in defence by Quins meant they were confined to a Ford penalty.
And it appeared to be a costly failure early in the second half when Quins’ attack clicked into gear through the skills of their half-backs, Smith slicing through the visitors and darting clear before sending the supporting Care over.
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Problems continued to mount for Sale as Arron Reed was sent to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on and once a large scuffle had subsided, hooker Riley peeled off from a line-out maul and dived over.
Second place in the table was confirmed when Sharks’ poor clearance offered an invitation to attack and Quins accepted, Smith launching a move down the left side of the field that was finished by Joseph.
Sale’s defence was creaking again to enable Joseph to plunder his second in the final indignity for the out of sorts Premiership leaders.