Sale 28pts Harlequins 22pts: Marcus Smith unable to conjure heroics as champions beaten

Sale 28-22 Harlequins: Marcus Smith unable to conjure heroics this time as Raffi Quirke takes centre stage instead with two tries to give hosts deserved win over champions

  • Premiership champions Harlequins met their match and were deservedly beaten
  • Marcus Smith was unable to bail his side out as he did against Bristol last week
  • Sale dominated the game and won despite missing three second-half penalties  
  • England coach Eddie Jones watched from stands as Raffi Quirke put on a show 

Newsflash from Salford; Marcus Smith is human. There was no game-changing magic on Friday – no rabbits pulled from his hat. Harlequins were beaten and their No 10 sensation was up-staged.

This was an occasion which may serve to calm all the hype and the fanfare, and in the long run that may not be such a bad thing. Robbed of front-foot possession, Smith was stifled and becalmed. After his staggering exploits in Quins’ fightback victory over Bristol seven days earlier, this was an almighty come-down for the player and his club.

Sale deservedly lowered the colours of the Premiership champions – a result which keeps Leicester top of the table. They dominated for long periods and won despite missing three successive penalties in succession in the second half.

Raffi Quirke upstaged Marcus Smith as Sale Sharks deservedly beat Harlequins

Smith (right) bailed out the Quins last week at Bristol but could produce no heroics here

Smith (right) bailed out the Quins last week at Bristol but could produce no heroics here

Eddie Jones was at the AJ Bell Stadium, ahead of the announcement on Monday of his autumn Test squad. He saw Smith and Alex Dombrandt subdued after their brilliance against the Bears. He saw Tom Curry in dynamo mode on his first appearance of the season and he saw Manu Tuilagi mark his return with strong carries and several heavy hits. But the star turn was Sale scrum-half Raffi Quirke, who scored two tries to earn the Man of the Match award and enhance his Red Rose prospects.

It was Sale who started the stronger and he contest erupted in animosity in just the fourth minute. England centre Joe Marchant – operating on the wing for the visitors last night – was forced into touch and disappeared under a pile of bodies. Tempers flared amid a flurry of limbs as players from both teams piled into the melee.

When the dust settled, Danny Care could be seen angrily gesturing as if he had been bitten. Referee Tom Foley lectured both captains while Care exchanged words with Cobus Wiese but no action was taken.

Sale continued to hold the territorial advantage and took the lead in the 14th minute. Byron McGuigan made good ground with a slaloming run on the left to give his side momentum. Quirke’s fine flat pass created space, Kieran Wilkinson released Wiese, the lock galloped through and picked out the supporting Quirke, allowing the scrum-half to dive over.

Wilkinson added the conversion to make it 7-0, just as replays were showing that his pass to Wiese had probably gone fractionally forward. But it was not spotted by the officials and the score stood.

Quirke scored two tries as Sale won the match despite missing three second-half penalties

Quirke scored two tries as Sale won the match despite missing three second-half penalties

It didn’t take long for Quins to hit back. Marchant went clear down the right and when he was stopped in the home 22, his side were awarded a penalty. Alert as ever, Care took a quick tap, darted towards the line and Bevan Rodd couldn’t prevent him touching down. Smith converted to level the scores.

A 23rd-minute penalty by Wilkinson put the Sharks ahead again, but they lost captain Jono Ross to a yellow card on the half-hour for a high shot on Tyrone Green and it proved to be a damaging lapse. A minute later, Andre Esterhuizen burst through and aimed an off-load towards Alex Dombrandt but it flew too low and the Quins captain knocked on.

But Matson’s side kept up the pressure and it paid off shortly before the break. Esterhuizen was felled by a big hit by Tuilagi, but Green bumped off Curtis Langdon to race away and he swerved right, to go past Denny Solomona and score.

Quirke hugs Jono Russ after the fulltime whistle. England coach Eddie Jones was watching

Quirke hugs Jono Russ after the fulltime whistle. England coach Eddie Jones was watching

Smith’s wide conversion was on target to give Quins a four-point lead, but they didn’t protect it for long. Right on half-time, Ross returned from the sin-bin, Sale kicked a penalty to the right corner, their forwards drove the lineout through the opposition pack with ease and there was Ross to apply the finish. Wilkinson added the extras and Sale went in 17-14 up.

The second half started in nightmare fashion for the Cheshire club, who gifted the lead back to Quins. Sale failed to claim the re-start kick, the ball fell in front of Luke Northmore, he picked up and was able to run in unopposed. Smith couldn’t turn the five points into seven though and the wide kick drew some mocking cheers from the home fans.

It became a kicking contest. Wilkinson landed another penalty, then he missed his next two. Smith took a turn in the 64th minute and knocked over the shot to edge his side again. Back came Sale, up stepped Wilkinson… another miss; his third in a row. Soon after, he was replaced by Tom Curtis, who promptly scored the penalty which re-established Sale’s lead before Quirke scorched over for his second try a minute from time, to complete the ambush of the champions.