Friday, 5th January 2018 @ 00:00
Kick off 16:15
Kick off 17:30
Kick off 14:00
Kick off 15:00
Kick off 16:00
A spirited fightback in Manchester eventually fell short as Harlequins went down 30-29 to Sale Sharks after Joe Marler was shown a red card in the second half.
Quins fell behind 14-0 within ten minutes but tries to Alofa Alofa, Charlie Walker and Ross Chisholm saw them lead 17-22 at the break.
Marler was sent off for a dangerous clear out just before the hour mark and a back and forth final quarter saw Jamie Roberts score a bonus point try, before Sale edged the match 30-29 in the final moments.
Earlier, Harlequins arrived at the AJ Bell Stadium fresh off their impressive win over Northampton Saints the previous Saturday, though they had struggled on their recent trips up North.
Against Sale they got off to the worse possible start as the home side ran in two quick tries as their backline found plenty of space in the early exchanges, even without former-Quin Marland Yarde in their backline.
It was Yarde’s replacement Byron McGuigan who opened the scoring after getting on the end of a quick backs move before going over in the corner to give the Sharks a 7-0 lead.
Two minutes later and the lead was doubled when Rohan Janse Van Rensburg was on hand to complete a Sale counter attack. While Quins slowly got themselves back into the encounter, and began to dominate possession, but they couldn’t get on the scoreboard in the opening quarter thanks to a gam of Sharks defence.
Finally, in the 21st minute, the building pressure paid off for Quins when the impressive Alofa Alofa got over from close range. Marcus Smith missed the conversion while AJ MacGinty kicked a third goal, but Quins’ confidence was up, even down 17-5.
Deep inside their own 22, Quins turned over a Sale attack and Mat Luamanu put his size 15 boot to ball and leathered it down field and the streaking Charlie Walker beat the scrambling defence to collect and score his fifth try in as many matches. Smith converted to close the gap to 17-12 with half an hour gone.
Before the half the Londoners got their third try as Alofa danced through the defence before finding fullback Ross Chisholm to go in under the sticks with Smith adding the extras.
The fly-half also added a penalty to his tally and John Kingston’s side suddenly led 17-22 as Referee Matthew Crawley blew his whistle on an entertaining first half.
In the second spell Quins’ territorial dominance continued but through the first 15 minutes a penalty off the posts was the closest they got to adding to their lead.
Before the hour mark things suddenly got a lot tougher for Harlequins as Joe Marler was shown a red card for a dangerous clear out on TJ Ioane and the hosts felt they were back in the match. They soon added a penalty to bring the scores to 20-22.
Harlequins showed composure to battle their way down field and Jamie Roberts scored the bonus point try with an unstoppable charge via a trademark line.
Their 20-29 lead however was short-lived as Van Rensburg completed his brace down the other end of the pitch and they closed the gap to two with ten minutes to still play.
The drama-filled match sat on a knife edge to the very end.
With five minutes to play Sale grabbed the lead back with a penalty as their man advantage eventually paid off as they hammered away from close range and forced Quins into a mistake.
Trailing by one with a few minutes still left on the clock, Quins showed spirit and patiently worked their way down field.
To the shock of the 7,000 in attendance at the AJ Bell Stadium the visitors almost stole the win as they crossed the Shark’s line. However after an absurdly lengthy TMO decision it was ruled Chris Robshaw was forced into touch - before Jamie Roberts crossed the line again - in the build-up and the home side were awarded a five metre line out instead.
Sale ran down the final 60 seconds and the 14-man Harlequins had to settle for two bonus points from the back and forth encounter.
Harlequins now fall to ninth on the Aviva Premiership table, one point behind Sale who jumped to sixth. With Leicester Tigers and Newcastle Falcons sandwiched between the sides.
It is a disappointing three weeks for Harlequins as they have now lost back-to-back road matches by a single point, with the six points dropped seeing them missing out on the top four.
The league now takes a four-week break as the sides both head to Europe for a fortnight before the Anglo-Welsh Cup resumes at the end of the month.
Harlequins return to The Stoop on Saturday to face old foes Wasps in Round 5 of the European Rugby Champions Cup (kick-off 17:30). Tickets are available online or by calling the Ticket Office on 020 8410 6010.