Saturday, 1st September 2018 @ 19:30
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Harlequins 51 Sale Sharks 23
The cover of today’s matchday programme had the headline “a new era” and it felt like that at a sun-drenched Twickenham Stoop this afternoon.
To record the maximum five points in the Premiership and to score six tries in the process was the best possible start to Paul Gustard’s role as Head of Rugby.
This was Harlequins’ first home first match in the Premiership for 15 years and how the players and the 11,413 crowd rose to the occasion. A record points’ total of 26 by man-of-the-match Marcus Smith was at the heart of a performance that showed the characteristics that the new coaching team have instilled into the squad.
Physicality in the tackle and at the breakdown was matched by flair in attack especially in a second half which Harlequins won by 27-3.
The home support responded to the team’s performance with wave after wave of vociferous support, they warmly welcomed outstanding debut performances by Ben Tapuai and Nathan Earle and there was a rousing cheer for Paul Lasike when he came on in the second half.
Smith opened the scoring with a penalty kick in the fourth minute. That was followed by a long injury break after Sale’s Tom Curry hurt himself in an attempted tackle on Aaron Morris.
The Sharks were quick to recover from the disruption and dominated territory and possession for the next ten minutes testing Harlequins’ defence which proved resilient. A penalty by AJ Maginty in the 16th minute was scant reward for their efforts.
Six minutes later Tapuai showed his class in cutting through the visitors’ defence to score his first try for the club after a fine break down the left by Luke Wallace. Smith kicked the conversion.
Sale were quick to respond from the restart when a neat side step by Maginty outwitted the defence and he touched down for a try which he converted to level the scores at 10 points each.
Sale took the lead on the half-hour when former player Marland Yarde capitalised on an interchange with Will Cliff to score on the left. Maginty converted to leave the score at 10-17.
Such was the intensity of the forward battle that the referee had to speak to both captains as both teams fought for a crucial half-time advantage. A quick lineout throw by Danny Care to Morris gave the full back the time to carve through a loose opposition defence before passing to Nathan Earle who touched down in the right corner. Smith added the extras from the touchline to level the score at 17-17.
Sale edged into the lead once again when Maginty kicked a penalty after Matt Symons infringed at the breakdown.
The momentum was with Harlequins and in the 39th minute Tapuai capitalised on quick-thinking by Care to touchdown under the posts. Smith converted to leave the score at half-time 24-20.
Harlequins were quick to continue from where they had left off at the break with a Smith penalty in the 42nd minute. He added another four minutes later to edge his team further ahead and sow the seeds of a momentum shift in the game.
MacGinty recovered three points from a penalty in the 49th minute but it proved to be the last tome his team would trouble the scoreboard as Quins relentless pressure began to tell.
An outstanding acrobatic catch by Marchant from the restart indicated the confidence that was surging through the home team that a raft of substitutions by the visitors failed to disrupt.
In the 57th minute a high tempo passage of play orchestrated by Care and Smith saw the out-half slicing through to score under the posts. Smith converted to stretch the lead to 37-23.
As the game entered its final quarter Sharks kept driving at the home defence only to be repulsed repeatedly. The burly figure of Paul Lasike reinforced the home team’s defence and the American showed his pace in bursting clear in the 55th minute with a 50 metre linebreak that relieved the defence.
Five minutes later another counter-attack by Quins stretched the opposition defence and created the gap for Smith to score his second try under the posts to leave himself the easiest of conversions.
That brought the score to 44-23 and it appeared to sap what energy was left in the opposition on the hot afternoon. As the match entered its final minutes the home side’s urgency in defence and attack continued to tell and there was an inevitability about the powerful drive by the Quins pack that saw replacement hooker Max Crumpton touchdown from a rolling maul. Smith added the conversion for a final score of 51-23.
Following the win over Sale Sharks, Harlequins hit the road to play Northampton Saints on Friday. The Londoners will be back at The Stoop to take on Bath Rugby on Saturday 15th September (kick-off 15:00). To be there go to tickets.quins.co.uk or call the Ticket Office on 020 8410 6010.