Saturday, 5th March 2016 @ 16:30
Harlequins fell to back-to-back losses as Sale Sharks came from behind to win 29-23 in front of their home crowd.
Tim Visser returned from international duty to score for his club and with the help of Ben Botica’s boot the visitors went into the break ahead 9-13.
The second half was a different story though as Sale scored twice with Danny Cipriani coming off the bench to give them a comfortable lead as they looked to remain unbeaten at home this season.
With two minutes to play Harlequins' young scrum-half Sam Egerton darted over from close range to close the gap to 29-21 with Botica's conversion adding the extras, but they couldn’t come away with a dramatic win, having to settle for a losing bonus point instead.
Earlier Harlequins arrived at AJ Bell Stadium knowing no side had beaten Sale there since the Londoners 23-25 win 11 months prior.
The snow had cleared and the sun was out as Quins looked to play with ball in hand but they were matched by a staunch Shark’s defence.
It was a back and forth opening period as Harlequins had the majority of possession and territory but Sale had the advantage at the set piece.
As both sides fronted up physically it was tough for either to make clear cut chances, and instead they would settle for penalties. Joe Ford kicking three and Ben Botica two as Sale led 9-6 after 33 minutes.
With the clock winding down on the half Harlequins snatched the lead. Botica fielded a high ball on halfway and he put Tim Visser into the slightest of gaps and he raced down the sideline to score. The winger returning from international duty to pick up his sixth try of the season so far.
Ben Botica’s conversion gave the visitors a deserved 9-13 lead at the break, but it was all to play for in the second spell as both sides looked to hold on to their top four aspirations.
In the second half Sale got off to the brighter start as the penalty count continued to rack up in their favour.
The Sharks forward pack would pile on the pressure with their driving maul and they finally went over through TJ Ioane, perhaps sparing Quins a yellow card in the process as they were facing yet another penalty advantage.
The next ten minutes would see the sides swap penalties again, the latter by replacement Danny Cipriani which would give his side a slender 19-16 lead after an hour played.
Already facing immense pressure with much of their squad missing to injury or international duty, Harlequins soon lost England wing Marland Yarde who was forced off with a shoulder injury.
Two minutes later a Sale attack sliced through the Quins backline and Will Addison scored under the posts. Cipriani’s conversion giving them a crucial ten point, two-score lead.
While Harlequins would battle to stay in the match they once again conceded a penalty and the lead was stretched to 29-16.
Their young squad, now featuring Joe Marchant and Sam Egerton off the replacements bench, would fight to the end and they were rewarded with the latter darting over from close range with Botica's conversion closing the gap to 29-23. With less than a minute on the clock there was still time for a memorable conclusion to the encounter.
Harlequins won the ball from the kick-off and hammered away for a number of phases but it wasn’t enough as Referee Ian Tempest blew his whistle on proceedings. Sale remain unbeaten at home and Harlequins have to settle with a losing bonus point.
With two rounds to go until the cavalry returns from Six Nations duty, Harlequins now head to The Stoop for back-to-back home matches against Bath Rugby and Worcester Warriors. A season defining fortnight lies ahead.
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