Sale Sharks reignite Premiership top-four hopes
PREMIERSHIP REPORT: A metronomic 23 points from the boot of AJ MacGinty steered Sale Sharks to a crucial 28-17 victory over Harlequins that reignites their Premiership top-four hopes.
USA international MacGinty slotted seven penalties and also converted Byron McGuigan’s interception try just before half-time to move Sharks within five points of fourth-placed Quins in the race to the semifinals.
The visitors had started quickly as Mike Brown became Harlequins’ record try-scorer in the professional era and then Jack Clifford crossed but MacGinty kept the Sale scoreboard ticking over to ensure the last eight meetings between the teams have been won by the home side on the day.
Harlequins flew out of the blocks as Chris Robshaw forced an early turnover, Danny Care made a decisive break and a few phases later the ball was recycled inside for Brown to crash over for his 90th try for the club – overtaking Ugo Monye for the Quins professional-era record.
And that early lead almost became even greater on seven minutes as Alex Dombrandt looked certain to score and only some brilliant last-ditch defending from Faf de Klerk held him up over the line.
But MacGinty started a trend that would continue for 80 minutes as he punished the visitors’ ill-discipline with three penalties that gave Sale a 9-7 advantage.
However, Quins responded in style, this time Care putting up a clever cross-field kick and Clifford out-jumping a defender to claim the ball and slide over for the score.
Demetri Catrakilis’s second conversion – in his first Premiership start in a year – made the score 14-9 but the flyhalf was then at fault for Sale’s score just before the break.
With Quins on the attack following another successful MacGinty penalty, Catrakilis threw a long pass that was gleefully intercepted by McGuigan and the Scotland international streaked 60 metres to dot down under the posts, as Sharks celebrated a 19-14 half-time advantage.
MacGinty added a fifth penalty shortly after the break and although Marcus Smith cancelled that out with one of his own on 57 minutes, Kyle Sinckler’s yellow card for slapping De Klerk in the chest put the visitors on the defensive for ten minutes.
In the final stages of the game, MacGinty then added two more penalties – the second of which came after Matt Symons was sin-binned – to complete his own 23-point haul and ensure Sharks left victorious with their top-four chances back on track.
For Sale Sharks:
Con: AJ MacGinty
Pens: AJ MacGinty 7
Tries: Brown, Clifford
Cons: Catrakilis 2
Yellow cards: Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins, 58); Matt Symons (Harlequins, 76)
Sale Sharks: 15 Luke James, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Josh Beaumont, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Jono Ross (captain), 5 James Phillips, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Valery Morozov, 18 Joe Jones, 19 Josh Strauss, 20 Ben Curry, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Cameron Redpath, 23 Arron Reed.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Nathan Earle, 13 Alofa Alofa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Cadan Murley, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Danny Care, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Chris Robshaw, 6 Jack Clifford, 5 James Horwill, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Max Crumpton, 1 Lewis Boyce.
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 Ben Glynn, 20 Mat Luamanu, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Francis Saili.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales & Peter Allan
TMO: Stuart Terheege