Sale Sharks head coach Steve Diamond believes his gamble to rotate the likes of Danny Cipriani and Tommy Taylor against Harlequins paid off, as his side came from behind in the second half to win.
Tim Visser's try saw Quins – the last side to beat Sale at home – leading 13-9 at the break, but scores from TJ Ioane and Will Addison in the second half gave the home side the unassailable advantage.
Joe Ford started in place of Cipriani, and slotted four kicks from four for 11 points, before the England international fly-half came on to kick another eight points from the tee, meaning Sam Egerton's late try was no more than a consolation for the visitors.
The result stretched Sale’s run at home in Aviva Premiership Rugby, with Diamond’s side unbeaten at the AJ Bell Stadium so far this term, and he is relishing the momentum his side are building.
“We won the game, we’re delighted; we’ve not beaten Harlequins for a long time and it just shows how far we’ve come,” he said.
“We wanted to deny them a point because we’re neck and neck in the league with these so-called super teams but we couldn’t manage to do that but we’re not too disappointed.
“It’s a season of attrition for the players, so we had to make the rotations to give the players a rest – we got the win so it looks like selection was right doesn’t it?
“We’ve got a different model to a lot of the other clubs – they’ve got massive squads, we don’t – but the beauty of that is you don’t lose many to internationals so we’ve been able to stick together and build momentum.
“We’ve not finished out of the top seven for five years now, but this year and next year is about pushing on to that top four – it’ll be a big ask but that’s what we’re going to try and do.
“Joe Ford could absolutely be our starting fly half next season, his performance today with the boot, trying to get the game going was really good and he just needs game time.”
Meanwhile the results grid does not make such fine reading for Conor O'Shea, whose Harlequins side have now lost five of their last six Aviva Premiership Rugby matches.
That run also includes four defeats away from home, and O'Shea tipped his cap to Diamond after the game.
“I thought for 50 minutes we played some really good rugby and probably should have got a slightly bigger lead with some of the territory and opportunity we had.
“A 10 minute window cost us 26 -16, credit to the players for playing the way they did until the end and getting that try.
“They’re not unbeaten up here for the year for no reason, they’re a tough side to play against. Everyone is beating everybody in this league; it’s dog eat dog.
“Sale are a credit to Steve Diamond and what he does, and credit to us – we’re getting hit by a lot of curve balls at the moment but we’re dealing with it, write this group of players off at your peril.”
Sale Sharks: Haley (Jennings 75), Addison, James, Leota, Arscott, Ford (Cipriani 58), Cusiter (Stringer 56), Lewis Roberts (Harrison 54), Briggs (Taylor 54), Mujati (Cobilas 54), Evans, Ostikov (Mills 69), Ioane, Seymour (c), M. Easter (Neild 58)
Harlequins: R. Chisholm, Yarde (Walker 51), Hopper (Marchant 68), Sloan, Visser, Botica, Tebaldi (Egerton 75), Lambert, Ward, Sinckler (Collier 59), Merrick (Matthews 59), Horwill (c), Luamanu, Wallace, N. Easter
Replacements not used: Buchanan, Evans, J. Chisholm
Tries: Ioane, Addison
Conversions: Ford, Cipriani
Penalties: Ford 3, Cipriani 2
Tries: Visser, Egerton
Conversions: Botica 2
Penalties: Botica 3
Referee: Ian Tempest