Harlequins made it ten wins from ten home matches this season, but were made to work hard at Twickenham Stoop for their 29-26 Aviva Premiership Rugby triumph by a determined Sale Sharks.
Two quickfire scores shortly before the interval from Charlie Walker and Tim Swiel saw the hosts turn the game on its head, after Denny Solomona had notched up his third try in as many weeks.
Byron McGuigan and Solomona scored the only tries of the second period for the Sharks, but Swiel’s boot did not waver and the 23-year-old fly-half took his personal tally to 24 points with three penalties after half-time to edge Quins home.
A Solomona try for Sale in the dying minutes is not enough to stop a Harlequins victory. pic.twitter.com/zRQo4R2WKn
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) January 7, 2017
Harlequins were dealt an early blow when England International Joe Marler was ruled out during the warm-up, with Owen Evans coming into the side and Adam Jones moving onto the bench.
And after a scrappy start to the game from the hosts, the sides were level at 3-3 after ten minutes with Swiel cancelling out Will Addison’s early penalty after Cameron Neild was pinged.
But straight away Quins were guilty of obstruction on Mike Haley to allow Addison another shot at goal, before a high tackle from Josh Beaumont on Mike Brown saw Swiel level arrears once more after 16 minutes.
Once the game settled down however it was Sale who fashioned the first real try-scoring opportunity on the 20-minute mark, putting huge pressure on a Quins lineout on their own ten-metre line.
But while Denny Solomona eventually crossed the whitewash, referee JP Doyle ruled out the try for a forward pass by Rob Webber in the build-up.
Former Wales international Jones was then required off the bench after only 21 minutes as both Will Collier and Evans became the second and third front-row casualties of the afternoon, with Kyle Sinckler the other replacement.
And things soon went from bad to worse for the hosts. Solomona was not to be denied for a second time as the Sharks – with a penalty advantage – sliced through the middle of the park.
The score was confirmed by the TMO and Addison made no mistake with the conversion to make the scoreline 13-6 after 30 minutes.
A quick tap-and-go from Danny Care looked to have unlocked the Sharks as Marland Yarde barged his way over, but the England wing was held up.
The momentum was finally with the hosts however and they took full advantage; first Walker finishing off a wonderful try after Ross Chisholm burst through the midfield and offloaded to Brown, before Swiel pounced on a loose ball on halfway and flew across the line untouched to make it 20-13 at the break.
— Harlequins (@Harlequins) January 7, 2017
Quins picked up where they left off on the resumption as the Sharks were penalised for holding on and Swiel extended the lead to ten points from the tee.
But McGuigan brought the visitors right back into the contest on 49 minutes after Sale kicked to the corner from a penalty, Johnny Leota’s sublime pass setting him up.
Addison’s boot however was wayward for the first time in the afternoon with the conversion, and when Care won another penalty shortly after with a defender not retreating fast enough, Swiel could once again give John Kingston’s side some breathing room at 26-18.
But Sale flew forwards after Addison punished Swiel’s dangerous tackle with another penalty, and only determined defence from Quins kept them at bay – Chisholm turning the ball over at the breakdown right in front of his own posts.
And despite their front-row injury problems, the hosts scrum was on fire in the final ten minutes to win yet another penalty for Swiel to knock over, meaning Solomona’s second score of the afternoon late on from TJ Ioane’s crossfield kick was in vain.
— Sale Sharks (@SaleSharksRugby) January 7, 2017