Quickfire scores for Nick Easter and Charlie Matthews in seven second-half minutes handed Harlequins a hard-fought 30-21 victory over the Aviva Premiership’s bottom side Sale Sharks.
Going into the game buoyed by four wins in a row in all competitions, the Sharks were more than a match for the league leaders until captain Easter and 21-year-old second row Matthews produced two killer blows.
The Sharks rallied through tries from Richie Vernon and then Sam Tuitupou at the death but ultimately ran out of time in search of a losing bonus point, although they can take solace in the fact that they restricted Quins to just three scores, denying them the extra point.
Sale flew out of the blocks and in the second minute full-back Cameron Shepherd, in for Rob Miller who failed a fitness test on Thursday, finished off a sharp break-away up the left flank to dive over, with Danny Cipriani converting.
The Sharks nearly broke through once more minutes later, but scrum-half Will Cliff knocked-on the pass after finding the gap between the Harlequins defence.
But Quins got a foothold in the game in the ninth minute with Ben Botica’s successful penalty from a central position.
And after a period of persistent pressure on the Sale back line, Harlequins moved within a point through Botica’s long-range penalty in the 20th minute.
Harlequins continued to enjoy the lion’s share of possession due to Sale ill-discipline, but an organised defensive effort from the Sharks was keeping them at bay.
But in the 29th minute Sale were reduced to 14 men after Tuitupou was sin-binned for an infringement at the break-down.
And Harlequins took advantage of their extra man in the 32nd minute when Karl Dickson stepped inside to break away, before passing inside to Tom Williams who scored his fourth try of the season, with Botica converting.
The Sharks squandered an opportunity to reduce the deficit with five minutes remaining in the half with Cipriani’s missed penalty, before Botica fluffed his penalty on the stroke of half-time, ensuring the visitors went in at the break 13-7 to the good.
Harlequins continued to put points on the board with the boot, and Botica increased their lead four minutes after the break with a routine penalty.
The away side were repeatedly taking advantage of Sale ill-discipline, with Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond becoming increasingly frustrated on the sidelines.
The Sharks were grateful to see referee Martin Fox award them a penalty in the 53rd minute, but Cipriani failed to convert his attempt.
Despite being temporarily without flanker Maurie Fa’asava – sin-binned in the 55th minute – Harlequins continued to attack with Nick Easter tackled just short of the line.
But Harlequins put significant daylight between the two sides when Easter scored a close-range try following a series of drives in the 62nd minute, converted by Botica.
And the away side went further ahead in the 69th minute, when Matthews charged over the line following an incisive breakaway by Dickson, with Botica converting.
Sale got back in the game after Scottish international Vernon broke away from the tackle and thundered home to dive over in the 76th minute, with Cipriani converting.
And the Sharks reduced the daylight with seconds remaining when Tuitupou finished off a late drive to dive over, with Cipriani converting but in the end they fell just short of a losing bonus point.