Harlequins ran in four second-half tries to beat Sale 38-20 and maintain their push for a GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP championship play-off spot.
Centre De Wet Barry secured what could prove an important bonus point with their fourth try after hooker Gary Botha, winger Seb Stegmann and number eight Tom Guest struck the earlier blows for Quins – unbeaten at home since losing to Leicester at the end of September.
Fly-half Chris Malone, who is moving to London Irish at the end of the season, kicked 18 points, landing four penalties and three conversions after being called up in place of injured former New Zealand number 10 Nick Evans.
Ex-England fly-half Charlie Hodgson replied with five penalties from five attempts and a late consolation try for Sale, who have now lost seven of their last eight away matches.
Sale, whose own top four hopes were dealt a blow, suffered another with the return of All Blacks star Luke McAlister lasting only 26 minutes. McAlister, who had been out for a month with a knee injury, limped off to be replaced by Jonny Kennedy.
The sides were level at half-time, with Malone and Hodgson landing four penalties each.
Sale came closest to a first-half try when Hodgson retrieved the situation after having a clearance kick charged down inside his own 22. Recovering the ball, he stepped inside a tackle before racing 60 metres into the Harlequins half and kicking for the corner, where the home side were grateful to scramble the ball into touch.
Sale won the resulting lineout but squandered the opportunity when hooker Sebastien Bruno, back in the side after two weeks on the injured list, put the final pass behind winger David Doherty two metres from the line.
Harlequins hit back with a series of attacks in which their veteran former England scrum-half Andy Gomarsall vented his anger at the officials after they failed to spot him being tripped.
Referee Chris White finally ran out of patience with the persistent breakdown offenders, sending Sale centre Rudi Keil to the sin bin in the final minute of the first half when he blatantly played the loose ball from an offside position. Quins elected to kick for the corner but lost possession following the resulting lineout.
The same strategy paid off eight minutes into the second half, producing Harlequins’ first try. They failed to take the lineout clearly but the ball bounced favourably for Welsh prop Ceri Jones. He was stopped just short of the line by weight of numbers but Botha showed immense to drive over at the second attempt, with Malone converting.
Hodgson reduced the arrears to four points with his fifth penalty, but five minutes later Quins struck again when a huge clearance out of defence by the fly-half rebounded on his side.
Play was brought all the way back for a scrum on the Sale 22 after the ball ran dead at the other end of the pitch and Quins made excellent use of the possession, moving the ball along the three-quarter line for full-back Mike Brown to send Stegmann racing over in the right-hand corner.
Harlequins, again opting for the corner rather than the penalty shot, were denied a third try when flanker Chris Robshaw was held up over the line. However, Sale’s respite did not last long as number eight Tom Guest burst over from the base of the resulting scrum in the 65th minute.
Hodgson was the culprit again when his pass was intercepted by Barry and the centre, who had been recalled to the starting line-up in preference to Jordan Turner-Hall, sprinted clear of the Sale defence on a 60-metre dash to the line. Hodgson made partial amends with a 78th-minute try in the left-hand corner but it came too late to affect the outcome.