Sale Har­lequins

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Rugby Union - By Charles Richardson at the AJ Bell Sta­dium

They left it late, but a cameo from scrum-half Faf de Klerk in­spired Sale to their first sil­ver­ware since their Premier­ship tri­umph in 2006, in the Premier­ship Rugby Cup fi­nal.

The in­tro­duc­tion of De Klerk was the game’s turn­ing point as he helped to res­cue a nine-point deficit. But he pointed to a half-time rant from Steve Di­a­mond, Sale’s di­rec­tor of rugby, as the true wake-up call.

“It was good to see the pas­sion. He said he wanted us to stay calm, but I think we needed a bit of that and it was good to see the boys re­act,” the South African World Cup win­ner said.

“Some­times you need a bit of old-school to get you go­ing.”

For Har­lequins, who con­quered Sale a month ago and beat them in the fi­nal of this com­pe­ti­tion in 2013, it was not the farewell they had planned for their cap­tain Chris Rob­shaw. Paul Gus­tard, Har­lequins’ di­rec­tor of rugby, said he was “bit­terly dis­ap­pointed” af­ter com­ing so close.

“Dis­ap­pointed, of course, that we have not won for Chris, and Chris has not won for him­self,” he said.

“Faf made a big dif­fer­ence when he came on – his kick­ing was more ac­cu­rate, with more depth.”

Notwith­stand­ing the com­pe­ti­tion’s rep­u­ta­tion as a sec­ond-tier com­pe­ti­tion, this was still a fi­nal, a fact which brought with it cus­tom­ary in­ten­sity and nig­gle. Both teams, lit­tered with star names even if not at full strength, looked to as­sert a psy­cho­log­i­cal dom­i­nance in the open­ing ex­changes, with Mike Brown and Ben Curry – who later had to de­part due to an an­kle in­jury – never far away from skir­mishes.

Sale, play­ing on their home ground as the com­pe­ti­tion’s top seeds, knew they had a power and weight ad­van­tage and they de­cided early that was the route to take. They pinned the vis­i­tors into their own 22 and, from there, the ana­conda squeeze came.

Af­ter three Har­lequins in­dis­cre­tions, Stephan Lewies was sent to the sin bin and Sale struck, with Cur­tis Lang­don dot­ting down at the back of a mo­tor­ing maul. There must have been some real g-force in it, too, as Lang­don con­se­quently spewed his guts up.

Af­ter Rob du Preez and Mar­cus Smith ex­changed penal­ties, Sale be­gan to take their foot off the gas, their dis­ci­pline cost­ing them dear.

No 8 Dan du Preez was wound up by Danny Care, which saw a penalty re­versed in favour of the vis­i­tors, and they be­gan to grow in con­fi­dence, to the point where they out­grew their hosts. Quins showed, too, that they pos­sess a punchy closerange game to match that of Sale, and when No8 James Chisholm dot­ted down, it was no more than they de­served.

When Smith added a fur­ther three points, af­ter another Jake Cooper-Wool­ley scrum trans­gres­sion, Har­lequins were in the driv­ing seat. There was al­ways the lin­ger­ing feel­ing, how­ever, that Sale, with World Cup win­ners and fi­nal­ists on the bench, were al­ways go­ing to pro­vide some form of re­sponse. That re­sponse took a while to ar­rive. Smith ex­tended Har­lequins’ lead to nine from the tee, but then came De Klerk, then came Manu Tuilagi.

When the home side re­alised that their un­stop­pable driv­ing maul was go­ing to be the way to get back into this, their task looked eas­ier. Dan du Preez’s score from the tail of another maul set up a two-point fin­ish.

That was enough to set Sale back on the straight and nar­row. And when Quins flanker Will Evans was too overzeal­ous at a ruck, Rob du Preez gave Sale the lead. De Klerk’s last-minute snip­ing try was the ic­ing on the Sale cake, putting the tro­phy’s des­ti­na­tion be­yond doubt.

Eng­land wing Joe Cokanasiga will to­day make his first ap­pear­ance in al­most a year, bring­ing an end to his in­jury night­mare, af­ter be­ing named as a re­place­ment for Bath against Glouces­ter at the Rec.

Cokanasiga has not played a com­pet­i­tive match since scor­ing two tries for Eng­land against the United States at last year’s World Cup, tak­ing his Test record to seven tries in nine ap­pear­ances for his coun­try.

The 22-year-old in­jured a knee in Ja­pan and was un­able to train for Bath on his re­turn from the World Cup, with the club at the time un­happy with the ini­tial in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by the Rugby Foot­ball Union on Cokanasiga’s in­jury.

The 6ft 4in wing sub­se­quently un­der­went surgery in Jan­uary, with Bath un­able to pro­vide a de­fin­i­tive time­line for his re­turn.

Cokanasiga’s last game for the club came in May 2019, mak­ing his re­turn a wel­come boost for Stu­art Hooper’s side in their bid to make the play-offs. Bath are third.

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