Sale overturn half-time deficit to topple Harlequins
Danny Cipriani came off the bench to help Sale overturn a half-time deficit and defeat Harlequins 29-23 at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Joe Ford scored three penalties as the Sharks took a 9-3 advantage after 27 minutes, but the visitors responded to lead by the interval. Ben Botica kicked a pair of three-pointers and converted Tim Visser's try as they held a 13-9 buffer at half-time.
Sale regained the lead through TJ Ioane's converted touchdown before Botica levelled matters off the tee. Then came the introduction of Cipriani. The Wasps-bound player had been dropped following a string of missed kicks but he managed a 100 per cent record, which included two penalties and a conversion of Will Addison's try.
Sam Egerton crossed the whitewash late on for the visitors but that could only give them a losing bonus point.
Missed kicks in crucial moments from Sale's star fly-half have cost them several points this season, and last weekend's encounter with Saracens proved no different.
Cipriani was awry from the tee four times in total, meaning back-up pivot Ford took the role for the match against Quins.
The brother of England international George had an immediate chance to impress as he lined up a three-point opportunity in front of the posts after the visitors had infringed at the breakdown.
Unlike the 14-times capped Red Rose player, who has struggled for accuracy with his place-kicking, the 25-year-old struck the ball nicely and Sale went 3-0 in front.
It was an ideal start for a team looking to capitalise on their opponents' recent struggles.
Conor O'Shea's men had gone on a run of four Aviva Premiership defeats in five, but they were not without quality and in Marland Yarde and Dave Ward the Londoners had a couple of lively individuals.
That pressure eventually resulted in the Sharks conceding a penalty and Botica made no mistake.
Back came the hosts as their scrum sent Harlequins into reverse gear and Ford moved Steve Diamond's side 6-3 ahead.
Sale were controlling the set-piece battle and their stand-off added his third from the tee, but Quins came back into the contest through Botica.
The New Zealand-born fly-half was on target from the tee and then brilliantly set up the game's first try with a wonderfully timed pass that sent Visser scampering across the whitewash. Botica converted as Quins went into the break with a four-point cushion.
It was a lead they would relinquish at the start of the second period. The hosts dominated through their maul and it was no surprise to see it eventually result in a score when Ioane was carried over the line.
In a tense encounter, the Twickenham Stoop-based outfit soon levelled matters, kicking a long-range penalty after Yarde had been taken high by Dave Seymour - an incident which saw the England wing go off injured.
With the game in the balance, Diamond decided to bring on Cipriani and it paid dividends when he regained the Sharks' advantage.
The fly-half also played his part in the match's decisive score, taking the ball to the gainline and finding Sam James.
The centre, who has been outstanding throughout the season, then showed good footwork and excellent dexterity to find Addison, and the wing did the rest for another superbly worked score.
Harlequins were now regularly making errors and another allowed Cipriani to have a third shot at goal - a chance he duly took to effectively secure the victory.
Egerton did go over in the last minute for the visitors, with Botica crucially converting to garner the losing bonus point, but Sale deserved their win.