Sale blitzed past Harlequins with a seven-try victory and the kind of relentless power performance that made you wonder just how many they might have scored had Manu Tuilagi not been a late withdrawal.
The Sharks move into second place, above Exeter who they face next weekend, and are reaching the business end of the season in superb form.
They remain in the hunt for a home play-off and on this evidence none of their semi-final rivals will fancy meeting them. Ben Curry was outstanding at flanker and there were mighty performances from a number of their South African contingent who will hope to be named in the Springboks squad on Saturday. Put simply, an understrength Harlequins side could not cope.
The downside for the Sharks was that Tuilagi was replaced hours before kick-off after it emerged he had been in close contact with a Sale member of staff who tested positive for Covid-19.
It is a desperate blow for the 30-year-old, who was due to make his first start since September and continues his wretched luck. He has recovered from his achilles injury and made an impressive cameo off the bench in the last game against Bristol but this was supposed to be the next step on another road to recovery.
Eddie Jones was in the stand and while Sale will hope to have Tuilagi back next week, time is running out to prove he is ready to represent England, or even the British & Irish Lions this summer. “I had a conversation with Manu and it ended up going better than I thought it would,” said Sale’s director of rugby, Alex Sanderson. “I said, ‘eventually your luck has to change, it’s got to change’. If I was a betting man, I’d bet on him to come good.”
Of wider concern for Sale and the rest of the Premiership, 29 positive cases across three clubs were announced on Friday night in the latest round of testing. It is the highest number since December, Gloucester’s match against Bath on Saturday has already been called off and memories of the chaotic end to last season are all too fresh.
Even without Tuilagi, Sale were well fancied to chalk up an eighth league win in a row with Harlequins secure of fourth place and seemingly happy to finish there. Quins made 10 changes and were forced into two more when James Lang and Joe Gray failed late fitness tests but they caught Sale cold with the first try through the Argentinian scrum-half Martin Landajo.
Sale duly moved through the gears with Akker van der Merwe first over from close range and Marland Yarde, against his former club, scoring in the left corner.
Byron McGuigan added a third before the half-hour mark after a delightful floated pass from Sam James and Cameron Neild sealed the bonus point after another series of powerful carries from the Sharks.
After the break Sale lost Faf de Klerk to the sin-bin for a no-arms tackle but Rohan van Rensburg powered over for the Sharks’ fifth try after coming off the bench on his comeback from injury.
Bevan Rodd, another replacement, was next to bulldoze his way over and while Will Edwards scampered clear for a second for Harlequins, the hugely impressive Jean-Luc du Preez barged his way to a deserved try late on.