Sale Sharks 14-32 Harlequins, Anglo-Welsh Cup final
Quins hammer first part of the treble jigsaw home
Tom Hamilton at Sixways Stadium
March 17, 2013
Captain Luke Wallace was immense for treble-chasing Quins © Getty Images
The Anglo-Welsh Cup final was always going to have a touch of the 'after the lord Mayor's show' about it, but try telling that to the players wearing those quartered Harlequins shirts. Sale Sharks battled valiantly, but it was a final that showed perfectly the significance of momentum and it is something that Conor O'Shea's men have.
Harlequins' slightly cruelly labelled second team, just three of the starting line-up began last season's Aviva Premiership final against Leicester, blew away a Sale team that included British & Irish Lions with the Premiership's record try-scorer on the bench.
The first piece of the Harlequins treble jigsaw is now in place - or quadruple if you include the 'A League'. If they go on to lift the Heineken Cup and the Aviva Premiership later in the season, then it is unlikely that today's skipper Luke Wallace will be the individual tasked with lifting the silverware, but he led his troops in the same influential manner as the man he was deputising for and who was watching on in the stands no doubt experiencing mixed emotions.
Chris Robshaw's England failed to complete the Grand Slam on Saturday, but Quins' performance at Sixways must have brought some comfort after the brutal defeat Wales served the national side in Cardiff. And then there is the coach Conor O'Shea - he looked like a proud father at the full-time whistle. This was a team that on the basis of birth certificates looked like one for the future - 15 of the 23-man squad were under 23 - but they delivered exactly what was required of them.
While Harlequins put in huge performances to a man, two back-rowers stood above every other player on the field - Wallace and Tom Guest. Both deservedly bagged tries and Guest was the worthwhile recipient of the Man of the Match award. Guest would walk into almost every single other team in the Premiership but as is the case with Quins, O'Shea has the welcome headache of having to juggle him with Nick Easter and Wallace with Robshaw.
At some other clubs, it could be a case of one player becoming disgruntled, but you do not feel that this is the case with Quins. Ben Botica is another case in point; the Kiwi was superb for Harlequins while their number one fly-half Nick Evans sat out the final. The production line at Quins is surely the envy of every other team in the top flight
While Quins fly-half Ben Botica excelled, Danny Cipriani was out of sorts for Sale. He seemed to be working on a different level to his team-mates - his kicks more often than not fell into Quins' hands while any attempt at thinking off the cuff inevitably led to the same conclusion. His frustration was clear in the closing stages of the match when Sale were offered a penalty that could have got them some territory in the opposition half. Instead of angling a kick to touch, he lazily swung his boot and hoofed it 40 metres into the hands of grateful Quins fullback Ross Chisholm.
This was an opportunity for Cipriani to prove the doubters wrong and show off his undoubted talent. No.8 Andy Powell took full advantage of the stage and was Sale's best player, just as he was in their semi-final victory over Saracens. He drove the ball into contact, off-loaded and was their most vocal player. If they could bottle Powell's passion and somehow administer it to the rest of the team, then the Sharks will still be a Premiership team next year.
The Sale fans, you imagine, also saw it is a nice day out rather than a match they just had to win. Steve Diamond confirmed this after the game - calling it a bit of a "fantasy" match and this summed up the feeling in and around the ground. Before the match the atmosphere in and around Sixways was more akin to a pre-season game than a match with silverware on offer. It had a party feel to the whole occasion with both Sale and Harlequins fans packed into the east stand with the rest of the ground scantily filled.
And both groups of supporters were wonderfully vocal. The Quins supporters chanted their standard 'Harlequins, Harlequins, Harlequins' throughout but waited until the fourth try went over until they boomed out 'The Mighty Quinn'. For Sale supporters, this was their cue to deliver their rendition of 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.'
Sale's undoubted goal is now Premiership survival, this match was always going to be a bonus for them. For Harlequins, it is just the start.
O'Shea singled out four of Harlequins' pack post-match as the "cornerstone of what this club will be about for a decade or more" and that is what is just so special about this group of players. They are fighting on three fronts, with one now conquered, but they are all fully committed to driving the team's cause.
Stage one of the season's goals for Harlequins is now complete. But as O'Shea was quick to point out, they have a huge nine weeks now where they can either create history or ponder what might have been. But you can forgive them if the bubbles flow a little tonight.
© Getty Images
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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