Raffi Quirke shines as gritty Sale deny Harlequins

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Raffi Quirke of Sale Sharks is tackled by Tyrone Green of Harlequins during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Sale Sharks and Harlequins - Jan Kruger/Getty Images for Sale Sharks
Raffi Quirke of Sale Sharks is tackled by Tyrone Green of Harlequins during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Sale Sharks and Harlequins - Jan Kruger/Getty Images for Sale Sharks

Sale 28 Harlequins 22

Under the gaze of Eddie Jones in the stands, Sale’s 20-year-old scrum-half Raffi Quirke had an excellent audition for the England squad which is due to be announced on Monday as his brace of tries – including a last-gasp score – helped Sale to deny Harlequins a win.

The hosts’ forwards put in a gritty performance to nullify Quins’ expansive style of play, but Quirke’s poise and nerve will be the talking point with international selection speculation swirling.

The lively atmosphere at the AJ Bell under Friday night lights was thanks to Sale’s recent successes including reaching the Premiership semi-final and Champions Cup quarter-final last season and less to do with this term’s form.

Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson believes that Sharks academy product Quirke should be named in the England squad. “He is a star in the making. I can’t see why he wouldn’t make this next squad. I want him to play at the highest level because they come back better from England, there is better coaching and excellence in terms of players they play and train with,” he said. “I want him to go and come back with a boom.”

Quirke has earned the nickname “Raffi de Klerk’ after South African World Cup winner Faf de Klerk who has been mentoring the youngster but Sanderson believes the apprentice has the potential to outshine the master. “I think he deserves his own nickname. He is own man and he has every chance to be as good if not better than Faf, look at how he played tonight.”

With just one win – in their opening fixture against bottom of the table Bath – there was a desperation about the fans’ chanting early on and of course that was only exacerbated by the arrival of the reigning champions.

Quins have made an ominous start to their defence, too, coming into the fixture second in table with three wins from as many fixtures, including their dazzling comeback at home to Bristol last week.

After a cagey opening 10 minutes, the opening half provided four tries – two to each side. Sale had the lead heading into half-time due to an extra penalty kicked by Kieran Wilkinson, the 22-year-old third-choice fly-half who grew into the game and combined well with 20-year-old half-back partner Quirke.

It began a tale of two scrum-halves and two at very different stages of their career, as Quirke, who is proving any doubts over his box-kicking were misplaced, nipped over for a try after 15 minutes thanks to clever work from Wilkinson.

While the uncapped Quirke, who was named in the England camp, was making a solid case for his inclusion in Eddie Jones’s squad for the autumn internationals, Danny Care, 14 years his senior, and with an illustrious England career behind him, was also making a case for inclusion as he jumped on a Sharks penalty and got over the whitewash just three minutes later.

Tempers had frayed from the kick-off so it was unsurprising when a yellow card was shown as Jono Ross was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle.

In his absence, the hosts looked a tad jaded as Marcus Smith began to take more control of the game and full-back Tyrone Green ran in for a stunning try.

But maybe Quins should have been warned by the Sharks’s use of the Jaws theme tune during breaks in the game and Ross atoned for his earlier error, pushing over on the back of line-out on the stroke of half-time, giving Sanderson’s men the psychological advantage heading back to the changing rooms.

However, Quins had a rapid start to the second half as centre Luke Northmore collected the stray Sale kick-off and ran in for a try. There may not have been as much chatter around Northmore compared with fellow Cardiff Metropolitan University product and Quins team-mate Alex Dombrandt, but his clever play continued to show the value of the university system as a pathway.

Sale quickly replied via another Wilkinson penalty to edge back ahead by a solitary point just short of 50 minutes. Then the game became more fragmented and cagey again.

Despite the Sale line-out functioning well, both sides had ­discipline issues and Smith took advantage to kick a long-range penalty to take his side back into a 22-20 lead with 15 minutes remaining.

A player who Jones will have been impressed by is Sale prop Bevan Rodd – the 21 year-old who grew up on the Isle of Man and was named in England’s summer squad but remained uncapped. He did some nice work in the loose before he was replaced with five minutes to play and looks as though he could add an extra dimension to England’s forward play.

Youth continued to impress as 20-year-old fly-half Tom Curtis, who had missed Sale’s penalty for victory against Gloucester, came back with a bang as a replacement and landed a tricky penalty to take his side a point ahead with three minutes to play.


The closing minutes of the game saw Sale take advantage of ill-discipline from Quins. After several phases of play it resulted in a second try for Quirke to seal his brace.

Harlequins senior coach Tabai Matson felt his side were lucky to come away with a losing bonus point. He said: “When you go away from home and the penalty count is 21-9, you are always going to battle to take a bonus point. And it was a bonus because of that penalty count and how we lacked composure when they put us under pressure. There is lots to learn from.”

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