Diamond, too, admitted that Smith had “shown his class” while bemoaning Sale’s inability to adjust to new interpretations of the blackout, alluding to his frustration with how referee Luke Pearce l ‘had judged. “We didn’t understand the interpretations of the breakdown, so we’re probably happy to come away with a bonus point,” he said. “We need clarity.”
Before kick-off, all eyes were on the two groups of players – Harlequins, united to take a knee in support of Black Lives Matter, Sale choosing to wear white t-shirts with the message ‘Rugby Against Racism “. Only four of their XVs took a knee – Marland Yarde, Simon Hammersley, Sam Hill and Tom Curry and it was hard not to see this lack of cohesion manifesting itself on the pitch.
For Sale, hotly tipped as title challengers in preparation for the reboot, conceded eight penalties in the opening 20 minutes. Smith was on target with the three he chose to shoot on goal and the Harlequins – beaten 48-10 in the reverse game – were good 9-0. A shock from debutant Manu Tuilagi just before half-time, quickly followed by a shocking missed penalty from Robert du Preez, only underscored that Sale did not live up to the hype. Certainly Diamond, all the more audible in the absence of a crowd, didn’t think so.
Byron McGuigan scored a well-worked try in the right corner for Sale five minutes after halftime, but a sad cross-kick in his own 22 from Du Preez quickly led to Scott Baldwin’s push try, Simon Hammersley sent to the trash. for having infringed in the accumulation. Du Preez was immediately hooked. His replacement, AJ MacGinty, reduced Sale to 16-10 with nine minutes remaining, but despite plenty of possession in the playoffs, the try was neither deserved nor imminent.