Harlequins head of rugby Paul Gustard branded Joe Marler’s actions “absolutely ridiculous” after the prop was sin-binned in his side’s 48-10 mauling at the hands of Sale.

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Marler did not appear to be provoked when he put his elbow into the face of Sharks forward Jean-Luc du Preez at the start of the second half and duly earned 10 minutes off the field.

Although the visitors held out while the England loosehead was in the sin-bin, it was symptomatic of an ill-disciplined performance by the Londoners as they eventually conceded six tries.

“I’m sure Joe will look at himself, it’s absolutely ridiculous,” Gustard said. “There’s no need for that. There was plenty of off-the-ball stuff from Sale and we have got to rise above it but Joe was the protagonist and there’s just no place for that. It cost us an important player for 10 minutes and put the team under pressure again.”

Gustard also criticised his side’s whole display as Quins failed to secure the win which would have taken them into the top four ahead of the weekend’s action. He said: “It was very poor, we weren’t good enough. We got beaten up, Sale were much more physical than we were and got on top at the set-piece.

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“The only thing we can do is look at ourselves, regroup and address selection. We’ve got to find a way to win games. For all our possession we weren’t able to manufacture a score. We didn’t control the middle of the field very well and our discipline was poor.”

Quins are in Heineken Champions Cup action over the next two weeks, travelling to Bath before hosting Clermont Auvergne. Looking ahead to those matches, Gustard said: “I want to see people out there that have got character, I want people out there to show a bit of spirit and I need to see something more from my team because tonight was not an acceptable performance from a Harlequins team.”

Sale were in dominant form at the AJ Bell Stadium and established a 24-10 half-time lead following tries from Akker van der Merwe and the James brothers, Sam and Luke. The second period began as a much calmer affair, with Rob du Preez’s penalty the only points in the third quarter, but Sale finished with a flourish as Rob Webber, Chris Ashton and Rohan Janse van Rensburg all touched down to secure a bonus-point win.

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Harlequins had taken an early lead through abriel Ibitoye’s converted try but their only addition to the scoreboard after that was a Marcus Smith three-pointer before the interval, and they went point-less in the second half. Quins are now eighth in the Gallagher Premiership standings, five points and five places behind a Sale team that displayed their play-off credentials with a complete demolition of one of their supposed top-four rivals.

Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond said: “I’m happy with the result. We did well first half, weathered a storm in the first seven or eight minutes in the second half and took that penalty which seemed to take away any anxiety, and then we opened up as best we could.

“If you run hard and create momentum, you can run away with it and we managed to do that. What we’ve got is big lads. The du Preez lads are all enormous and the Currys, if you take one off, the next one comes on and there’s no difference in our book; I know Eddie Jones thinks differently.

“We’ve got two fantastic players there and then the skill Luke and Sam (James) show week in week out is just outstanding.”

– Press Association 

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