Sale boss Steve Diamond admitted his Sharks were “shooting blanks” as their pursuit of the Gallagher Premiership title suffered a setback with a 16-10 defeat by Harlequins.

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Hooker Scott Baldwin scored the decisive try in the third quarter but Quins were far sharper and controlled the majority of a game played behind closed doors as the league returned after a five-month absence because of Covid-19.

“We’re frustrated. We didn’t get to grips with the breakdown interpretations, so we’re probably delighted to come away with a bonus point,” director of rugby Diamond said.

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“My team usually gives away seven or eight penalties, so to give away 19 was disappointing. We were shooting blanks. We want to see some entertaining rugby, we certainly didn’t.”

Quins were expertly directed by 21-year-old fly-half Marcus Smith, the England prospect who kicked three penalties and a conversion.

“Marcus doesn’t shy away from the contact and without a doubt he wants to be the best player in the world,” head of rugby Paul Gustard said.

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“He’s still only a kid and so for a young man to manage the field as well as he did is excellent. He gave the forwards energy and it’s brilliant to use his DNA, which is also to run and attack.

“We never really got our season going before so we are now seeing a more complete squad and are more competitive because of that.”

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