Saracens, in a crisis and showing it after their relegation from the Premiership, were well beaten by Harlequins in the Premiership on Sunday.
The scoreline of 41-14 was Saracens largest league defeat in four years and they played like a relegated side seemingly without much motivation.
The bonus point win kept Quins firmly in the race after the completion of the first nine of 22 rounds..
The upset of Sale’s 22-19 win against Exeter in an away game on Saturday, propelled the side, led by former Bulls loose forward Jono Foss and including the three Du Preez bothers Robert, Dan and Jean-Luc, to third place. Sale, now on 26 points, have leap-frogged coach Johan Ackermann’s Gloucester (23 points) after the latter’s 16-34 away loss to Bristol on Sunday.
Despite their defeat, Exeter (30 points) are still ahead of second-placed Northampton (29 points) who also suffered a surprise 16-20 home defeat to London Irish (29 points), led by former Springbok and Lions lock Franco van der Merwe.
Sale (26 points) are now three points ahead of Gloucester with Bristol and Quins on 22, Bath on 21 and Worcester and Wasps on 18 each, followed by London Irish (17), Leicester (12) and Saracens, minus seven after their earlier 35 point penalty.
With only nine of 22 rounds played, two Six Nations weekends ahead where some teams will be without their internationals, not to mention the demands of the Champions Cup, make the Premiership a competition where just about every side (except of course Saracens) can still make it to the play-offs June.
Weekend’s scores –
Northampton 16 London Irish 20; Bristol 34 Gloucester 16; Worcester 26 Wasps 30; Exeter 20 Sale 22; Bath 13 Leicester 10, Harlequins 41 Saracens 14