Sale director of rugby, Alex Sanderson, admitted his Premiership leaders were off the pace as they leaked five tries with a George Ford penalty their only response in last Friday night’s 36-3 humbling at Harlequins.

It was the resounding victory hosts Quins needed after losing their last two games, including a thumping home defeat by London rivals Saracens a fortnight ago.

The key moment came just before half time when the pack manfully defended their whitewash in the face of a fierce forward-led assault from Sale’s pack, preventing a try from being scored to sap their opponents’ will.

After the game, Sanderson conceded his side had not been at the races on the night.

He said: “When you’re off it in every single area, which we were bar the scrum, it generally comes down to the top two inches and if you’re not there you’re miles off on the scoreboard.

“We weren’t at the races but Harlequins certainly were. They were really good. They were efficient in that red zone area when they got possession and we weren’t.”

Sale captain Ben Curry was withdrawn from the game at half time as a precaution after a blow left him nursing a headache.

For the hosts, Marcus Smith’s influential display shows he is back in the groove, according to director of rugby Billy Millard.

Quins’ muscular pack provided the platform for Smith to overshadow George Ford, his rival for England’s fly-half jersey for the Six Nations following Owen Farrell’s decision to take a break from Test rugby.

By his own admission Smith has yet to hit top form since returning from the World Cup, but Millard was impressed by the depth to his game as Ford’s Sharks were swept aside at The Stoop.