Sale Sharks ran in six tries as they thrashed London Irish 39-0 to edge ahead of Exeter Chiefs at the top of the Premiership.

Sam James grabbed a double, scoring in each half, while Luke James, Rob Webber, Denny Solomona and Byron McGuigan piled on the five-pointers for Steve Diamond's team.

Webber's try came on his 100th appearance for the Sharks.

McGuigan dotted down a fine try at the death to put the seal on a highly successful outing for the home side, who climbed ahead of Exeter on points difference but have played an extra game.

Exeter will have the chance to re-establish themselves as front-runners when they host Bath on Saturday. London Irish remain eighth in the table.

Northampton Saints halted a four-match losing skid as they won 16-10 on the road against Worcester Warriors.

Mikey Haywood's 32nd-minute try and 11 points from the boot of James Grayson gave Northampton a welcome victory, with Ollie Lawrence notching a converted score for the hosts.

Northampton's win nudged them ahead of Bristol Bears and up to third in the table, five points behind the top two, while Worcester stay 10th, just ahead of second-bottom Leicester Tigers.

Harlequins have signed Chris Ashton two days after his departure from Premiership rivals Sale Sharks.

The prolific winger, who has scored 20 tries in 44 Tests for England, left Sale on Monday due to what director of rugby Steve Diamond described as "a difference of opinion" with him and his coaching staff.

Ashton has not had long to wait for a new club, with Quins confirming his arrival at The Stoop on Wednesday.

The 32-year-old, who is the Premiership's third-highest try-scorer with 86, links up with former England team-mates Danny Care, Joe Marler and Mike Brown.

"I can't wait to get started at Quins. It is a club filled with incredibly experienced and talented players," Ashton said.

"When I spoke to Gussy [Quins head of rugby Paul Gustard] and heard more about the direction the club is going in, and what it means to be a Harlequin, I knew that this was the right move for me.

"I know lots of the lads at Quins, like Danny, through our England careers and years of friendship. I like the look of what Quins are doing, they are growing a strong squad and the foundations for future success are in place.

"I know that I have still got a lot to give on the pitch and I am confident that being at Quins will enable me to continue scoring tries and help me with my aspirations of reaching 100 Premiership tries, beating the current record [Tom Varndell's tally of 92]."

Gustard revealed the London club wanted to sign former Saracens flyer Ashton before he agreed to join Sale from Toulon.

"We were very interested in Chris when he was looking to move back to the UK, but unfortunately we were not in a position to compete 28 months ago," he said.

"However, circumstances change and timings can sometimes work in mysterious ways, meaning we were able to get our man. We have four of our senior back three players currently unavailable with injury and therefore to bring Chris to the club is a big boost to the squad."

Former England international Chris Ashton has left Sale Sharks with immediate effect.

The 32-year-old wing and the Premiership club have reached an agreement to terminate his contract early in a surprise move.

Sale are second in the standings and Ashton was not included in the squad for their 23-17 win at Gloucester on Friday.

He has scored four tries in seven Premiership appearances this season and will now weigh up a mid-season move to another team.

"Chris Ashton will leave the club with immediate effect," read the club's statement confirming his exit on Monday.

"The club and Chris have reached a mutual agreement regarding the termination of his Sale Sharks contract and he will leave the club immediately.

"Sale Sharks would like to thank Chris for his efforts whilst at the club and wish him and his family all the best for the future."

Ashton was a high-profile addition when he joined from Toulon in 2018, and last played for England – for whom he scored 20 tries in 44 Tests – in February 2019.

Sale Sharks claimed their seventh win of the Premiership season, temporarily moving them within four points of leaders Exeter Chiefs, with a 23-17 success at Gloucester on Friday.

Sale were on top in the first half but had to wait until the 26th minute and Robert du Preez's first penalty to open the scoring.

They were 10-0 up by the break, however, after a Luke James try, with Bryn Evans stretching their advantage further five minutes after the restart.

Even when Fraser Balmain crossed for Gloucester on 56 minutes, Marland Yarde offered a swift riposte to restore a healthy Sharks lead.

But Billy Twelvetrees, having already kicked a penalty and a conversion, set up a tense finale with a 63rd-minute score, kicking the extras himself.

There would be no dramatic recovery, though, as Du Preez restored some breathing space with another penalty, as Sale saw out the victory.

Sale Sharks moved up to second in the Premiership with an easy 36-3 win over Leicester Tigers.

Second-bottom Leicester took the lead through Noel Reid's penalty but it was all downhill thereafter.

Marland Yarde's try was sandwiched between efforts from Bryn Evans and Coenie Oosthuizen as Sale took command and the wing scored each of the Sharks' second-half tries to complete his hat-trick.

Wasps routed already-relegated Saracens 60-10 in Friday's other game to go seventh.

Zack Kibirige and Brad Shields crossed for doubles while Jimmy Gopperth tallied 20 points with the boot as Wasps went level with Gloucester on 23 points in the fight for the European Challenge Cup places.

Curtis Rona scored a pair of tries as London Irish secured a 29-15 derby win at Harlequins, while Premiership high-flyers Sale Sharks were brought back down to earth by beleaguered Saracens.

Irish stunned title contenders Northampton Saints last time out and followed that up with a convincing bonus-point victory at The Stoop on Saturday.

Rona laid on the opening try for Matt Rogerson in treacherous conditions and the all-action wing grabbed his first of the afternoon after brilliant work from Ben Meehan.

A Marcus Smith penalty was Quins' only score of the first half and they were 17-3 down at the break after Stephen Myler was on the target from the tee at the other end, having converted both tries.

Alex Dombrandt powered his way over to reduce the deficit, but Rona dotted down again and Ollie Hoskins bagged the bonus point after Cadan Murley helped himself to Quins' second try in west London.

Sale missed the chance to move ahead of Northampton into second spot, going down 36-22 to champions Saracens at Allianz Park after beating leaders Exeter Chiefs in their previous match.

Rhys Carre, Rotimi Segun, Nick Isiekwe and Richard Barrington touched down for Saracens, while fit-again full-back Alex Goode shone in his first Premiership match of the season.

Wasps were beaten 18-9 by fellow strugglers Leicester Tigers at the end of a week that saw director of rugby Dai Young step back from first-team duties, while Bath edged out Worcester Warriors 22-21.

Sale Sharks survived a second-half fightback from Exeter Chiefs to secure a hard-earned 22-19 victory over the Premiership leaders.

Having headed into Saturday's encounter on the south coast without a defeat in all competitions since November, Exeter found themselves trailing 22-5 at the interval after a blistering first-half display from the visitors.

With Tom O'Flaherty sent to the sin bin early on Exeter, Sale ran in three tries in the first half – Chris Ashton, Daniel du Preez and Byron McGuigan getting on the scoresheet.

Rob du Preez added a further seven points, though Phil Dollman's try had handed the Chiefs some hope and Exeter gained 14 points in the space of seven minutes to set up a grandstand finale.

But Sale held firm, clinching a victory that lifted them into third, four points behind Exeter.

Elsewhere, Wasps ran in three tries in the second half to come from behind and edge out Worcester Warriors 30-26, with Dan Robson's late try proving decisive in a bonus-point win.

Wasps are eighth, level on points with the Warriors and three shy of Bath, who just got the better of Leicester Tigers – Tom Homer's double ultimately securing a 13-10 victory.

Meanwhile, Bristol Bears snapped a three-match losing streak with a convincing 34-16 triumph over west country rivals Gloucester, who slipped into fourth.

Callum Sheedy kicked 19 of the Bears' points, converting five penalties in the first half, with Bristol going over three times after the break.

Ulster secured a European Champions Cup quarter-final spot with a 22-15 defeat of Bath, while Northampton Saints and Glasgow Warriors stayed in the hunt for qualification on Saturday.

Clermont Auvergne sealed top spot in Pool 3 with a 26-19 victory at Harlequins, but Ulster knew a defeat of Bath would see them through as one of three best-placed runners-up.

The Pro14 side got the job done in the second half after the two sides were level at 7-7 at the break, Robert Baloucoune and Will Addison going over to add to a first-half try from Marcell Coetzee before Billy Burns was on target with a penalty.

Tries from Ruaridh McConnochie and Ross Batty, who was later red-carded for a no-arms tackle on John Cooney, were not enough for Bath to end the competition on a high note.

Northampton did all they could to advance as runners-up with a 36-24 victory at Top 14 high-flyers Lyon in Pool 1.

The Saints will go progress if either Saracens or Gloucester fail to pick up maximum points wins on Sunday after Mike Haywood, Teimana Harrison, Cobus Reinach, George Furbank and James Fish touched down in a bonus-point triumph at Matmut Stade de Gerland.

Glasgow must hope defending champions Sarries, whose relegation from the Premiership at the of the season for persistent salary-cap breaches was announced on Saturday, and Gloucester slip up after demolishing Sale Sharks 45-7 in Pool 2.

Leone Nakarawa set the tone early on with one of six Glasgow tries at the AJ Bell Stadium, where Adam Hastings scored 15 points from the tee.

Leinster made it six victories out of six in Pool 1 with an 18-0 defeat of Benetton Treviso, while Sam Simmonds grabbed a double as Pool 2 winners Exeter Chiefs saw off La Rochelle 33-14 at Sandy Park.

Beleaguered Sarries host Racing 92 on the final day of pool matches reeling from the announcement that they will drop of out of the Premiership, while Gloucester travel to Toulouse.

La Rochelle bolstered their hopes of progressing in the European Champions Cup with a hard-earned 30-23 victory over Sale Sharks.

The Top 14 side were trailing 16-15 at half-time but then capitalised on indiscipline from Sale, who had Chris Ashton sent to the sin bin and Valery Morozov sent off midway through the second half.

Tries from Geoffrey Doumayrou and Gregory Alldritt turned the match around in the French outfit's favour as they nudged up to second place in Pool Two, ahead of Glasgow Warriors.

In Friday's other encounter, Harlequins claimed the bragging rights over Bath with a 25-19 triumph at The Rec.

Brett Herron's 10 points with the boot proved to be crucial, with his penalty 11 minutes from time helping see out the win after Jackson Willison's try brought Bath within three points.

The victory moves Quins up to third place in Pool Three, though they trail second-placed Clermont by seven points. Bath sit at the foot of the group after five straight defeats.

Sale Sharks started 2020 in sensational fashion with a 48-10 rout of Harlequins at AJ Bell Stadium.

Having been edged out by Bath last time out, Sale returned to winning ways in emphatic fashion in Friday's Premiership encounter, scoring six tries.

Akker van der Merwe, Sam James, Luke James, Rob Webber, Chris Ashton and Rohan Janse van Rensburg all crossed as the Sharks moved up to third in a congested table.

The points spree came after Quins had gone ahead in sensational fashion after five minutes. Marcus Smith hacked clear from near his own line and Gabriel Ibitoye raced onto the ball, kicked on again and sprinted to the line.

That is as good as things got for the visitors, though. Robert du Preez's penalty put Sale on the board and Van der Merwe crossed for the third game in a row after easing past a weak Danny Care tackle.

Sam James was the beneficiary when Sale made the most of a poor Vereniki Goneva offload on the opposition 22 and, although Smith's penalty briefly reduced the gap, Luke James showed great pace for his side's third try on the stroke of half-time.

Joe Marler's sin-binning for a silly push of the forearm into the face of Jean-Luc du Preez did little to slow the Sharks, who went over again when Webber dotted down at the back of a driving maul.

Ashton completed a well-worked team move with nine minutes remaining and Van Rensburg burst through a gap with the clock in the red to complete a dominant win.

Leinster maintained their phenomenal 100 per cent Pro14 record by grinding out a 13-6 derby victory at Munster and Edinburgh beat Glasgow Warriors on Saturday.

The defending champions put on a defensive masterclass at Thomond Park to make it nine wins from nine in the competition.

Leinster held off a bright start from Munster to score through Ed Byrne from their first real attack of note.

Ross Byrne added the extras and split the posts again to make it 10-0 after 22 minutes, with JJ Hanrahan getting Munster on the board shortly before the break.

Hanrahan nailed another penalty early in the second half, but for all their endeavour, Munster could not find a way through a stoic Leinster defence.

Edinburgh - second in Conference B - overcame Glasgow 29-19 to keep alive their hopes of winning the 1872 Cup – contested annually between the Scottish rivals – for a third straight year, having lost to the same opponents a week ago.

Darcy Graham scored twice for Edinburgh, who were twice behind after the break due to tries from Scott Cummings and George Horne.

Benetton Treviso made it two wins over Italian rivals Zebre in the space of a week, hooker Hame Faiva scored a hat-trick in a 36-25 win despite the early sending off of Juan Ignacio Brex.

Louis Rees-Zammit scored a first Gloucester hat-trick but Northampton Saints ran out 33-26 winners in a seven-try thriller that sees them return to the top of the Premiership table.

In a match of high quality at Franklin's Gardens, it was fledging Welsh winger Rees-Zammit – who has five tries over his past two matches – who touched down first, racing free after picking up Mark Atkinson's grubber kick.

Saints took control through scores from Mike Haywood and Cobus Reinach and the respective boots of Dan Biggar and Piers Francis, before Chris Harris's converted try reduced the arrears.

Reinach's second, after a loose pass from Danny Cipriani, left Gloucester with an uphill task but Freddie Clarke released Rees-Zammit for his second of the match.

A yellow card for Josh Hohneck for a high tackle left Gloucester a man light, during which time Francis added three points from the tee and, although Rees-Zammit completed his treble when Gloucester worked the ball wide, he nailed another penalty to leave Saints out of sight.

Struggling Leicester Tigers dramatically fought back from a 14-point deficit to earn a thrilling 30-30 draw with Harlequins at Twickenham.

Quins were in complete command against a Leicester side with just a solitary win to their name this season, with tries from Paul Lasike, Marcus Smith and Chris Robshaw helping the hosts to a 27-13 lead.

But Jordan Taufua started the comeback on the hour, before Smith and Leicester fly-half George Ford exchanged penalties.

Will Collier's yellow then left Quins at a temporary numerical disadvantage, which Leicester made the most of when Telusa Veainu latched onto a kick from Ford, who added the extras to tie up the game.

Sale Sharks made it back-to-back wins to move seventh in the table as Rhys Priestland kicked 11 points in a 16-14 beating of Bath, for whom Akker van Der Merwe and Byron McGuigan went over in quickfire scores after the break.

Worcester Warriors, hammered 36-3 by Gloucester last time out, bounced back with a 20-6 beating of London Irish – the visitors having Motu Matu'u sent off seven minutes before the break, shortly after Allan Dell was also sin-binned for the away team. 

Saracens made it five Premiership victories on the bounce as they shrugged off conceding an early try to defeat Bristol Bears 47-13.

The defending champions – who still sit bottom thanks to their 35-point deduction for breaching salary cap rules – fell behind to Luke Morahan's ninth-minute try on Saturday.

But Saracens responded quickly through Mako Vunipola and swiftly wrested control thanks to Max Malins' try.

Malins helped himself to another after the restart, with Nick Tompkins also at the double as the home side went over five times in the second half.

However, Sarries are still 17 points behind Leicester Tigers, whose second-half capitulation at Welford Road enabled Exeter Chiefs to go top.

Exeter were 22-14 down at half-time, yet rallied after the interval to score 17 unanswered points and capitalise on Northampton Saints' 22-10 defeat at Sale Sharks.

Chris Ashton, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Akker van der Merwe went over for Sale as the Sharks moved into the top four.

Meanwhile, Wasps suffered a third successive Premiership loss as they went down 28-22 at home to Harlequins, who held on for a bonus-point win despite having Joe Marler sin-binned late on.

Wasps took the lead at the Ricoh Arena, though Harlequins dominated for 40 minutes up to the hour mark, running in four tries without reply.

Thomas Young's effort eventually pulled the hosts back into contention, but the TMO denied them a late try and they were left with a losing bonus point as consolation.

Exeter Chiefs overpowered domestic rivals Sale Sharks while Clermont Auvergne crushed Bath in Sunday's European Champions Cup action.

The all-Premiership clash at Sandy Park saw Exeter lead just 7-3 at the break, but the Sharks were eventually thumped 35-10 after capsizing in a hailstorm-interrupted second half.

Sam Simmonds crossed in each half while brother Joe also grabbed a try for the Chiefs, who sit top of Pool 2 after a fourth successive win in this season's competition.

They appear certainties to seal a place in the last eight for just the second time in their history, as they have a firm grip on a pool that also includes Glasgow Warriors and La Rochelle.

Sam James scored the only try of the contest for Sale but the heavy loss on their travels leaves the struggling Sharks with just six points to their name.

Clermont, meanwhile, moved to within a point of Pool 3 leaders Ulster thanks to a 52-26 thrashing of Bath at Stade Marcel-Michelin.

Alivereti Raka and George Moala both touched down twice for the Top 14 side, who had the bonus point wrapped up by half-time as they scored eight tries in the rout.

Bath went over four times themselves to collect a losing bonus, though they remain rooted to the bottom of the table as their wait for a European victory this season goes on.

Rob Baxter admitted the closing stages of Exeter Chiefs' 22-20 European Champions Cup win over Sale Sharks were agony for him.

The Chiefs made it three wins on the bounce in Pool 2 to edge towards the quarter-finals but the visitors had to absorb late pressure at the AJ Bell Stadium on Sunday.

Jono Ross' score for the Sharks set up a tense finale and director of rugby Baxter was left in considerable anguish on the touchline.

"The last 10 minutes were the longest 10 minutes of my life," he said after his side failed to score in the second half. 

"Sale kept coming and we couldn't relieve any pressure. I thought we tried to close the game out a little bit early and nearly paid the price.

"We had to show some fighting qualities to see them off."

Opposite number Steve Diamond, whose side remain in the hunt for a spot in the next round, paid tribute to his team's effort.

"The lads played really well," he said. "We changed things up in the week with our attack and I think that went well.

"I thought our forwards matched them today and probably edged them towards the end."

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