Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond insists his side’s gruelling schedule over the coming days will not see him field a weakened side, after they swept aside London Irish to win 30-15 at the Madejski Stadium.
Diamond’s men now face three matches in the next 10 days, as their mission to secure a top-six Aviva Premiership Rugby finish continues alongside their European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-final clash with Montpellier.
Mike Haley scored late in the first half to give Sale a slender advantage over London Irish, with the Exiles not taking their chances after Sean Maitland's early try – Greig Tonks missing three times from the tee.
Johnny Williams' try did reduce the deficit to just one point after Danny Cipriani had kicked his third penalty of the game, but late tries from TJ Ioane and then Cipriani himself – who notched up 20 points in total – saw Sale to their second win on the bounce.
And while Diamond conceded it was not a complete performance from his troops, he was thrilled to have got past a side battling desperately to haul themselves away from the bottom of the Aviva Premiership standings.
“We didn't play that well in areas. We made basic errors and we controlled possession in the first half just enough,” he said.
“We turned around just in front and then we played well in the second half.
“We play Montpellier on Friday, then we travel to Bath to play them on the Wednesday and then we have to play Bath again on Sunday. We will be going full strength for all three.
“Anyone can be where London Irish are. They can count on their fingers how many games they could have won this year. It's a tough league. It is just that consistency you need.
“I have played against London Irish for 30-odd years and somebody has to go down, that is the beauty of the league. The competition is so strong that the Aviva Premiership is pushing itself forward.
“It is easy saying it when you are not involved but I have been involved in a dogfight three years ago and London Irish are still not out of the woods. They have Newcastle in two weeks but we have to take the emotion away from it. We want to be in the top six and reach as high as we can.”
The Exiles once again were not particularly clinical in attack, missing penalties and also squandering several try-scoring opportunities in the first half.
And with Newcastle Falcons also going down on Saturday to Harlequins, head coach Tom Coventry conceded the meeting between the two sides in two week’s time at Kingston Park is make-or-break for the Exiles.
He said: “It was a pretty big disappointment today after we worked to get ourselves into the game. There were a couple of big moments that swung the game.
“We can dwell on this as long as we like but we have to get back on the horse and see if we can get some footy under our belt that is good enough to win at Newcastle.”
London Irish: Maitland, Fowlie (Brophy Clews 61), Hearn, Williams (Mulchrone 79), Fenby, Tonks, Steele (McKibbin 55), Court (Smallbone 41), Paice (Cruse 61), Aulika (Halavatau 55), Sinclair (Sexton 64), Symons, Narraway, Cowan, Treviranus (McCusker 38)
Sale Sharks: Haley, Addison (Brady 51-53), James, Tuitupou (Brady 66), Edwards, Cipriani (Ford 78), Stringer, Lewis Roberts (Harrison 55), Taylor (Briggs 66), Mujati (Cobilas 7-13, 51), Evans, Ostrikov (Mills 66), Neild, Seymour (Lund 78), Easter (Ioane 51)
Tries: Maitland, Williams
Tries: Haley, Ioane, Cipriani
Conversions: Cipriani 3
Penalties: Cipriani 3
Yellow cards: Briggs
Referee: C Maxwell-Keys