It was a comprehensive victory which owed much to an excellent second-half display by the home side which allowed them to pull clear of the Exiles who had been in contention until the final quarter.
The first-half had been a fairly scrappy affair, with both sides looking evenly matched and a number of unforced errors keeping scoring opportunities to a minimum.
It was actually London Irish who seized the initiative in the opening exchanges, fly-half Barry Everitt opening his side’s account with a well-struck penalty after 12 minutes.
The Exiles stretched their lead some six minutes later, using their numerical advantage following the sin-binning of Sharks wing Steve Hanley to put Paul Sackey into space on the right.
The speedy winger showed enough pace to wrong-foot Sharks fly-half Charlie Hodgson and touch down. Everitt was unable to add the conversion but that made it 8-0 to the visitors.
Hodgson clawed back three points for the Sharks with a penalty in the 21st minute, but a drop-goal from Everitt put the Exiles 11-3 in the lead.
Hodgson kicked a further penalty on the stroke of half-time, London Irish going into the break with an 11-6 lead.
But the second half saw the home side raise the level of their game by several notches as Hodgson’s tactical-kicking display pinned the Irish into their own half and the Sharks’ backline began to find the gaps in their opponents’ defence.
Sharks centre Mel Deane showed tremendous pace to round a number of Irish defenders and score his side’s second try in the 43rd minute and with Hodgson kicking the extras, Sale were in the lead for the first time.
Just three minutes later, Sharks lock Chris Jones got his name on the scoresheet with a fine individual effort, seizing on a loose pass from Everitt and racing away from several Irish players to touchdown.
Hodgson was off-target with the conversion but kicked another penalty in the 54th minute as the Sharks began to take control.
A penalty from Irish replacement Mark Mapletoft offered the visitors some crumbs of comfort in the 56th minute, but there was to be no stopping the Sharks – particularly after the red-carding of Exiles’ forward James Cockle in the final quarter.
As the game went into the last ten minutes, wingers Steve Hanley and Mark Cueto both crashed over for tries and Hodgson added a conversion and drop-goal to round off a satisfying day’s work for the Sharks.
For the Sale Sharks:Tries: Mark Cueto, Mel Deane, Steve Hanley, Chris JonesCons: Charlie Hodgson (2)Pens: Charlie Hodgson (3)Drop-goal: Charlie Hodgson
For London Irish:Tries: Paul SackeyPens: Barry Everitt, Mark MapletoftDrop-goal: Barry Everitt