Sale’s highly anticipated showdown at the Reebok Stadium ended in disappointment as London Irish cruised to a 34-20 bonus-point victory despite a second half Sharks fightback.
Irish had too much quality for their lacklustre opponents with tries by Topsy Ojo, David Paice, Dan Bowden and Steffon Armitage easing them to victory in front of a record home attendance of 16,428. The impressive Tom Homer also booted 14 points to keep them in with a chance of a play-off place.
Sale showed plenty of resilience with scores from locks Sean Cox and Wame Lewaravu but flanker Armitage scored a last-minute try to confirm Irish's win. Fly-half Charlie Hodgson kicked two penalties and two conversions for the Sharks, who are still not clear of the relegation picture.
Sale had the first opportunity to open the scoring but the usually reliable Hodgson missed the target from long range. However, Armitage – who looks to be bound for Toulon – was prominent in the early stages and his clever play allowed Homer a chance to get Irish on the scoreboard but he failed to convert.
The visitors eventually struck first when winger Ojo intercepted a Hodgson pass to go in under the posts for a converted try. Sale were looking dangerous, though, with wing Will Addison and prop Henry Thomas making inroads into the opposition defence – and they were rewarded through a Hodgson penalty.
Irish started to lift the tempo with Armitage and Ojo particularly prominent and it was no surprise to see them extend their lead. After a series of attacks close to the Sale line hooker Paice burrowed over, with Homer converting.
The Sharks were missing too many first tackles and the influential Bowden scythed through prop Thomas' weak attempt before dummying scrum-half Will Cliff to touch down for an excellent individual effort. Homer added the extras to give Irish a comfortable 24-3 half-time lead.
Hodgson got Sale on the board first in the second period with a penalty but Homer responded immediately for Irish with a superb long-range kick. Sharks began to lift the pressure and thought they'd scored through number eight Sisa Koyamaibole but to their dismay and that of the home crowd the television match official controversially ruled it out.
However they were not to be denied in the 63rd minute when Cox went over with Hodgson converting and they then scored again. Good hands by front rowers Thomas and hooker Neil Briggs sent Lewaravu scampering down the line – and he finished well.
Hodgson added the extras and Sale were back in the game – but Armitage's last-gasp score confirmed the visitors' victory.