London Irish ended their Aviva Premiership campaign on a bright note as they halted their unwanted recent league run of seven losses in eight games thanks to two tries by Andy Fenby.
England wing Marland Yarde also signed off his London Irish career with a score, while Australian James O’Connor kept the scoreboard ticking over for the home side with boot.
The Madejski Stadium fixture had a real end-of-season feel about proceedings, with neither side playing for promotion, relegation or European spots but the message was obviously not fed through to the players as they produced a titanic tussle in Reading.
With England international Danny Cipriani missing for Sale Sharks; Joe Ford was handed the No.10 jersey and with just three minutes on the clock the youngster missed a drop goal.
Sale didn’t have long to wait to score the opening points of the afternoon though as Mark Easter touched down following a Sharks’ line-out – Ford again added the extras.
On eight minutes London Irish were level as Fenby scored for the hosts following an offload by mercurial wing O’Connor – the Australian also added the extras.
O’Connor missed the opportunity to add three further points with a penalty as he missed his kick at goal after 17 minutes.
The visitors capitalised on that miss with their second try of the game. A turnover in midfield gave scrum-half Will Cliff space to break, passing to Johnny Leota before Tom Arscott finished. A second successful conversion for Ford restored the Sharks seven point lead.
Sale’s 23-year-old fly-half continued to have a good day with the boot, successfully knocking over a 25m penalty after 31 minutes to make the score 7-17.
O’Connor’s successful penalty in the dying moments just before half-time gave some relief to Irish who struggled to break down a tough Sale defence.
Just six minutes into the second-half Sale further extended their lead as Ford kicked a penalty to hand the Sharks, who had won just one of their previous four Aviva Premiership games prior to kick-off, a daunting ten-point lead.
England wing Yarde, playing his final game for London Irish before his summer switch to neighbours Harlequins, signed off from the Madejski Stadium in style as he touched down on 50 minutes to reduce the deficit – O’Connor added the extras to bring the Exiles back within three points.
Having looked dead and buried at the start of the second-half; the Irish comeback looked well and truly complete as Fenby scored his second try of the game on 62 minutes, aided by Yarde, to give the Exiles a 22-20 lead – unfortunately O’Connor failed to add the extras.
Nick MacLeod had the opportunity to put Sale back in front on 66 minutes but he missed his kick at goal in ever worsening conditions, while on 74 minutes and 80 O’Connor missed his efforts.