GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP champions Sale limbered up for their European campaign by coasting to victory against a defensively-frail London Irish outfit at the Madejski Stadium.
Sale’s Heineken Cup quest begins in Swansea on Friday night when they tackle Gavin Henson and the Ospreys.
And confidence will not be in short supply after they posted a fourth successive Premiership victory following an opening weekend loss to Leicester.
Sale had the game wrapped up by half-time after tries from Mark Cueto, Mark Taylor and Oriol Ripol left Irish 17 points adrift.
But the Exiles only had themselves to blame, allowing Sale’s dangerous runners far too much freedom and committing numerous basic defensive blunders.
The Sharks did not require a second invitation to make hay in the sunshine, with Irish suffering one of their heaviest home league defeats as England back-row hopeful Magnus Lund’s prodigious work-rate ensured the champions never lost control.
Ripol’s second try from a weaving 61st-minute run gave Sale maximum points, while England fly-half Charlie Hodgson enjoyed a faultless afternoon with the boot, slotting all four conversions and a penalty.
Exiles’ Samoan wing Sailosi Tagicakibau claimed a first-half touchdown and substitute Steffon Armitage crossed late on, with fly-half Barry Everitt booting two conversions, yet Irish will need a vast improvement in Friday’s Heineken Cup opener against Llanelli Scarlets to keep the Welsh side at bay.
Irish handed a home debut to summer signing Seilala Mapusua, who partnered Riki Flutey in midfield, while prop Neal Hatley captained the Exiles in celebration of his Premiership record-breaking 175th appearance.
Sale included just one survivor up-front – flanker Jason White – from the EDF Energy Cup victory over Harlequins last weekend, with Jason Robinson leading a side of 12 internationals, including current England trio Hodgson, Cueto and Andrew Sheridan.
The Sharks’ extra class told with devastating effect during the opening 14 minutes as they cruised into a 10-0 lead.
Irish had hooker Danie Coetzee sin-binned for a technical infringement trying to stem Sale’s first meaningful attack, and the visitors made their temporary one-man advantage count as Hodgson kicked a penalty before converting Cueto’s try.
Lund created the attacking platform through a powerful surge that took him into Irish’s 22 and, with Robinson finding himself in acres of space, he delivered an inch-perfect kick Cueto caught before touching down unopposed.
Irish were at sixes and sevens in defence, missing tackles with alarming frequency, and there was an inevitability about Sale’s second try, which came as the direct result of an error.
Everitt’s woeful pass was knocked on by Flutey, allowing Sharks to circle their prey and quickly recycle possession before Wales international Taylor cut inside with hardly a finger laid on him.
Hodgson converted, and Irish knew they had to score next or effectively face an impossible task.
Tagicakibau duly obliged by weaving his way through a congested midfield.
Yet, despite Everitt’s conversion reducing the deficit to 10 points, Sale remained on top, even though a reckless forward pass denied Taylor his second try.
Sale were unfazed, however, and they shredded the Irish defence on the stroke of half-time.
Ripol caused the initial damage, stepping in off his wing to make crucial ground through the middle, and then he appeared outside Cueto after some crisp passing left Irish again chasing shadows.
The Spain international was rightly acclaimed by his team-mates, before Hodgson’s third successful conversion completed an emphatic opening 40-minute display, leaving Irish in a state of disrepair.
Exiles rugby director Brian Smith made an interval substitution, replacing Flutey with Shane Geraghty, and Irish noticeably tightened up in defence, which was highlighted by a scoreless third quarter.
Sale, though, were in mood to relinquish such a healthy advantage, and the impressive Ripol rounded off a miserable afternoon for Irish by dancing his way between the posts.
Irish enjoyed overdue territorial supremacy during the closing stages but, even though Sale had substitute Sebastien Chabal sin-binned, the home side could only capitalise through Armitage’s close-range effort.