Danny Cipriani celebrated his birthday in fine style, holding his nerve to land two late penalties and guide Sale Sharks to their first Aviva Premiership win of the season against London Irish.
With two second-half Ian Humphreys penalties trimming the gap to six as the clock ticked down at a nervous Salford City Stadium, it was left to Cipriani, who on his 25th birthday, nailed his 74th and 77th minute penalties to seal a 21-9 win for the Sharks.
It has been a turbulent time for the Sharks of late, with Steve Diamond taking control of first-team affairs for the rest of the season with Bryan Redpath switching from director of rugby to head coach, but on the field they have something to celebrate after ending their run of seven straight defeats.
Full-back Nick Macleod put them on their way with an early penalty and then a 15th-minute try and a second score from Jonny Leota help the hosts to a 15-3 lead at the interval.
Humprheys set about chipping away at that lead but Cipriani steadied the Sharks’ ship to give the home support something to shout about.
London Irish started the game brightly and were halted on the five metres line by a last-ditch Sale Sharks tackle in the second minute.
But it was the hosts that broke the deadlock in the seventh minute as full-back Macleod slotted home a penalty.
The Sharks added to their lead in the 15th minute when Macleod finished a flowing move in the corner, but he failed to add the conversion.
The Exiles reduced the deficit to five points in the 25th minute, when Humphreys kicked his penalty through the posts to bring the score to 8-3.
But Sale increased their lead in the 32nd minute when Leota broke through following a Sharks scrum and dived over the line.
Cipriani scored the conversion to take the Sharks to a 15-3 lead, a just reward for their dominance of possession.
Irish came out the stronger in the second half, with Humphreys converting a long range penalty in the 48th minute to make it 15-6.
Despite a prolonged early phase in their opponent’s half, Diamond’s side failed to capitalise on Cipriani’s darting solo run, with Leota dropping the pass.
Irish put some more points on the board when Humphreys calmly slotted home a penalty in the 64th minute to take the Exiles to within six points.
Despite a long spell of pressure in the final quarter, the Exiles struggled to break through a Sale Sharks defence, that was rucking hard at the break down.
Cipriani put further daylight between the two teams in the 74th minute, slotting home a well-earned penalty and adding another with three minutes remaining to bring some much-needed cheer to the Sharks.