Three first-half tries for Sale Sharks laid the foundations for a bonus-point Aviva Premiership Rugby win over a sluggish London Irish side at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Irish had taken an early lead but tries from David Seymour and skipper Daniel Braid put Sharks in a commanding position and a penalty try in the dying moments of the opening period all-but killed off any challenge from Brian Smith’s men.
Sale were less clinical after the restart but another penalty try gave them a bonus point while Andy Forsyth crossed late on as they comfortably sealed their third win of the season.
The victory and takes them above Irish – for whom George Skivington crossed late on – in the table but it was the visitors who started the stronger, Chris Noakes knocking over a penalty from just inside Sale’s half after the home side collapsed a maul at midfield.
Sale replied swiftly, with two superb pieces of work from the pack – first stealing the ball counter-mauling and then winning a penalty at the resulting scrum – allowing Danny Cipriani to put the ball in the corner.
Two phases later Seymour was the extra man in the corner to fall down on the try-line and Cipriani’s fine strike from the touchline took him past 50 Aviva Premiership points for the season.
The inventive fly-half restored normal service with a simple penalty from the 22, forced by Braid’s fine break, and it got worse when Exiles hooker David Paice was sent to the sin-bin for a late hit.
With a numerical advantage, Sale brought 13 men into a goal-line maul, and captain Braid was on the back of it to score, but Cipriani hit the post with the conversion attempt.
Sale went into half-time further ahead when they took yet another rolling maul, 25 metres to the line and were awarded a penalty try – Luke Narraway received Irish’s second yellow card and Cipriani was left with a simple kick to give his side a commanding lead at the interval.
Cipriani missed another straightforward kick three minutes into the second half, albeit from more than 40 metres, and the Exiles were back up to 14 men moments later.
Sale came close to scoring a fourth try after Sam Tuitupou barrelled through the Irish defence from the 22, one of a plethora of fierce hits from the New Zealander, and the resulting pressure ending with another dominant scrum, which resulted in a penalty try.
With the visitors now almost guaranteed a fifth straight domestic defeat, the game threatened to fall flat, with both Cipriani and Tom Arscott blowing try-scoring opportunities for Sharks in the left corner.
Alex Lewington almost went over in the corner in a rare Irish break, but full-back Mike Haley came across to make a superb last-gasp tackle in the corner.
As the Sale pack continued to out-class their opponents at the lineout, the scrum and in the loose, the backs continued to spurn openings, and Cipriani’s final act before being replaced was to put another kick through beyond his winger.
A fine break by centre Fergus Mulchrone allowed Irish to exert some pressure in search of their first try, and at last the Sale counter-maul was beaten, and captain George Skivington was carried over the line.
Sale responded with a try of their own five minutes from time, Nick Macleod throwing a magnificent step in midfield, and finding fellow replacement Andy Forsyth for only his third try for the club and the final nail in Irish’s coffin.