Sale Sharks suffered their first GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP defeat for almost three months after producing a listless display at the Madejski Stadium.
The Sharks proved rudderless without injured fly-half Charlie Hodgson, and were outplayed by three-try Irish.
Irish’s attacking flair was rewarded with tries for wing Sailosi Tagicakibau, centre Gonzalo Tiesi and full-back Delon Armitage.
It proved only the Exiles’ fourth league win this term, but they were outstanding value for a victory that rewarded their high-tempo game.
Sale simply did not function with Hodgson watching, rather than playing, and four Luke McAlister penalties were probably more than they deserved.
Armitage added the conversion to Tagicakibau’s touchdown, while a late Eoghan Hickey penalty secured the points that left Sale fretting over a performance that fell way below their usual high standard.
McAlister switched to number 10 in Hodgson’s absence, with Chris Mayor starting alongside Lee Thomas in midfield and Sharks rugby director Philippe Saint-Andre changing the entire front-row on duty against Leeds Carnegie last weekend.
Irish, without the services of broken hand victim Seilala Mapusua, replaced him at centre with Shane Geraghty and gave Hickey a rare first team opportunity as fly-half.
And Irish made a blistering start, carving Sale open inside two minutes when wing Topsy Ojo rounded opposite number Oriol Ripol and almost put the supporting Tiesi over.
But the home side were not to be denied, and quickly recycled possession – assisted by a pinpoint long pass by Geraghty – enabled Tagicakibau to cross wide out.
Armitage converted, but he was sin-binned five minutes later for a blatant trip on Sale’s England wing Mark Cueto, before McAlister cut the deficit by slotting a 30-metre penalty.
Referee Sean Davey had his hands full controlling two packs simmering on the edge, and all the rugby came from an Irish side thriving on Geraghty’s admirable sense of adventure.
Sale could not subdue suffocating Irish pressure, and the Exiles struck seven minutes before half-time.
It was another well-worked try, this time for Tiesi, who featured on an overlap outside Tagicakibau, and although Armitage failed to land a difficult conversion attempt, Irish were good value for their nine-point interval advantage.
Tiesi though, did not reappear for the second period and was replaced by Nils Mordt as Irish looked to move further ahead.
And they had to wait barely two minutes, assisted by a missed Mayor tackle that allowed Armitage to scamper over unopposed when another exquisite Geraghty pass helped unlock Sale’s defence.
Although a second McAlister penalty cut the gap to 11 points, Sale were so poor in attack that Irish had few problems keeping them at a safe distance.
McAlister completed his penalty hat-trick with 25 minutes left, which was the cue for Sale’s most threatening attacking spell of the match, but a poor pass and knock-on summed up their day.
And it got worse, with Sale wasting a certain try when flanker Magnus Lund threw a forward pass to an unmarked Cueto.
Irish had to keep their shape and composure entering the closing 15 minutes, but substitute Juan Leguizamon lost his discipline, began throwing punches and conceded a penalty that McAlister kicked to the corner.
Sale, despite their glaring inadequacies, remained in the contest through a fourth McAlister penalty before Hickey calmed Irish’s nerves with a clinching three-pointer.