Sale’s 100% record in the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP this season came to a shuddering halt against last season’s bogey team London Irish at the Madejski Stadium.
Irish did the double over the Sharks last season and dashed their hopes of a play-off place on the final day in May, and again they upset high-flying Sale.
Sale’s proud defensive record of four games without conceding a try – a Premiership record – was ended when Richard Thorpe crossed, with Peter Hewat, Alex Corbisiero and Sailosi Tagicakibau all following after half-time.
Charlie Hodgson kicked all Sale’s points but Hewat’s boot ensured the win for Irish and a personal tally of 13 points.
Head coach Toby Booth rewarded 14 of the Irish side which ended the game against Harlequins on Saturday – having come back from 20-3 down to win 27-28 – with starting roles and they responded with a resounding performance.
Australian Hewat, in the less familiar role of fly-half for Irish, pinned Sale back early on with a series of kicks to the corner.
But Irish had to wait until the 17th minute to open the scoring.
Hewat – who hit 18 points in last weekend’s outing – converted a penalty after David Doherty was penalised for holding on – having claimed Paul Hodgson’s high ball.
With conditions crisp and footing sound, Sale attempted to spread the ball wide to the likes of full-back Mathew Tait and Luke McAlister but knock-ons and free-kicks at the breakdown curtailed their progress.
But they did draw level after a quick tap by Dwayne Peel took them deep into Irish territory.
A few phases followed before Irish were penalised at the scrum and Hodgson converted from in front.
But Irish were soon ahead again with an expertly executed drop goal from Hewat and they gained some breathing space just before half time.
The gangly Delon Armitage surged down the right flank; the ball was recycled swiftly, and Chris Bell was yellow-carded for Sale as Irish went for the jugular.
With Sale one man light, flanker Thorpe blasted through the defence on the short side to score and end the Sharks’ record 357-minute run without conceding a try.
Hodgson reduced the deficit to five on the stroke of half time.
But Hewat continued to force Sale back as he kicked for the corners – making Hodgson, who was lining up at full-back in defence, scurry in chase and giving Irish position.
From close in, the Australian barged over in the left corner to extend Irish’s lead after fierce running from England Under-20s prop Corbisiero.
The barrelling prop then went over himself after 61 minutes.
Seilala Mapusua – previously the last man to score against Sale back in May – took the ball on after a great weaving run from Armitage and Corbisiero plunged over the line with defenders clinging on in vain.
Hewat added the extras.
Sale’s miserable evening was compounded when Neil Briggs dropped the ball over the line after a searing 40-yard break from Peel.
Irish, in contrast, grabbed the bonus after Tagicakibau burst through three tackles and touched down in the corner with four minutes remaining.