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The game ebbed and flowed with both sides’ at times making things very difficult for the opponent. Ultimately Irish just did enough to ensure the win and a vital four points.
Sale Sharks controlled the ball and the tempo of the game for the first ten minutes and were rewarded with a try to full back Rob Miller. Steve Diamonds forwards were making inroads into the Exiles 22 before spinning the ball wide to Miller who showed good strength to force his way over. Nick Macleod added the conversion to give Sale a dream start.
Macleod kicked a further penalty to put his side 10 points in front before Irish sprang into action. The Irish pack showed strong defence to turn Sale ball over in their own 22. The ball was passed wide to Delon Armitage who went close to scoring only to be tackled a few metres out. The ball was retained tight before being passed back down the left flank for Bryn Evans to dive over. Homer added the conversion to cut the deficit to 3 points.
Irish were becoming far more prominent in the game and had two great attacking opportunities where tries would have been scored had they been more clinical. Steve Shingler, who was a guilty party with one poor pass, made amends with a delightful grubber kick that was pounced on by Topsy Ojo who scored his fifth try of the season. Irish led 12-10.
Topsy Ojo was at his attacking best and opened his legs with a trademark line break shortly before half time. Homer passed to the speedster who beat the first man and went on a wavy run before eventually being brought down by Dwayne Peel. It gave the Exiles great field position which they unfortunately couldn’t take advantage of.
Sale made a better start to the second half and enjoyed good spells of possession. Nick Macleod was given the chance of three points on 49 minutes to put his side in front which he duly accepted.
Similarly as Irish had done in the first half they came back hard at the visitors and edged ahead once more through the boot of Homer who to his own high standards was not having his best game with the boot.
Sale were defensively putting Irish under huge pressure and were stopping the Irish ball carriers in their tracks on the gain line. The visitor’s poor discipline was gifting Irish opportunities which they kept taking. On this occasion it was Adrian Jarvis who knocked the three points over.
The visitors retained possession for long periods of time and continued to come away with vital points. With eight minutes remaining Sale had a one point lead.
With four minutes remaining Adrian Jarvis, who played exceptionally well, sent a long range kick up field that was fumbled and knocked on by Rob Miller. From the resulting scrum the Irish tight forwards put on a huge squeeze to force a penalty. Jarvis stepped up to edge Irish ahead and to victory.
Cardiff visit the Madejski Stadium next week as Heineken Cup rugby returns.
Score sequence (London Irish first): 0-7, 0-10, 7-10, 12-10, 12-13, 15-13, 15-16, 18-16, 18-19, 21-19
Scorers: London Irish: Tries: Evans (13), Ojo (23); Conversions: Homer; Penalties: Homer (52), Jarvis (66, 77); Sale Sharks: Tries: Miller (5); Conversions: Macleod; Penalties: Macleod (11, 50, 63, 72)
London Irish team
15. Delon Armitage; 14. Topsy Ojo (rep: Adam Thompstone, 77); 13. Jonathan Spratt; 12. Steven Shingler; 11. Tom Homer (rep: Marland Yarde, 63); 10. Adrian Jarvis; 9. Darren Allinson; 1. Clarke Dermody (Captain) (rep: Alex Corbisiero, 63); 2. David Paice; 3. Paulica Ion (rep: Faan Rautenbach, 63); 4. Nick Kennedy (rep: Bob Casey, 77); 5. Matt Garvey; 6. Bryn Evans; 7. Jamie Gibson (rep: David Sisi, 18); 8. Alex Gray (rep: James Buckland, 59-61)
Replacements: 16. James Buckland; 17. Alex Corbisiero; 18. Faan Rautenbach; 19. Bob Casey; 20. David Sisi; 21. Adam Thompstone; 22. Marland Yarde; 23. Paul Hodgson
Sale Sharks team
15. Rob Miller; 14. Tom Brady; 13. Johnny Leota; 12. Sam Tuitupou; 11. Joaquin Tuculet; 10. Nick Macleod; 9. Dwayne Peel (rep: Cillian Willis, 72); 1. Alistair Dickinson; 2. Marc Jones; 3. Tony Buckley (rep: Vadim Cobilas, 52); 4. Fraser McKenzie; 5. James Gaskell (rep: Kearnan Myall, 46); 6. Richie Vernon; 7. Onosa’1 Auva’a; 8. Andy Powell (rep: Mark Easter, 62)
Replacements: 16. Andy Titterell; 17. Lee Imiolek; 18. Vadim Cobilas; 19. Kearnan Myall; 20. Mark Easter; 21. Cillian Willis; 22. Luther Burrell; 23. Will Addison
Referee: Wayne Barnes