This game will now be played at the Reebok Stadium, Bolton. .
The Exiles scored three first half tries and led 24 -3 at the interval after playing some sublime rugby, only for the home side to come storming back in the second half scoring two quick tries of their own. This set up a tense finale with man of the match Steffon Armitage crossing for a try in the corner to confirm an Exiles victory and bonus point in the process.
Irish made a good start to the game applying early pressure right from Tom Homer’s kick off.
The away side were the first of the two sides to give away a penalty for entering a ruck off their feet on half way. Charlie Hodgson’s effort from half way drifted just wide of the uprights.
Irish had a penalty of their own after ten minutes thanks to good defensive work from Tom Homer. Homer’s penalty attempt also drifted just wide.
The Exiles did have a fair amount of defending to do in the opening parts of the match but did manage the first break through of the game after 13 minutes. Topsy Ojo spotted an intercept opportunity and took it with both hands and sped away to score under the posts. The clinical finish was the wingers first try since January.
Sale maintained their fair share of possession and had a try scoring opportunity of their own that was thwarted by the Exiles flying winger, Topsy Ojo, who covered back superbly to tackle Sale winger Addison.
After two earlier penalty goal attempts failed it was third time lucky for Charlie Hodgson who put Sale on the board on the 25 minute mark to cut the Exiles lead to four points.
London Irish came back firing and were on the front foot again after some great play from Steffon Armitage led to a penalty. Homer stepped up to extend his sides lead 10-3 on 30 minute mark.
Irish were now really starting to apply the pressure on the Sharks with Homer, Ojo and Bowden all instrumental in forcing Sale centre, Chris Bell, to put the ball down over his own try line giving the visiting Exiles a five metre scrum.
After nine phases of sustained pressure it was the man of moment David Paice who found himself crossing the line for the third time in three games on his come back from injury. It was a well worked try by the Exiles who showed great patience before eventually crossing the line. Tom Homer added the extras.
The Exiles were showing their domination and were playing sensible rugby in Sale’s end of the Reebok Stadium.
With only two minutes remaining in the half the Exiles crossed for their third try thanks to some individual brilliance from Dan Bowden. The New Zealander handed off his opposite number before dummying the full back to score a super try. Homer added the conversion to give London Irish a 24-3 lead to take into half time.
Sale started the second half the brighter side after some stern words from Director of Sport Steve Diamond at half time. They quickly turned pressure into points with Hodgson kicking his second penalty of the game. London Irish still led 24-6.
Homer struck back with another huge penalty to increase the Exiles lead to 27-6. This came about after the Sharks were penalised at the scrum.
The Exiles were definitely continuing the trend of destructive defence on their own line. Twice the Sharks had lineouts from five metres out and twice they came away with no points as the Irish nullified their attacks. Paul Hodgson made a huge hit on the Sharks big number 8 Sisa Koyamaibole when he was certain to score.
Sale did cross the line through Koyamaibole but the video referee ruled that the ball had not been grounded.
The home side did eventually get the try their relentless pressure deserved with 16 minutes remaining, as their big second rower Sean Cox crossed from close range. Hodgson kicked the wide conversion to give the home side a fighting chance at 11-27.
The Sharks were more than back in the game moments later when they crossed for their second try of the game through their other lock forward Wame Lewaravu on 67 minutes to put them right back in the game. Hodgson added the conversion and suddenly Irish only had a seven point lead.
The Exiles needed to halt the home sides momentum and had a chance with another Homer penalty on the 70 minute mark when the Sharks were penalised for a high tackle on Dan Bowden, unfortunately the kick drifted just wide.
The final ten minutes were sensibly played out by the Exiles and they deservedly earned a bonus point with a try from their number seven Steffon Armitage. Nick Kennedy won the ball at the lineout from five metres out and his forwards drove him over the line to score. Homer added the conversion and Irish won the game 34 points to 20.
The bonus point wins keeps London Irish knocking on the door for a play-off position. The Exiles face Northampton at the Madejski Stadium next Saturday in a crucial game so come and show your support for the final home game of the season.
Score Sequence: (London Irish first) 7- 0, 7-3, 10-3, 17-3, 24-3, 24-6, 27-6, 27-13, 27-20, 34-20
Scorers: London Irish: Tries: Ojo (13), Paice (33), Bowden (38), Steffon Armitage (80): Penalties: Homer 2: Conversions: Homer 4; Sale Shark: Penalties: Hodgson 2; Tries: Sean Cox (66), Wame Lewaravu (66); Conversions: Hodgson 2
Sale Sharks Team
15. Nick Macleod (rep: Rob Miller, 30-40); 14. Paul Williams; 13. Chris Bell; 12. Andy Tuilagi;11. Will Addison; 10. Charlie Hodgson (Captain);
9. Will Cliff; 1. Efion Lewis Roberts (rep: Lee Imiolek, 74); 2. Neil Briggs; 3. Henry Thomas; 4. Wame Lewaravu; 5. Sean Cox (rep: Chris Jones, 69) ; 6. James Gaskell; 7. Carl Fearns; 8. Sisa Koyamaibole
London Irish team
15. Delon Armitage; 14. Topsy Ojo; 13. Elvis Seveali’i (rep: Jonathan Joseph, 78); 12. Seilala Mapusua (Captain); 11. Tom Homer; 10 Dan Bowden; 9. Paul Hodgson (rep: Darren Allinson, 56); 1. Alex Corbisiero (rep:Clarke Dermody, 52); 2. David Paice (rep: James Buckland, 59); 3. Paulica Ion (rep: Faan Rautenbach,59); 4. Bob Casey (rep: Gary Johnson, 52); 5. Nick Kennedy; 6. Jamie Gibson; 7. Steffon Armitage; 8. George Stowers (rep: Richard Thorpe, 69)
Referee: JP Doyle